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:

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