Members of the Tsinghua University team pose with their tutor, Han Wentao (standing, left), as they prepare for the 2020 Student Cluster Competition. The university won the competition for the third consecutive year in November. LI PAI/FOR CHINA DAILY It was 6 am, and a team of six students from Beijing's Tsinghua University finally breathed a sigh of relief after an arduous 72 hours of competition. While it might not have been physically challenging in the traditional sense, the nonstop testing, calculating and computer work can still take a huge toll. Fortunately, it was all worth the sore necks, aching wrists and depleted mental resources as they were announced the winner of the 2020 Student Cluster Competition. It was the third consecutive year the university had won in the same international competition. In 2007, the US-based International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis launched the Student Cluster Competition to provide an immersive, high-performance computing experience to undergraduate and high school students around the world. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 competition took place "in the cloud" in November. The online competition attracted 19 teams of 114 students from different countries, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, the University of Warsaw in Poland, Friedrich-Alexander University in Germany, Singapore's Nanyang Technological University alongside China's Peking University and Tsinghua, among others. Participants were required to design and build virtual "clusters "in the cloud and learn scientific applications, apply optimization techniques for their chosen cloud configurations to complete a set of benchmark tests and real-world scientific workloads against the clock. A "cluster" is a collection of high-performance computing devices, linked together to utilize their combined resources to complete complex and high-volume data-based tasks quickly and accurately. According to Han Wentao, the Tsinghua University team's tutor, the previous on-site competitions where all teams gathered together, bringing their own hardware, lasted 48 hours. "Each team needed to assemble their own cluster on-site with a maximum power of 3,000 watts－it's like Formula 1, where you need to spend a lot of money on buying the best engines and parts," Han explains. For the 2020 iteration of the contest, however, the rules were different－all preparations and computing were done in the cloud. Participating teams had a $3,200 initial budget to buy hardware and services online. Unbeknown to the competitors, however, 12 hours before the end of the competition, they would receive a windfall of $500 additional budget. "This time, all teams were on the same starting line with a limited budget," Han says. Another challenge in the virtual competition was the time difference. The competition started at 6 am in Beijing and the judges, who would be answering questions during the competition, were only online between 10 pm and 4 am.