R and pbdR on Summit

Loading R

Several versions of R are available on Summit. You can see which by entering the command module spider r. Throughout this example, we will be using R version 3.6.1.

If you have logged in with the default modules, then you need to swap xl for gcc and the load R:

module swap xl gcc/6.4.0
module load r/3.6.1

If we do that and launch R, then we see:

## platform       powerpc64le-unknown-linux-gnu
## arch           powerpc64le
## os             linux-gnu
## system         powerpc64le, linux-gnu
## status
## major          3
## minor          6.1
## year           2019
## month          07
## day            05
## svn rev        76782
## language       R
## version.string R version 3.6.1 (2019-07-05)
## nickname       Action of the Toes

## R version 3.6.1 (2019-07-05)
## Platform: powerpc64le-unknown-linux-gnu (64-bit)
## Running under: Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server 7.6 (Maipo)
## Matrix products: default
## BLAS/LAPACK: /autofs/nccs-svm1_sw/summit/r/3.6.1/rhel7.6_gnu6.4.0/lib64/R/lib/libRblas.so
## locale:
## [1] C
## attached base packages:
## [1] stats     graphics  grDevices utils     datasets  methods   base
## loaded via a namespace (and not attached):
## [1] compiler_3.6.1

How to Run an R Script

Summit has a node hierarchy that can be very confusing for the uninitiated. The Summit User Guide explains this in depth. This has some consequences that may be unusual for R programmers. A few important ones to note are:

  • You must have a script that you can run in batch, e.g. with Rscript or R CMD BATCH
  • All data that needs to be visible to the R process (including the script and your packages) must be on gpfs (not your home directory!).
  • You must launch your script from the launch nodes with jsrun.

R Hello World Example

We’ll start with something very simple. The script is:

"hello world"

Save this in a file hw.r, somewhere on gpfs. So say your project is abc123. You might have hw.r in /gpfs/alpine/abc123/proj-shared/my_hw_path/.

There are two ways we can run this. One is with an interactive job, and one is with a batch job. The interactive job doesn’t provide us with the ability to run interactive R jobs on the compute nodes (using R interactively on the compute node is complicated, so we do not discuss that here.). However, it does allow us to interactively submit tasks to the compute nodes (launched via jsrun). This can be useful if you are trying to debug a script that unexpectedly dies, without having to continuously submit jobs to the batch queue (more on that in a moment).

We can start an interactive job with 1 node that will run for no more than 10 minutes via:

bsub -P $PROJECT -nnodes 1 -W 10 -Is $SHELL

Note that you need to either set the shell variable PROJECT to your project identifier, or replace $PROJECT above with the identifier.

Once your job begins, you will again be at a shell prompt, but the host should have changed from something like login1 to batch1 (numbering may differ). From here, you can launch the hello world script.

With our interactive job running, we can run our script on the compute node via:

$ jsrun -n 1 Rscript hw.r
## [1] "hello world"

Our task run, we can enter exit into the terminal.

Of course, this involves no parallelism, since it is a single R session. We will show how to run a basic MPI example with pbdR next.

pbdR Hello World Example

The R code is:


msg = paste0("Hello from rank ", comm.rank(), " (local rank ", comm.localrank(), ") of ", comm.size())
comm.print(msg, all.rank=TRUE, quiet=TRUE)


As before, save this file as, say, pbdr_hw.r somewhere on gpfs. This time, we will get an interactive node with 2 nodes:

bsub -P $PROJECT -nnodes 2 -W 10 -Is $SHELL

We will use 2 MPI ranks per node, giving 4 total ranks across the 2 nodes:

$ jsrun -n4 -r2 Rscript hw.r
## [1] "Hello from rank 0 (local rank 0) of 4"
## [1] "Hello from rank 1 (local rank 1) of 4"
## [1] "Hello from rank 2 (local rank 0) of 4"
## [1] "Hello from rank 3 (local rank 1) of 4"

At this point, we are still running the job and can submit more tasks to the compute nodes if we like. If not, we can end the job by entering exit to the terminal.

So far we have seen how to launch jobs interactively. The other way to run our script is to submit a batch job. To do that, we need to create a batch script:

#BSUB -W 10
#BSUB -nnodes 2
#BSUB -J rhw

module load gcc/6.4.0
module load r/3.6.1

cd /gpfs/alpine/abc123/proj-shared/my_hw_path/

jsrun -n4 -r2 Rscript hw.r

Before continuing, a few comments. First you need to replace the example project identifiers (ABC123 above) with your project. Second, load the appropriate modules (here we just need R). Third, make sure that you change directory to the appropriate place on gpfs. Fourth, add your jsrun call. Finally, you should also change the name of your job from rhw to something else by modifying the #BSUB -J line.

We need to save this to a file, say job.bs. We submit the job to the queue via bsub job.bs. Once we do, we have to wait for the job to start, then to run. After however long that takes, I get the output file rhw.679095. If I cat that file, I see:

[1] "Hello from rank 0 (local rank 0) of 4"
[1] "Hello from rank 1 (local rank 1) of 4"
[1] "Hello from rank 2 (local rank 0) of 4"
[1] "Hello from rank 3 (local rank 1) of 4"

(additional output excluded for brevity's sake)

The information below the dashes which we omitted can be occasionally helpful for debugging, say if there is some kind of hardware problem..

Common R Packages for Parallelism

There are many R packages for parallel computing. Some popular ones include the core parallel package, as well as high-level interface packages like future and foreach. Many of these will use the OS fork mechanism to launch additional R processes. This mechanism generally does not behave well with MPI, which you must use (in the form of jsrun) to push your task out to the compute node(s). We highly recommend you avoid these packages if at all possible, unless they are a frontend to Rmpi.

For parallelism, you should use pbdR packages, Rmpi directly, or an interface which can use Rmpi as a backend. We address GPUs specifically next.

GPU Computing with R

There are some R packages which can use GPUs, such as xgboost. There is also the gpuR series of packages. Several pbdR packages support GPU computing. It is also possible to offload some linear algebra computations (specifically matrix-matrix products, and methods which are computationally dominated by them) to the GPU using NVIDIA’s NVBLAS.

If you want to do GPU computing on Summit with R, we would love to collaborate with you (see contact details at the bottom of this document).

More Information

For more information about using R and pbdR effectively in an HPC environment such as Summit, please see the R and pbdR articles. These are long-form articles that introduce HPC concepts like MPI programming in much more detail than we do here.

Also, if you want to use R and/or pbdR on Summit, please feel free to contact us directly:

  • Mike Matheson - mathesonma AT ornl DOT gov
  • George Ostrouchov - ostrouchovg AT ornl DOT gov
  • Drew Schmidt - schmidtda AT ornl DOT gov

We are happy to provide support and collaboration for R and pbdR users on Summit.