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Lead Image © Peter Hermes Furian, 123RF.com

Measuring the performance health of system nodes

Peak Performance

Article from ADMIN 70/2022
Many HPC systems check the state of a node before running an application, but not very many check that the performance of the node is acceptable before running the job.

In a previous article [1] I discussed prolog and epilog scripts with respect to a resource manager (job scheduler). Most of the prolog examples were simple and focused on setting up the environment before running a job, whereas the epilog example cleaned up after an application or workflow was executed. However, prolog and epilog scripts are not limited to these aspects. One aspect of prolog/epilog scripting that I didn't touch on was checking the health of the nodes assigned to the job.

Generically, you can think of a node health check as determining whether a node is configured as it should be (i.e., setting the environment as needed, which I discussed somewhat in the previous article) and is running as expected. This process includes checking that filesystems are mounted correctly, needed daemons are running, the amount of memory is correct, networking is up, and so on. I refer to this as the "state" of the node's health.

In that same article, I mentioned Node Health Check (NHC) [2], which is used by several sites to check the health of nodes, hence the name. In my mind, it focuses on checking the "state" of the node, which is a very important part of the health of a node. A large number of options can be turned on and off according to what you want to check about the state of the node.

Almost 20 years ago, when I worked for a Linux high-performance computing (HPC) company that no longer exists, we had a customer who really emphasized the number of nodes that were available for running jobs at any one time. One of the ways we measured this was to run a short application and check the performance against the other nodes. If the performance was up to or close to that of the other nodes, the node was considered "up" and available for users to run jobs. Otherwise, the node was considered down and not used to run jobs. I refer to this concept as the "performance" health of the node.

Performance-Healthy Nodes

Node performance health, at least in my mind, is greatly underappreciated. The node can be in a good state, where everything appears to be working, but it might not perform correctly (i.e., be healthy). The difficult question to answer is: What does "correctly" mean?

Because I'm talking HPC, the first typical reaction is to check that the node is running as fast as possible. Don't forget that parallel applications only run as fast as the slowest node. Having a few nodes that run faster than the others is fine (who doesn't like extra performance), but you want to find nodes that are running slower than most of the other nodes. To make this determination, you can check whether performance is less than the norm.

In this article, I present some aspects for determining whether the performance of a node is acceptable for a user's application with the use of standard benchmarks that are run on the node before a user's application is run. The results are then compared with typical node performance for the same benchmarks.

Standard Benchmarks – NPB

The applications you run to check the health of a node are really up to you, but I highly recommend some typical applications. Although HPC runs multinode applications, an easy place to start is to focus on single-node application runs that can use all cores, all memory, or both. You can even run a single core if you like. In my opinion, the emphasis should be on testing an important aspect of performance: peak CPU or GPU floating point operations per second (FLOPS), memory bandwidth, combinations of compute and memory, data transfer from the CPU to the GPU (bandwidth, latency, or both), data transfers to local or network storage, or scaling performance with more than one core.

An important aspect of the tests or benchmarks is that they don't take too much time to complete. You don't want to have a health check test that unduly delays starting a user's application, particularly for applications that might not run very long where a few minutes delay would be a big portion of the total runtime. You need a balance in the time it takes to complete the test, the usefulness of the test, and the user application execution time (which is likely to be unknown).

To determine performance, I use the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) parallel benchmarks [3], a set of code created by NASA to test performance of parallel systems, providing a proxy for computation and data movement in computation fluid dynamics (CFD) applications. NPB has been around for many years and has proven to be very useful in testing systems.

One of the best aspects of the NPB tests is the different "classes" of problems that allow you to test a wide range of system configurations, which has a great effect on the time it takes to complete the tests. Over the years, NPB has added new classes of problem sizes, multizone versions of some tests (great for OpenMP coding), and even some tests that stress I/O and data movement.

In 1991, the NAS Division created some benchmarks [4] suited to their needs that had different problem sizes. So, they started writing NPB in 1991 and released it in 1992. Since then, NPB has had three major releases with new features, new code, and new languages.

The focus of the benchmarks was, as one would expect, derived from CFD applications. These benchmarks test many aspects of modern systems, from stressing the CPU in different ways, to memory bandwidth aspects, to interprocess and network communications. NPB started with five "kernels" and three pseudo applications. The kernels are:

  • IS – integer sort, random memory access
  • EP – embarrassingly parallel
  • CG – conjugate gradient, irregular memory access and communication
  • MG – multigrid on a sequence of meshes, long- and short-distance communication, memory intensive
  • FT – discrete 3D fast Fourier transform (FFT) emphasizing all-to-all communication

The three pseudo applications are:

  • BT – block tri-diagonal solver
  • SP – scalar penta-diagonal solver
  • LU – lower-upper Gauss-Seidel solver

The latest version of NPB is 3.4.2. Before NPB version 2.3, the benchmarks were all serial unless the compiler created multiprocessor binaries. NPB version 2.3, released in 1997, comprised a complete version of the benchmarks that used the Message Passing Interface (MPI), although the serial versions were still available.

In NPB release 3, three multizone versions of the benchmarks (termed NPB-MZ) were added that take advantage of MPI/OpenMP hybrid programming techniques and can stress interprocess communication and multinode communication, as well as single system aspects. A document [5] describing these benchmarks was released in 2003.

The multizone (MZ) benchmarks are:

  • BT-MZ – uneven-size zones within a problem class, increased number of zones as the problem class grows
  • SP-MZ – even-size zones within a problem class, increased number of zones as the problem class grows
  • LU-MZ – even-size zones within a problem class, a fixed number of zones for all problem classes

NAS also created a set of benchmarks for unstructured computations, data I/O, and data movement:

  • UA – unstructured adaptive mesh, dynamic, and irregular memory access
  • BT-IO – a test of different parallel I/O techniques
  • DC – data cube
  • DT – data traffic

The UA computation benchmark can push random memory access and memory bandwidth very easily.

The primary changes made to the benchmarks of the latest version 3.4.2 of the NPB are:

  • added class F to the existing S, W, A, B, C, D, E
  • added dynamic memory allocation
  • added MPI and OpenMP programming models

The latest version of the multizone benchmarks is also 3.4.2. The primary changes to these benchmarks are:

  • codes: BT-MZ, SP-MZ, LU-MZ
  • classes: S, W, A, B, C, D, E, F
  • programming models: MPI+OpenMP, OpenMP
  • added dynamic memory allocation

NAS has not released any official GPU versions of NPB, but if you look around the web, you can find various versions that others have created. Probably the most predominant version is NPB-GPU [6], which uses the CUDA parallel computing platform and programming model to produce the GPU versions of the five kernels and three pseudo applications.

Another common source of GPU versions is from Chemnitz University of Technology in the form of NPB-CUDA and NPB-MZ-CUDA [7].

Which Benchmarks to Use?

Before you can test node health, you have to establish baseline performance. Because the node tests will be run before a user's application, you don't want to spend too much time on the benchmarks. How much time you spend is really up to you, but for the sake of argument, I will limit the time to 30-40 seconds per benchmark.

Running all the NBP benchmarks would take too much time. Eight benchmarks at 30 seconds each is four minutes. I'm not sure how many users want to wait four minutes, before their applications start, to test that the nodes are running correctly, but I can probably count them on one hand.

Instead, I'll run one or two benchmarks for a maximum of 30-80 seconds before the user's application runs.

For a new system, I run the various NPB benchmarks on a single node with the maximum number of cores possible. I measure the runtime with the Linux time command, and I run the benchmarks a few times to compute the mean (Table 1). For this article, I ran the tests on an AMD CPU with six non-threaded cores, most of them for classes A, B, and C (standard test problems, with an approximate four times size increase going from one class to the next) where possible.

Table 1

NPB Test Results

Benchmark Class A time (s) Class B time (s) Class C time (s)
BT (4 cores) 11.95 66.5 272
CG (4 cores) 0.4 23.9 62.3
EP (6 cores) 1.4 5.46 21.05
FT (4 cores) 1.69 17.26 67.7
IS (4 cores) 0.6 2.16 8.2
LU (6 cores) 5.13 41.8
MG (4 cores) 1.2 3.8 39.1
SP (4 cores) 16.2 138.3

Notice that for most benchmarks I could only use four cores. These benchmarks can only use a core count greater than one that is a multiple of two (i.e., 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc.).

Looking through Table 1, I made the following observations and decisions:

  • For my system, I could only run the IS test with a class C problem size. Therefore, I will restrict myself to classes A and B.
  • The BT benchmark takes a while to run at class B sizes (66.5s), so I won't use that test.
  • I want to have at least one test that uses all the cores, so that points to EP and LU. However, LU takes 41.8s for a class B size, which is a bit long, so I won't use the LU test, which leaves the EP test.
  • The FT test is for a discrete 3D FFT with all-to-all communication. FFT can be communication intensive even on a single node.
  • The total runtime of EP and FT for class B size is about 23s, which is a fairly short time, so I will add the MG benchmark with a very short runtime (3.8s) for a class B problem size.

Therefore, I will run the EP, FT, and MG tests to check health performance. For class B, the EP test takes 5.46s, the FT test 17.26s, and the MB test 3.8s. If I stay with only class B tests, the total runtime would be about 27s, which I believe will be an acceptable time to wait before a job starts.

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