Configuring Dask-MPI jobs

Dask is a popular Python package for parallelising workflows. It can use a variety of parallelisation backends, including Python multiprocessing and multithreading. A separate Dask-MPI package is provided for distributed high-performance computation using the MPI (Message Passing Interface) backend, which can achieve scalability across many nodes and integrates well into an HPC environment.

Installing the Dask-MPI package and configuring jobs requires careful consideration to work reliably and efficiently. Internally it relies on the mpi4py package that provides an interface to the MPI library. MPI itself is implemented by different freely available distributions, including MPICH and OpenMPI, as well as a variety of vendor-specific distributions, such as Intel MPI and Cray MPI.

While some of the MPI distributions should be compatible with each other, it is advisable to use the same MPI distribution as the host HPC system for reliability. The Mahuika and Māui Ancil clusters use Intel MPI.

Installing Dask-MPI with Pip on Mahuika

Dask-MPI can be readily installed with pip based on one of the Python modules available on Mahuika that come with the mpi4py package, e.g.,

module load Python
pip install --user dask-mpi

Installing Dask-MPI with Conda on Mahuika and Māui Ancil

Load an Anaconda3 or Miniconda3 module and use the following commands to install mpi4py with the Intel MPI distribution before installing the Dask-MPI package:

conda install -c intel mpi4py
conda install dask-mpi

If you use an environment file, add the "intel" channel at the end of the list (so that it will not take priority over other channels) and request mpi4py with the Intel MPI distribution as follows:

name: myenvironment
  - myfavouritechannel
- intel dependencies: - mypackage
- anotherpackage
- intel::mpi4py
- dask-mpi

Configuring Slurm

At runtime, Slurm will launch a number of Python processes as requested in the Slurm configuration script. Each process is given an ID (or "rank") starting at rank 0. Dask-MPI then assigns different roles to the different ranks:

  • Rank 0 becomes the scheduler that coordinates work and communication
  • Rank 1 becomes the worker that executes the main Python program and hands out workloads
  • Ranks 2 and above become additional workers that run workloads

This implies that Dask-MPI jobs must be launched on at least 3 MPI ranks! Ranks 0 and 1 often perform much less work than the other ranks, it can therefore be beneficial to use Hyperthreading to place these two ranks onto a single physical core. Ensure that activating hyperthreading does not slow down the worker ranks by running a short test workload with and without hyperthreading.

In the following, two cases will be discussed:

  1. The worker ranks use little memory and they do not use parallelisation themselves
  2. The worker ranks use a lot of memory and/or parallelisation

Note that Slurm will place different MPI ranks on different nodes on the HPC by default - this has the advantage of much reduced queuing times as Slurm can use gaps in node utilisation, and this should not affect performance, unless individual work items are very small (e.g., if a given work item only takes a few seconds or less to run).

Dask workers have low memory usage and no parallelisation

This case is straightforward to set up. Use the following example to run a workload with 1 scheduler rank and 4 worker ranks. Each rank will be given 1 GB of memory and a single (logical) core.

#SBATCH --time=01:00:00
#SBATCH --hint=multithread
#SBATCH --ntasks=5
#SBATCH --cpus-per-task=1
#SBATCH --mem-per-cpu=1G

srun python

Dask workers have high memory usage and/or parallelisation

This case is more complex to set up and uses Slurm "job packs" to handle the heterogeneous configuration. In the following example, the scheduler and first worker rank will be given 1 GB of memory and a single (logical) core each, while the remaining worker ranks will be given 4*3 GB = 12 GB of memory and 4 (logical) cores per rank.

#SBATCH --time=01:00:00
#SBATCH --hint=multithread
#SBATCH --ntasks=2 --mem-per-cpu=1G --cpus-per-task=1 --partition=<Slurm partition>
#SBATCH packjob
#SBATCH --ntasks=3 --mem-per-cpu=3G --cpus-per-task=4 --partition=<Slurm partition>

srun --pack-group=0-1 python

The "--pack-group" flag asks "srun" to launch both job packs together.


The following example illustrates how to run Dask-MPI on the HPC. It is based on the Dask Futures tutorial on the Dask examples webpage.

Python program

import os
import dask_mpi as dm
import dask.distributed as dd

# Initialise Dask cluster and store worker files in current work directory

# Define two simple test functions
def inc(x):
return x + 1

def add(x, y):
return x + y

client = dd.Client()

# Submit chain of computations using futures
a = client.submit(inc, 1)
b = client.submit(inc, 2)
c = client.submit(add, a, b)

# Expect the same answer
print("Dask result:", c.result())
print("Local result:", add(inc(1), inc(2)))

Conda environment

Set up a simple conda environment with Dask-MPI using the following commands, replacing "<project ID>" with your project ID number:

module load Anaconda3/2019.03-gimkl-2018b
conda create -p /nesi/project/<project ID>/daskenv \
intel::mpi4py conda-forge::dask-mpi

Slurm script

Replace "<project ID>" with your project ID number and use the "sbatch" command to submit this Slurm script and run the test code on 3 MPI ranks:

#SBATCH --time=00:01:00
#SBATCH --hint=multithread
#SBATCH --ntasks=3
#SBATCH --cpus-per-task=1
#SBATCH --mem-per-cpu=512M

# Activate conda environment
module load Anaconda3/2019.03-gimkl-2018b
. $EBROOTANACONDA3/etc/profile.d/
conda activate /nesi/project/<project ID>/daskenv

srun python

The Slurm output file should contain some status information from Dask-MPI, along with program output

Dask result: 5
Local result: 5

Running Dask-MPI inside a Singularity container

It is straightforward to run a Dask-MPI workload inside a Singularity container on the HPC. For reliable and efficient execution it is best to use the same MPI distribution inside and outside the container. This restricts choices to Intel MPI on the Mahuika and Māui Ancil clusters; see section Installing Dask-MPI with Conda above for instructions. It will also reduce container portability between platforms that use different MPI distributions.

Container configuration

While it is impossible to cover every possible scenario, the following guidelines should help with configuring the container correctly.

  1. Make sure that the Intel MPI version of the "mpi4py" package is installed with Dask-MPI
  2. The correct version of Python and the Intel MPI distribution need to be loaded at runtime. This can be achieved by, e.g., adding the following command to the "%runscript" section in the Singularity build recipe if a Conda environment is used:
exec /bin/bash -c \
". /opt/conda/etc/profile.d/; conda activate myenv; python $@"

Slurm configuration

Slurm configuration is identical to the case without Singularity, see section Configuring Slurm above. The run script needs to be slightly modified to setup and launch the container runtime environment. In the first case with low worker memory consumption and no parallelisation, use, e.g.,

module load Singularity
srun singularity run mycontainer.sif "<arguments>"

In the second case with high worker memory consumption and/or parallelisation, use, e.g.,

module load Singularity
srun --pack-group=0-1 singularity run mycontainer.sif "<arguments>"
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