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Cluster Challenge: Purdue, ITaP student supercomputing team in data crunching mode

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Purdue’s student supercomputing team has entered the “sleepless in Seattle” phase of the 2011 Cluster Challenge at SC11, the world’s largest supercomputing conference.

The team of six undergraduates completed the benchmarking phase of the competition, which is designed to push the student-built and -run supercomputers to the maximum, on Monday in Seattle, where SC11 is being held this week.

With the benchmarking phase done, the student supercomputers are now churning through simulated scientific data provided by the competition organizers. The team members share the load monitoring and adjusting their machines around the clock over three days in an attempt to complete as much work as possible. The 2011 applications are used for studying the actions of chemical molecules, the colliding and merging of galaxies, the basic workings of biological life and the motion of the oceans.

“They run very, very fast on this machine,” says team member Tyler Reid, a junior in computer science from Zionsville.

The Purdue team turned off some of the processors in its machine during the benchmarking to meet a 26-amp power limit imposed by Cluster Challenge organizers. But the scientific applications don’t present that problem because they’re less power hungry.

“We can safely go ahead and use all the cores that we have in order to get better results,” says team member John Blaas, a senior in computer and information technology from Lafayette. “The applications are judged higher than the benchmarks anyway, so it just makes sense.”

The Purdue team was one of eight qualifiers for the 2011 Cluster Challenge, one of just four from the U.S. The team is competing against teams from China, Russia and other countries. Purdue’s is the lone team from the Big Ten.

The other Cluster Challenge team members are Alex Bartol, a senior in computer science from Fort Wayne; Joad Fattah, a junior in computer science from Carmel; Michael Heffernan, a senior in computer science from Kokomo; and Andrew Huff, a junior in computer science from Cary, N.C.

Intel is Purdue’s partner in the Cluster Challenge and with 160 of the company’s processors inside, a hundred times more than a typical personal computer, the 2011 entry is akin to a mini version of the Hansen cluster supercomputer Purdue installed over the summer and the four other clusters ITaP has built in partnership with Purdue Faculty since 2008. Most of this year’s Purdue team helped build Hansen as student workers at the Rosen Center for Advanced Computing, ITaP’s research computing unit.

Writer: Greg Kline, ITaP science and technology writer, 765-494-8167 (office), 765-426-8545 (mobile),

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