IBM Watson Machine Learning CE

Getting Started

IBM Watson Machine Learning Community Edition is provided on Summit through the module ibm-wml-ce. This module includes a license for IBM Distributed Deep Learning (DDL) allowing execution across up to 954 nodes.

To access the IBM WML CE packages use the module load command:

module load ibm-wml-ce

For more information on loading modules, including loading specific verions, see: Environment Management with Lmod

This will activate a conda environment which is pre-loaded with the following packages, and their dependencies:

IBM WML CE Version ibm-wml-ce/1.6.1 ibm-wml-ce/1.6.2
Package IBM DDL 1.4.0 IBM DDL 1.5.0
Tensorflow 1.14 Tensorflow 1.15
Pytorch 1.1.0 Pytorch 1.2.0
Caffe(IBM-enhanced) 1.0.0 Caffe (IBM-enhanced) 1.0.0
Horovod @9f87459 (IBM-DDL Backend) Horovod v0.18.2 (IBM-DDL Backend)
Complete List 1.6.1 Software Packages 1.6.2 Software Packages


WML-CE was the topic of the October 2019 User Conference Call, presented by Bryant Nelson and Brad Nemanich of IBM. (slides | recording)

Running DDL Jobs

IBM DDL provides a tool called ddlrun which facilitates the launching of DDL jobs on Summit. When called inside of a bsub script, ddlrun will automatically distribute the training job across all the compute hosts in the reservation. ddlrun automatically selects default arguments optimized for performance.

Basic DDL BSUB Script

The following bsub script will run a distributed Tensorflow resnet50 training job across 2 nodes.

#BSUB -W 0:10
#BSUB -nnodes 2
#BSUB -q batch
#BSUB -J ddl_test_job
#BSUB -o /ccs/home/<user>/job%J.out
#BSUB -e /ccs/home/<user>/job%J.out

module load ibm-wml-ce

ddlrun python $CONDA_PREFIX/tf_cnn_benchmarks/ --variable_update=ddl --model=resnet50

bsub is used to launch the script as follows:

bsub script.bash

For more information on bsub and job submission please see: Running Jobs.

Troubleshooting Tips

Full command

The output from ddlrun includes the exact command used to launch the distributed job. This is useful if a user wants to see exactly what ddlrun is doing. The following is the first line of the output from the above script:

$ module load ibm-wml-ce
(ibm-wml-ce-1.6.1-1) $ ddlrun python $CONDA_PREFIX/tf_cnn_benchmarks/ --variable_update=ddl --model=resnet50
+ /autofs/nccs-svm1_sw/summit/.swci/1-compute/opt/spack/20180914/linux-rhel7-ppc64le/xl-16.1.1-3/spectrum-mpi- \
  -disable_gdr -gpu --rankfile /tmp/DDLRUN/DDLRUN.xoObgjtixZfp/RANKFILE -x "DDL_OPTIONS=-mode p:6x2x1x1 " -n 12 \
  -mca plm_rsh_num_concurrent 12 -x DDL_HOST_PORT=2200 -x "DDL_HOST_LIST=g28n14:0,2,4,6,8,10;g28n15:1,3,5,7,9,11" bash \
  -c 'source /sw/summit/ibm-wml-ce/anaconda-base/etc/profile.d/ && conda activate /sw/summit/ibm-wml-ce/anaconda-base/envs/ibm-wml-ce-1.6.1-1 \
  > /dev/null 2>&1 && python /sw/summit/ibm-wml-ce/anaconda-base/envs/ibm-wml-ce-1.6.1-1/ddl-tensorflow/examples/mnist/'

Verbose mode

Using the verbose flag (-v) with ddlrun displays much more debugging information. This should be the first step to troubleshoot errors when launching a distributed job.

Setting up Custom Environments

The IBM-WML-CE conda environment is read-only. Therefore, users cannot install any additional packages that may be needed. If users need any additional conda or pip packages, they can clone the IBM-WML-CE conda environment into their home directory and then add any packages they need.


The conda environment includes a module revision number, the ‘X’ in ibm-wml-ce-1.6.2-X. The name of the active environment can be found in the prompt string, or conda env list can be used to see what conda environments are available.

$ module load ibm-wml-ce
(ibm-wml-ce-1.6.2-X) $ conda create --name cloned_env --clone ibm-wml-ce-1.6.2-X
(ibm-wml-ce-1.6.2-X) $ conda activate cloned_env
(cloned_env) $

By default this should create the cloned environment in /ccs/home/${USER}/.conda/envs/cloned_env.

To activate the new environment you should still load the module first. This will ensure that all of the conda settings remain the same.

$ module load ibm-wml-ce
(ibm-wml-ce-1.6.2-X) $ conda activate cloned_env
(cloned_env) $

To use Horovod with the IBM DDL backend in a cloned environment, the user must pip install Horovod using the following commands:

(cloned_env) $ conda install gxx_linux-ppc64le=7.3.0
(cloned_env) $ HOROVOD_CUDA_HOME="${CONDA_PREFIX}" HOROVOD_GPU_ALLREDUCE=DDL pip install --no-cache-dir git+
(cloned_env) $ conda remove gxx_linux-ppc64le


The cloned environment may have Horovod included after the clone. Due to the way that conda handles cloning pip packages, the installed version may not be correct. Horovod should always be manually installed after cloning.

Best DDL Performance

Most users will get good performance using LSF basic job submission, and specifying the node count with -nnodes N. However, users trying to squeeze out the final few percent of performance can use the following techniques.

Reserving Whole Racks

When making node reservations for DDL jobs, it is best to reserve nodes in a rack-contiguous manner. IBM DDL optimizes communication with knowledge of the node layout.

In order to instruct BSUB to reserve nodes in the same rack, expert mode must be used (-csm y), and the user needs to explicitly specify the reservation string. For more information on Expert mode see: Easy Mode vs. Expert Mode

The following BSUB arguments and reservation string instruct bsub to reserve 2 compute nodes within the same rack:

#BSUB -csm y
#BSUB -n 85
#BSUB -R 1*{select[((LN)&&(type==any))]order[r15s:pg]span[hosts=1]cu[type=rack:pref=config]}+84*{select[((CN)&&(type==any))]order[r15s:pg]span[ptile=42]cu[type=rack:maxcus=1]}

-csm y enables ‘expert mode’.

-n 85 the total number of slots must be requested, as -nnodes is not compatible with expert mode.

We can break the reservation string down to understand each piece.

  1. The first term is needed to include a launch node in the reservation.

  2. The second term specifies how many compute slots and how many racks.

    • Here the 84 slots represents 2 compute nodes. Each compute node has 42 compute slots.
    • The maxcus=1 specifies that the nodes can come from at most 1 rack.

Best DDL Arguments

Summit is comprised of 256 racks of 18 nodes with 6 GPUs each. For more information about the hardware of Summit please see: System Overview.

DDL works best with topological knowledge of the cluster. GPUs per Node X Nodes per Rack X Racks Per Aisle X Aisles Some of this information can be acquired automatically, but some has to be specified by the user.

To get the best performance reservations should be made in multiples of 18, and the user should pass topology arguments to DDLRUN.

  • --nodes 18 informs DDL that there are 18 nodes per rack. Specifying 18 nodes per rack gave the best performance in preliminary testing, but it may be that logically splitting racks in half (--nodes 9) or logically grouping racks (--nodes 36) could lead to better performance on other workloads.
  • --racks 4 informs DDL that there are 4 racks per aisle. Summit is a fat tree, but preliminary testing showed that grouping racks into logical aisles of 4 racks gave the best performance.
  • --aisles 2 informs DDL that there are 2 total aisles. Nodes X Racks X Aisles must equal the total number of nodes in the LSF reservation.

If running on 144 nodes, the following ddlrun command should give good performance.

ddlrun --nodes 18 --racks 4 --aisles 2 python

For more information on ddlrun, please see: DDLRUN.


The following graph shows the scaling performance of the tf_cnn_benchmarks implementation of the Resnet50 model running on Summit during initial benchmark testing.


Figure 1. Performance Scaling of IBM DDL on Summit

The following LSF script can be used to reproduce the results for 144 nodes:

#BSUB -W 1:00
#BSUB -csm y
#BSUB -n 6049
#BSUB -R "1*{select[((LN) && (type == any))] order[r15s:pg] span[hosts=1] cu[type=rack:pref=config]}+6048*{select[((CN) && (type == any))] order[r15s:pg] span[ptile=42] cu[type=rack:maxcus=8]}"
#BSUB -q batch
#BSUB -o /ccs/home/user/job%J.out
#BSUB -e /ccs/home/user/job%J.out

module load ibm-wml-ce

ddlrun --nodes 18 --racks 4 --aisles 2 python $CONDA_PREFIX/tf_cnn_benchmarks/ \
    --model=resnet50 \
    --num_gpus=1 \
    --batch_size=256 \
    --num_batches=100 \
    --num_warmup_batches=10 \
    --data_name=imagenet \
    --allow_growth=True \