11. Overlapping IO with compute

By default, while PopART is streaming data to and from an IPU, no other computation can occur on the IPU until the data transfer is complete. For models that are limited by IO, overlapping IO with computation allows a portion of the IPU (IO tiles) to handle streaming data while the compute tiles work uninterrupted.

11.1. Configuring IO tiles

Overlapping IO requires the user to set a number of tiles aside for streaming data. The number of tiles can be adjusted to optimize transfer throughput, according to how much input data needs to be held on the IO tiles until the compute tiles are ready to receive and process the data. To calculate the number of IO tiles, divide the number of all (overlapped) inputs and anchors by the available SRAM per tile. Then, as a rule of thumb, round up to the next power of two.

The number of IO tiles is set with the numIOTiles SessionOption.

opts = popart.SessionOptions()
opts.numIOTiles = 128

IO tiles can only be used when virtual graphs are enabled. Virtual graph modes enable assignment of tensors and operations to a subset of IPUs. Within each IPU, they enable assignment of tensors to a subset of tiles (such as compute and IO tiles).

The virtual graph mode is set with the virtualGraphMode SessionOption. The supported virtual graph modes are defined by VirtualGraphMode:

opts.virtualGraphMode = popart.VirtualGraphMode.Manual
opts.virtualGraphMode = popart.VirtualGraphMode.Auto
opts.virtualGraphMode = popart.VirtualGraphMode.ExecutionPhases

Finally, overlapped IO needs explicit main loops (enableExplicitMainLoops) and host copy operations (useHostCopyOps) to be enabled.

opts.enableExplicitMainLoops = True
opts.useHostCopyOps = True

Explicit main loops will cause the PopART IR to be transformed such that the two training loops will become visible:

  • One loop for the device iterations, with batches_per_step iterations.

  • One loop for the gradient accumulations, with accl_factor iterations.

The respective loops will not be present if the batches_per_step or accl_factor are set to less than 2 as that would mean only a single iteration.

Host copy operations will represent the streaming of tensors from and to the host as operations in the IR:

  • HostLoadOp streams data from the host to the IPU

  • HostStoreOp streams data from the IPU to the host

In this configuration, it is possible to schedule the operations in the IR such that overlap between compute and IO occurs.

11.2. Specify overlap strategy for inputs

Each input can be configured individually. To do so, InputSettings can be set when adding an input tensor to the model:

x = builder.addInputTensor(
    popart.TensorInfo("FLOAT", [1, size, size]),
    ), f"x{i}")

InputSettings specifies which set of tiles the tensor should be loaded to, and what strategy should be applied. Overlap requires that we use IO tiles.

11.3. Specify overlap strategy for anchors

Each anchor can be configured individually. To do so, AnchorReturnType takes the additional TileSet and ExchangeStrategy arguments:

dataFlow = popart.DataFlow(
    batches_per_step, {
        loss: popart.AnchorReturnType(

Again, overlap requires that we use IO tiles here as well. The model will still be adjusted and compiled if a strategy is selected without using IO tiles, but it will not improve throughput.

11.4. Exchange strategies

The exchange strategy defines when the data is transferred from the host to the IPU. Available exchange strategies are:

  • JustInTime: No overlap, the data is loaded when required by other operations.

  • OverlapInnerLoop: Preload values in the previous inner loop iteration for the next iteration. If the inner loop iteration count is N, then N-2 data exchanges will overlap, while the first and the last will not. This is the recommended setting as long as accl_factor < 2 && batches_per_step >>> 2 or accl_factor >>> 2, since that will hide most exchanges while not increasing memory requirements and graph complexity too much.

  • OverlapLoops: Preload values in the previous loop iteration for the next iteration in both the inner and outer loop. If the outer loop iteration count is M, M*N-2 exchanges will overlap, but the IR graph becomes more complex and more memory will be required on the IO tiles. This is the recommended setting if accl_factor ~= 2 && batches_per_step >>> 2.

  • OverlapStep [not yet supported]: Preload both inner loops and across host iterations. This will be the recommended setting if accl_factor ~= 2 && batches_per_step ~= 2.