Students from Indiana University and Purdue were awestruck as they entered the convention center at SC22, an international supercomputing conference. With booths from notable tech companies such as Google and Rocky Linux, the conference boasted 11,830 attendees and featured 361 exhibit booths on the show floor.
But the students weren’t at SC22 just for the experience. They were there to compete against 12 teams of university students at the Student Cluster Competition (SCC).
With sponsorships from hardware and software vendor partners, student teams design and build small clusters (a set of connected computers that work together so that they can be viewed as a single system), learn scientific applications, apply optimization techniques for their chosen architectures, and compete in a non-stop, 48-hour challenge at the SC conference to complete real-world scientific workloads while showing off their High Performance Computing (HPC) knowledge for conference attendees and judges.
The joint IU-Purdue team was named INPack, a combination of “IN” for “Indiana” and “pack” meaning “team” while also referencing the Linpack benchmark, which is used to measure the performance of a supercomputer and was the benchmark used in the competition.
They say everything is bigger in Texas, but it was even beyond my expectations.
“It was intense,” Nrushad Joshi, a junior from IU, said. “I’ve never been a part of something like that before.”
Both Joshi and IU junior and fellow INPack team member Lucas Snyder were introduced to the idea of SCC in a spring class taught by Beth Plale, executive director of the Pervasive Technology Institute as well as a Michael A and Laurie Burns McRobbie Bicentennial Professor of Computer Engineering. Following that class, Joshi and Snyder completed an HPC internship at Purdue University, where they gained the beginning of the HPC knowledge.
“It was mostly like taking a class,” Snyder said. “I mean, from starting in the spring, I know nothing, and then, I can’t even tell you how much the internship helped. Like, you don’t learn anything quite like the way you learn on the job. So, all the practical experience I got from working at Purdue transferred to working on the SCC stuff.”
Similarly, IU senior Zachary Graber also discovered SCC through one of his professors, Dr. Martin Swany, who shared information about a callout meeting for the IU side of the team during a lecture.
“I think that the prospect of competing in the SCC was exciting to me for a variety of reasons,” Graber said. “My background in Luddy’s computer science program and area of interest is in the systems specialization, where much of the focus naturally overlaps with the preparation and tasks for the competition. Even further than that, though, HPC is a space that has always seemed incredibly exciting to me, but as an undergrad student who’s not really involved in research, I never had an opportunity nor excuse to break into the field until the SCC.”
One of the unique aspects of the INPack team is the joint collaboration between IU and Purdue students, two schools often thought of as rivals.
“I thought it was really fun, even though we have rivalry and I do believe in that rivalry a lot,” Joshi said. “Like when IU plays Purdue and Purdue does well in sports or Purdue beats us or is ranked higher, I don’t consider it a good day. But during the competition, we never thought about that. I never thought about us being rivals or they are from a rival college.”
“It was quite unique and unexpected, like, I would’ve thought that that rivalry would always stay between us.”
Snyder echoed that statement. “We are friends, and I wouldn’t trade those guys for anything. They were absolutely assets on the team, and we couldn’t have done it without them. We all have different areas of expertise and that’s what makes it work.”
The team would also like to highlight the incredible support they received from Winona Snapp-Childs and Erik Gough.
The INPack team had never been to a conference like SC22 before and were originally enthralled by the scope the conference and their competition. “You’re really wowed by just the scale of everything. And then you get to the booths and there’s all these different schools and these kids and you’re thinking, what do they know? How have they prepared? Are they smarter than me? Is their computer faster than mine?” Snyder said.
“They say everything is bigger in Texas, but it was even beyond my expectations,” Graber joked. “I distinctly remember walking through the convention center for the first time and marveling at the size of an empty exhibit hall.”
“You get a chance to learn a lot of things,” Joshi said about the conference. “You get a chance to meet a lot of people. There are a lot of internship and job opportunities. So, if you are interested or looking for a job, there are big companies like Google, AWS, and Microsoft. You not only get a chance to meet their recruiters but see the latest technology.”
Snyder said that although the team’s performance in benchmarking was their strongest and they ran into a few issues when running the applications, the experience was overall a positive one.
“I think for our first time around we did admirably. I don’t think that anybody would say we didn’t work hard because we did. We really worked our butts off to get where we were and there were some things that could have been mitigated if we just had the experience of being there. So I don’t really hold that against us. We can only really go up.”
The team would also like to highlight the incredible support they received from Winona Snapp-Childs, chief operations officer of IU’s Pervasive Technology Institute, and Erik Gough, lead computational scientist at Purdue, who advised and led the team during this experience.