Student Cluster Competition Sparks StartupHPC

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In this special guest feature, Cydney Ewald Stevens previews a talk on the Student Cluster Challenge by Dan Olds coming up at the StartupHPC Meetup at SC14.

Cydney Ewald Stevens, Director, StartupHPC

Cydney Ewald Stevens, Director, StartupHPC

Oh Captains, my captains …

For a healthy dose of competitive rivalry, STEM spirit and a glimpse at the up and coming innovators, look no further than the Student Cluster Challenges (SCC) and learn from color commentator and SCC officiator of these collegiate champions, Dan Olds, who will brief the StartupHPC meet-up crowd on SCC, Monday 17 November, prior to the competition’s official start during the ‘opening gala’ at this year’s SC14 conference in New Orleans

A long way from a sleeper start …

The SCC features student teams from across the world competing for the STEM championship. In fact, Dan’s exclusive coverage of SCC live for the last several years has increased the visibility and importance of the competition and created a huge underground following across campus communities. So much so that it has grown to international competitions – in the US, Europe and China – a long way from its sleeper start at SC07 in Reno.

Much of the success of the SCC is largely in thanks to key visionaries Brent Gorda and Ricky Kendall. In fact in memoriam and as tribute to Ricky, Olds’ says that going forward winners of the SCC will be awarded the “Kendall Cup” – with winning teams holding onto the trophy for the year then passing it on to the next winning team year to year. Like the Stanley or America’s Cup! Fitting!

The HPC Advisory Council has also had a huge impact on the success of the SCC – gearing numerous teams and promoting the competitions importance from the offset. In fact the call for the ISC SCC team submissions is already well underway. It’s hats off to all the HPCAC (Brian, Pak, Scot et al) – fueled by an unequaled passion and leadership of the hardest working man in HPC’ – Gilad Shainer – whose brilliance, energy and involvement in all things HPC, like the SCC, is unparalleled.

Each of these remarkable founders, advocates and promoters of the SCC are representative of the University, College and yes, even High School teams –inspirations.

‘Gun’s Up’ gang … this one’s for you!

Obviously, being involved in the SCC and HPCAC since their beginnings has left me personally with tons of great stories that span the years and teams – from FAMU to Costa Rica and beyond – but one of the student group’s that really underscored the importance for a StartupHPC was the SC12 team – the Texas Tech Red Raiders!

It’s probably no coincide I that ended up being a much bigger part of the Red Raiders journey to SC in SLC that year … which started with the standard corporate sponsor requests (not unusual) then expanded to guidance in their winning challenge submission (and lessons in writing grant proposals) and culminated with an onsite experience which is where the real story of inspiration and perspiration begins.

On the Friday (evening) before we depart for SLC, a panic call from Tech’s account manager “the team’s gear’s stuck in customs in Mexico and wouldn’t clear until well after the competition – if!” Meanwhile, the team’s already onsite and has only the remains of the weekend to config and test the gear, load and benchmark the initial apps and be competition ready by the challenge start Monday evening.

Faced with another Saturday scramble arrival, once onsite we (the wonderful HPCAC gang) literally begged and borrowed gear from exhibitors across the tradeshow floor to assemble a semblance of a competition ready system. Everything and nothing about the final config could be considered production caliber – but we didn’t’ confuse competition with production.

If for nothing else … this was pure COTS – commodities off the show-floor …

Untested combos of newly minted processors and accelerators were plugged onto beta system boards; early release switches, disks, etc were dropped in to create the live multi-brand config that would have made the (multiple) corporate bodies – legal, manufacturing, product management and service – risk averse heads spin right off their shoulders – just from the sheer amalgamation of ‘un-validated’ gear. Liability … pashaw!

The kicker was when the team duct taped the equipment in a polystyrene encasement of their own design then dropped it all into their own homegrown vat of liquid – ‘cooling solution’ – which was critical to achieving max performance while maintaining the strict power consumption criteria that the competition demands. Warranty and service this!

Even all of that … a live system designed on donated available parts and their fiendishly eco-friendly solution … wasn’t the obvious inspiration. So, what was it?

Oh big-irony!

There were two pivotal moments in the bring-up at the start of the competition. The first was the Raiders impressive cooling solution – their IP. The second was an instant challenge by one of the exhibitors who confronted the undergrads and challenging their novel design head on. And while the final outcomes have never been divulged – ‘in the heat of it all’ (the competition, the allegations…) it was rumored that not only had the Raiders not factored their IP but that the exhibiting company had not done their own ‘diligence’ of IP protection, patenting, etc., as well.

Over the course of the weeklong competition, there were numerous interactions with the team that followed – an advisory crash course in IP essentials – learning what they ‘did or intended to do’ to protect their IP? Not just for their novel solution but overall, toward their futures. Questioning and learning what they were studying – educating in what they needed (or should want) to know – beyond their STEM coursework – legal, marketing, business, etc.

Unsurprisingly, or perhaps surprisingly, only one, in the six team members self-initiated some of the aforementioned course-works outside of his specific major.

Your most important product …

The Raiders story is not unlike most undergrad stories in terms of being advised on (let alone individually considering) classes that are critical to rounding out their academic experience – especially STEM students. Taking their primary passion and talents and combining that education with the tools necessary to protect, package and promote their most important product – themselves.

In fact, the Raider’s advisor was so enthralled by what I had shared with his team that it opened opportunity … representing the bigger needs, where influence and impact could be most beneficial and ultimately the beginnings and influences of where we ourselves, with StartupHPC, are headed. Destiny.

In this video, Dan Olds interviews the SC12 Texas Tech Red Raiders.

Honestly, while there was a fair exchange of experience-based wisdom shared then and to be shared in our upcoming meet-up – the ROI of working with all of the student teams is always more than I ever could imagine – at the time, now and toward the future! But to my inspiring mentors – the SC12 Texas Tech Red Raiders – Guns Up!

There’s always something to be learned – so whether you’re a starving STEM student or established pro –join StartupHPC today, register to attend the StartupHPC meet-up and make it a point to check out and cheer on the SCC!