Distributed Training

Distributed training aims to reduce the training time of a model in machine learning, by splitting the training workload across multiple nodes. As both the data and the model sizes have grown, distributed training has become an area of focus in ML. Training consists of iteratively minimizing an objective function by running the data through a model and determining a) the error and the gradients with which to adjust the model parameters (forward path) and b) the updated model parameters using calculated gradients (reverse path). The latter step always requires synchronization between the nodes, in some cases the first also requires communication.

There are three approaches to distributed training – data parallelism, model parallelism and data-model parallelism. Data parallelism is more common and preferred if the model fits in GPU memory.

In data parallelism, we partition the data on to different GPUs and and run the same model on these data partitions. The same model is present in all GPU nodes and no communication between nodes is needed on the forward path. The calculated parameters are sent to a parameter server, which averages them, and updated parameters are retrieved back by all the nodes to update their models to the same incrementally updated model.

In model parallelism, we partition the model itself into parts and run these on different GPUs.

To communicate the intermediate results between nodes the MPI primitives are leveraged, including AllReduce.

The amount of training data for BERT is ~600GB. BERT-Tiny model is 17MB, BERT-Base model is ~400MB. During training a 16GB memory GPU sees an OOM error.

Some links to resources –








https://mccormickml.com/2019/11/05/GLUE/ Origin of General Language Understanding Evaluation.


Horovod core principles are based on the MPI concepts size, rank, local rank, allreduce, allgather, and broadcast. These are best explained by example. Say we launched a training script on 4 servers, each having 4 GPUs. If we launched one copy of the script per GPU:

  • Size would be the number of processes, in this case, 16.
  • Rank would be the unique process ID from 0 to 15 (size – 1).
  • Local rank would be the unique process ID within the server from 0 to 3.
  • Allreduce is an operation that aggregates data among multiple processes and distributes results back to them. Allreduce is used to average dense tensors. Here’s an illustration from the MPI Tutorial:
Allreduce Illustration
  • Allgather is an operation that gathers data from all processes in a group then sends data back to every process. Allgather is used to collect values of sparse tensors. Here’s an illustration from the MPI Tutorial:
Allgather Illustration
  • Broadcast is an operation that broadcasts data from one process, identified by root rank, onto every other process. Here’s an illustration from the MPI Tutorial:

Multimodal neurons – typographic attacks


ML Training on images and text together leads to certain neurons holding information of both images and text – multimodal neurons.

When the type of the detected object can be changed by tricking the model into recognizing a textual description instead of a visual description- that can be called a typographic attack.

Intriguing concepts indicating that a fluid crossover from text to images and back is almost here.

Processors for Deep Learning: Nvidia A100 GPU, Tesla Dojo, AWS Inferentia

The NVidia Volta-100 GPU released in Dec 2017 was the first microprocessor with dedicated cores purely for matrix computations called Tensor Cores. The Ampere-100 GPU released May’20 is its successor. A comparison is provided here. Tensor Cores reduce the cycle time for matrix multiplications, operating on 4×4 matrices of 16bit floating point numbers. These GPUs are aimed at Deep Learning use cases which consist of a pipeline of matrix operations.

In math, we have Scalars and Vectors. Scalars are used for magnitude and Vectors encode magnitude and direction. To transform Vectors, one applies Linear Transformations in the form of Matrices. Matrices for Linear Transformations have EigenVectors and EigenValues which describe the invariants of the transformation. A Tensor in math and physics is a concept that exhibits certain types invariance during transformations. In 3 dimensions, a Stress Tensor has 9 components, which can be representated as a 3×3 matrix.

In Deep Learning applications a Tensor is basically a Matrix. The Generalized Matrix Multiplication (GEMM) operation, D=AxB+C, is at the heart of Deep Learning, and Tensor Cores are designed to speed these up.

Tesla Dojo is an advertised attempt to build a processor/computer dedicated for Deep Learning to process vast amounts of video data.

AWS Inferentia is a chip for deep learning inferencing, with its four Neuron Cores .

Generally speaking the desire in deep learning community is to have simpler processing units in larger numbers.

Kubernetes security

Kubernetes is a Platform-as-a-Service (PAAS) similar to Cloud Foundry. It has more a centralized control plane compared to Cloud Foundry.

A threat matrix for Kubernetes – https://www.microsoft.com/security/blog/2020/04/02/attack-matrix-kubernetes/

From RSA’20, a talk on The future of Kubernetes attacks – https://youtu.be/CH7S5rE3j8w

Coinbase: Why Kubernetes is not part of our stackhttps://blog.coinbase.com/container-technologies-at-coinbase-d4ae118dcb6c

  • it needs a full-time compute team
  • securing it is not trivial and well understood. SPIFFE, SPIRE, Envoy, Istio, OPA, service mesh a few of the technologies.

It links to – https://k8s.af/

Another similar viewpoint – https://pythonspeed.com/articles/dont-need-kubernetes/

A counterpoint to the Coinbase blog – https://blog.kumina.nl/2020/07/in-response-to-container-technologies-at-coinbase/

Scratch notes:

K8S is based on a Controller pattern:

  • Resources capture the desired state.
  • Current state is kept centralized in etcd, a distributed key-value store (similar to Consul).
  • Controllers reconcile current state with desired state.

Pod is a top level resource, is the smallest deployment unit, and is a group of one or more containers described by a yaml file, similar to docker-compose.yml .

K8S Operator is a kind of resource manager, for Custom resources.



Spinnaker – Continuous Delivery platform that itself runs on k8s as a set of pods which can be scaled up

kubectl cheat sheet:


An article on cloud security https://medium.com/xm-cyber/having-fun-with-cloud-services-e281f8a7fe60

Accuracy vs Recall vs Precision vs F1

We want to walk through some common metrics in classification problems such as accuracy, precision and recall and get a feel for when to use which metric. Say we are looking for a needle in a haystack. There are very few needles in a large haystack full of straws. An automated machine is sifting through the objects in the haystack and predicting for each object whether it is a straw or a needle. A reasonable predictor will predict a small number of objects as needles and a large number as straws.

Positive Prediction: the object at hand is predicted to be the needle. A small number.

Negative Prediction: the object at hand is predicted not to be a needle. A large number.

True_Positive: of the total number of predictions, the number of predictions that were positive and correct. Correctly predicted Positives (needles). A small number.

True_Negative: of the total number of predictions, the number of predictions that were negative and correct. Correctly predicted Negatives (straws). A large number. 

False_Positive: of the total number of predictions, the number of predictions that are positive but the prediction is incorrect. Incorrectly predicted Positives (straw predicted as needle). Could be large as the number of straws is large, but assuming the total number of predicted needles is small, this is less than or equal to predicted needles, hence small.

False_Negative: of the total number of predictions, the number of predictions that are negative but the prediction is incorrect. Incorrectly predicted Negatives (needle predicted as straw). Is this a large number ? It is unknown – this class is not large just because the class of negatives is large – it depends on the predictor and a “reasonable” predictor which predicts most objects as straws, could also predict many needles as straws. This is less than or equal to the total number of needles, hence small.

Predicted_Positives = True_Positives + False_Positives = Total number of objects predicted as needles.

Actual Positives = Actual number of needles, which is independant of the number of predictions either way, however Actual Positives = True Positives + False Negatives.

Accuracy = nCorrect _Predictons/nTotal_Predictions=(nTrue_Positives+nTrue_Negatives) / (nPredicted_Positives +nPredicted_Negatives) .   # the reasonable assumption above is equivalent to a high accuracy. Most predictions will be hay, and be correct in this simply because of the skewed distribution. This does not shed light on FP or FN.

Precision = nTrue_Positives / nPredicted_Positives    # correctly_identified_needles/predicted_needles;  this sheds light on FP; Precision = 1 => FP=0 => all predictions of needles are in fact needles; a precision less than 1 means we got a bunch of hay with the needles – gives hope that with further sifting the hay can be removed.  Precision is also called Specificity and quantifies the absence of False Positives or incorrect diagnoses.

Recall = nTrue_Positives / nActual_Positives  = TP/(TP+FN)# correctly_identified_needles/all_needles; this sheds light on FN; Recall = 1 => FN = 0; a recall less than 1 is awful as some needles are left out in the sifting process. Recall is also called Sensitivity .

Precision > Recall => FN is higher than FP

Precision < Recall => FN is lower than FP

If at least one needle is correctly identified as a needle, both precision and recall will be positive; if zero needles are correctly identified, both precision and recall are zero.

F1 Score is the harmonic mean of Precision and Recall.  1/F1 = 1/2(1/P + 1/R) . F1=2PR/(P+R) .  F1=0 if P=0 or R=0. F1=1 if P=1 and R=1.

ROC/AUC rely on Recall (=TP/TP+FN) and another metric False Positive Rate defined as FP/(FP+TN)  = hay_falsely_identified_as_needles/total_hay . As TN >> FP, this should be close to zero and does not appear to be a useful metric in the context of needles in a haystack; as are ROC/AuC . The denominators are different in Recall and FPR, total needles and total hay respectively.

There’s a bit of semantic confusion when saying True Positive or False Positive. These shorthands can be interpreted as- it was known that an instance was a Positive and a label of True or False was applied to that instance. But what we mean is that it was not known whether the instance was a Positive, and that a determination was made that it was a Positive and this determination was later found to be correct (True) or incorrect (False). Mentally replace True/False with ‘Correct/Incorrectly identified as’ to remove this confusion.

Normalization: scale of 0-1, or unit norm; useful for dot products when calculating similarity.

Standardization: zero mean, divided by standard deviation; useful in neural network/classifier inputs

Regularization: used to reduce sensitivity to certain features. Uses regression. L1: Lasso regression L2: Ridge regression

Confusion matrix: holds number of predicted values vs known truth. Square matrix with size n equal to number of categories.

Firecracker MicroVM Security

I wanted to get a better understanding of firecracker microVM security, from the bottom up. A few questions –

a) how does firecracker design achieve a smaller threat surface than a typical vm/container ?

b) what mechanisms are available to secure code running in a microvm ?

c) and lastly, how can microvms change security considerations when deploying code for web services ?

The following design elements contribute to a smaller threat surface:

  • minimal design, in a memory safe, compact, readable rust language
  • minimal guest virtual device model: a network device, a block I/O device, a timer, a  KVM clock, a serial console, and a partial keyboard
  • minimal networking; from docs/vsock.md : “The Firecracker vsock device aims to provide full virtio-vsock support to software running inside the guest VM, while bypassing vhost kernel code on the host. To that end, Firecracker implements the virtio-vsock device model, and mediates communication between AF_UNIX sockets (on the host end) and AF_VSOCK sockets (on the guest end).”
  • static linking of the firecracker process limits dependancies
  • seccomp BPF limits the system calls to 35 allowed calls, 30 with simple filtering, 5 with advanced filtering that limits the call based on parameters (SeccompFilter::new call in vmm/src/default_syscalls/filters.rs, seccomp/src/lib.rs)

The production security setup recommends using jailer to apply isolation based on cgroups, namespaces, seccomp. These techniques are typical of container isolation and act in addition to KVM based isolation.

The Host Security Configuration recommends a series of checks to mitigate side-channel issues for a multi-tenant system:

  • Disable Simultaneous Multithreading (SMT)
  • Check Kernel Page-Table Isolation (KPTI) support
  • Disable Kernel Same-page Merging (KSM)
  • Check for speculative branch prediction issue mitigation
  • Apply L1 Terminal Fault (L1TF) mitigation
  • Apply Speculative Store Bypass (SSBD) mitigation
  • Use memory with Rowhammer mitigation support
  • Disable swapping to disk or enable secure swap

How is the firecracker process organized ? The docs/design.md has the following descriptions:

Internal Design: Each Firecracker process encapsulates one and only one microVM. The process runs the following threads: API, VMM and vCPU(s). The API thread is responsible for Firecracker’s API server and associated control plane. It’s never in the fast path of the virtual machine. The VMM thread exposes the machine model, minimal legacy device model, microVM metadata service (MMDS) and VirtIO device emulated Net and Block devices, complete with I/O rate limiting. In addition to them, there are one or more vCPU threads (one per guest CPU core). They are created via KVM and run the `KVM_RUN` main loop. They execute synchronous I/O and memory-mapped I/O operations on devices models. 

Threat Containment: From a security perspective, all vCPU threads are considered to be running malicious code as soon as they have been started; these malicious threads need to be contained. Containment is achieved by nesting several trust zones which increment from least trusted or least safe (guest vCPU threads) to most trusted or safest (host). These trusted zones are separated by barriers that enforce aspects of Firecracker security. For example, all outbound network traffic data is copied by the Firecracker I/O thread from the emulated network interface to the backing host TAP device, and I/O rate limiting is applied at this point.

As to question about mechanisms to secure code running in firecracker, the serverless environment, AWS Lambda, and its security best practices are a good place to start . A few resources on this are here, here, here and here. AWS API gateway supports input validation, as described here. However, while serverless reduces the attack surface, the web threats such as OWASP still apply and must be taken into account during design and testing.

For the last question – uVMs and serverless appear to offer a promising model to build a service incrementally from small secure building blocks – and this is something to explore further.

Aviatrix Controller on AWS for secure networking

These are some notes from a talk by Aviatrix last week. Many customers get started with Aviatrix orchestration system for deploying AWS Transit Gateway (TGW) and Direct Connect. The transit gateway is the hub gateway that connects multiple VPCs with an on-premise link, possibly over Direct Connect. The Aviatrix product can then deploy and manage multiple VPCs and the communication between them, directing which VPC can talk to which other VPC. It controls the communication by simply deleting the routes.

The advanced transit controller solution is useful for multiple regions, to manage the communication between regions. Another aspect is there are high speed interconnects between the cloud providers and Aviatrix builds an overlay that bridges between public clouds. Multi-account communication and secure communication between the networks using segmentation can be enabled.

According to Aviatrix, AWS’s motto is go build, and do it yourself, it is designed for the builders. But when you go beyond 3 VPCs to 3000 VPCs, one needs a solution to manage the routes in an automated manner. This is the situation for many larger customers. For smaller ones where there are Production, Development and Edge/On-premise network components to manage it also finds use.

Remote user VPN is another use case. Not only can one VPN in and get to all the VPCs, but specify which CIDR they can get to and other restrictions.

ML Transformer and GPT-2

Transformer architecture
AI meetup, GPT-2 demo and discussion. Attention!

“The attention mechanism allows the model to create the context vector as a weighted sum of the hidden states of the encoder RNN at each previous timestamp.”

“Transformer is a type of model based entirely on attention, and does not require recurrent or convolutional layers”

Context vector is the output of the Encoder in an Encoder-Decoder network (EDN). EDNs struggle to retain all the required information for the decoder to accurately decode. Attention is a mechanism to solve this problem.

“Attention mechanisms let a model directly look at, and draw from, the state at any earlier point in the sentence. The attention layer can access all previous states and weighs them according to some learned measure of relevancy to the current token, providing sharper information about far-away relevant tokens.”

GPT: Generative Pre-Trained Transformer. Unlike BERT, it is generative and not geared to comprehension/translation/summarization tasks, but writing/generative tasks. BERT is a response to GPT and GPT-2 is in turn a response to BERT. GPT-2 was released Feb’2019 and is trained on 40Gb of text


This attention concept looks akin to a fourier or laplace transform which encodes the entire input signal in a lossless manner – just my observation. Although implemented differently it’s a way to keep track of and refer to global state.

AutoML and Transformer – http://ai.googleblog.com/2019/06/applying-automl-to-transformer.html

BERT and GPT are both based on the Transformer ideas. BERT is bidirectional and better at ccomprehending meaning from the whole sentence/phrase whereas GPT is better at generating text.



Bahdanau, 2014 https://arxiv.org/abs/1409.0473

“The most important distinguishing feature of this approach from the basic encoder–decoder is that it does not attempt to encode a whole input sentence into a single fixed-length vector. Instead, it encodes the input sentence into a sequence of vectors and chooses a subset of these vectors adaptively while decoding the translation. This frees a neural translation model from having to squash all the information of a source sentence, regardless of its length, into a fixed-length vector. We show this allows a model to cope better with long sentences.”

Omnisci GPU based columnar database

Omnisci is a columnar database that reads a column into GPU memory, in compressed form, allowing for interactive queries on the data. A single gpu can load 10million to 50million rows of data and allows interactive querying without indexing. A demo was shown at the GTC keynote this year, by Aaron Williams. He gave a talk on vehicle analytics that I attended last month.

In the vehicle telemetry demo, they obtain vehicle telemetry data from an F1 game that has data output as UDP, 10s of thousands of packets a second – take the binary data off of UDP, and convert it to json and use it as a proxy for real telemetry data. The webserver refreshes every 3-4 seconds. The use case is analysis of increasing amounts of vehicle sensor data as discussed in this video and described in the detailed Omnisci blog post here.

Programming of the blocks is done through the UX with StreamSets which is an open source tool to build data pipelines –  a cool demo of streamsets for creating pipelines including kafka is here.

The vehicle analytics demo pipeline consisted of UDP to Kafka, Kafka to JSON, then JSON to OmniSci via pymapd .  Kafka serves as a message broker and also for playback of data.

Based on the the GPU loaded data, the database allows queries and stats on different vehicles that are running.

The entire system runs in the cloud on a VM supporting Nvidia GPUs, and can also be run on a local GPU box.

Lacework Intrusion Detection System – Cloud IDS

Lacework Polygraph is a Host based IDS for cloud workloads. It provides a graphical view of who did what on which system, reducing the time for root cause analysis for anomalies in system behaviors. It can analyze workloads on AWS, Azure and GCP.

It installs a lightweight agent on each target system which aggregates information from processes running on the system into a centralized customer specific (MT) data warehouse (Snowflake on AWS)  and then analyzes the information using machine learning to generate behavioral profiles and then looks for anomalies from the baseline profile. The design allows automating analysis of common attack scenarios using ssh, privilege changes, unauthorized access to files.

The host based model gives detailed process information such as which process talked to which other and over what api. This info is not available to a network IDS. The behavior profiles reduce the false positive rates. The graphical view is useful to drill down into incidents.

OSQuery is a tool for gathering data from hosts, and this is a source of data aggregated for threat detection. https://www.rapid7.com/blog/post/2016/05/09/introduction-to-osquery-for-threat-detection-dfir/

Here’s an agent for libpcap https://github.com/lacework/pcap

It does not have an intrusion prevention (IPS) functionality. False positives on an IPS could block network/host access and negatively affect the system being protected, so it’s a harder problem.

Cloud based network isolation tools like Aviatrix might make IPS scenarios feasible by limiting the effect of an IPS.

Software Integrity Tools

There are a number of tools used to detect security issues in a software application codebase. A simple and free one is flawfinder. A sophisticated commercial one is Veracode.  There’s also lint, pylint, findbugs for java, and xcode clang static analyzer.

Synopsis has bought a few tools like Coverity and Blackduck for various static checks on code and binary. Blackduck can do binary analysis and scores issues with the CVSS. A common use of Blackduck is for license checking to check for conformance to open source licenses.

A more comprehensive list of static code analysis tools is here.

Dynamic analysis tools inspect the running process and find memory and execution errors. Well known examples are valgrind and Purify. More dynamic tools are listed here.

For web application security there are protocol testing and fuzzing tools like Burp suite and Tenable Nessus.

A common issue with the tools is the issue of false positives. It helps to limit the testing to certain defect types or attack scenarios and identify the most critical issues, then expand the scope of types of defects.

Code obfuscation and anti-tamper are another line of tools, for example by Arxan, Klocwork, Irdeto and Proguard .

A great talk on Adventures in fuzzing. My takeaway has been that better ways of developing secure software are really important.



Open Compute Project 2019

OCP has the mission to “design and enable the delivery of the most efficient server, storage and data center hardware designs for scalable computing”.

OCP had its global 2019 summit recently. Some interesting trends on hyperscale networks are discussed here and here with the use of F16 fabric network with its a focus on higher bandwidth but also performance at the right cost instead of at any cost. The heart of this new F16 fabric is the Minipack switch, with contribution from Arista which Facebook says will consume 50 percent less power and space than the Backpack switch it replaces in the network.  It is a 128x100Gb switch and uses a Broadcom Tomahawk-3 Asic. Quote: “a path from a rack in one building to a rack in another building over Fabric Aggregator was as many as 24 hops long before. With F16, same-fabric network paths are always the best case of six hops, and building-to-building flows always take eight hops. This results in half the number of intrafabric network hops and one-third the number of interfabric network hops between servers.”

Intel announced an industry collaboration around Platform Root of Trust at the Open Compute Project 2019 summit.

There’s a talk on Stratum and the use of P4 and Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI) for SDN, by Open Networking Foundation (ONF) and Google. Tencent has a use case for disaggregating their monolithic network into a modular switch with a network of controllers instead of a single controller.

Smaller data centers at the edge is another trend.