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Purdue student supercomputing team has had its coffee and is off and running

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Tyler Reid started work Monday in the wee hours of the morning, benchmarking the student-run supercomputer being operated by six Purdue undergraduates in an international competition this week.

But while Reid pushed the machine to its limits, all the while keeping an eye on its power consumption, his teammate Ethan Madden was busy tracking another form of consumption, one that will be no less important as the team works around the clock the next two days.

“I’m writing a Python script to graph all of our caffeine intake,” said Madden, a junior in computer science from Newburgh.

The benchmarking phase is the first “challenge” in the 2012 Cluster Challenge, the student competition at SC12, the world’s largest supercomputing conference. The conference is being held in Salt Lake City this week (Nov. 10-16). ITaP is sponsoring the Purdue Cluster Challenge team in partnership with HP.

In addition to Madden and Reid, a senior in computer science from Zionsville, the team includes Cody Breedlove, a senior in computer science from Royal Center; Andrew Huff, a junior in computer science from Cary, N.C.; Kurt Kroeger, a sophomore in computer science from Nashville, Tenn.; and Nick Molo, a junior in computer engineering from, Joliet, Ill. ITaP staff members Stephen Harrell and Andy Howard are advising the team.

“At 7 a.m. this morning is when they started monitoring our power, which is when the Cluster Challenge officially started,” Breedlove said.

Among other challenges faced by the teams in the competition, they have to deal with a strict 26-amp power limit.

By late Monday afternoon, the team had moved on to the meat of the event, running a massive amount of simulated scientific data in a suite of designated software. This is where that caffeine consumption comes into play. The students share the load monitoring and adjusting their supercomputer continuously as they work to process as much of the data as possible over 48 hours.

The Purdue team is one of just eight selected for the Cluster Challenge and is competing against teams from China and around the U.S. Purdue’s team is the only one from the Midwest and the Big Ten.

The students’ entry is a mini version of the Purdue’s new Carter cluster supercomputer, which ranks as one of the most powerful research supercomputers in the world. Purdue faculty researchers in aeronautics and astronautics; earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences; economics; genomics; and more use Carter.

Likewise, the Cluster Challenge teams — limited to undergraduates — have to prepare their machines to run an assigned variety of real research software. The 2012 applications are used for simulating the actions of atoms, modeling the global climate, probing physics at the very small quantum level and predicting the spread of contaminants underground. The application phase of the competition ends Wednesday.

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