Paper summary. Towards distributed machine learning in shared clusters: a dynamically partitioned approach

This paper (by Peng Sun, Yonggang Wen, Ta Nguyen Binh Duong, and Shengen Yan) has been put on Arxiv on April 2017.

This paper was a little confusing to read. I think it could have been presented better to make its contributions more clear. The paper aims to enable multiple distributed ML frameworks, say TensorFlow, Petuum, MxNet, share the same cluster.

Enterprises have clusters, managed by  a cluster management systems (CMSs). The paper starts with a review of existing CMSs, and mentions shortcomings with each. It is unhappy with application-level scheduling, because there each application reserves and keeps all allocated resources until completion, and this leads to low utilization of the resources as the scheduling is done for the peak/maximum resource needs of the application.

In the task-level scheduling mode, applications use acquired resources to run a single task, release them as soon as the task completes, and petition for new resources to launch uncompleted tasks. The paper cites high scheduling overhead with this approach: each task must wait until receiving suitable resources. (But the SLAQ paper we reviewed has taken this task level scheduling route and didn't find significant scheduling overheads.)

In order to enable distributed ML workloads share a single cluster, Dorm uses two techniques: a dynamically-partitioned cluster management mechanism and an utilization-fairness optimizer.

The solution Dorm proposes is simple. It uses Docker containers to partition a cluster and runs one application per partition. Each application places its tasks on the assigned partition without petitioning for resources. Dorm can then adjust the existing resource allocations (i.e., number of containers in a partition) to keep a high resource utilization.

When adjusting an application's resources, Dorm first saves its state to a reliable storage system (e.g., Lustre filesystem). Then Dorm kills this application and creates/destroys containers on corresponding servers. Finally, Dorm resumes the killed application from the saved state with new resource allocations. This way, distributed ML applications can dynamically scale up/down without recomputing from the first iteration.

But this leaves me with several questions. Is this checkpointing only for the parameter-server state and not the worker states? Would the checkpointing work with TensorFlow which has dataflow graphs and associated state at each worker? Would those worker states matter? Would the states of the channels (i.e., messages in transit) matter? Finally, how is the checkpoint done in a distributed manner? The checkpoints will naturally appear at different points in different workers/containers; does that cause a problem?

The paper reports that Dorm was implemented to work with Petuum, MxNet, TensorFlow and MPI-Caffe. But details lack about how the implementations are done and how the application frameworks are modified to work with Dorm.


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