3. Tutorial

For the discussion that follows, it is important to understand the three key concepts of graph, session and device as well as their functional interdependence.

Session graph device illustration

Fig. 3.1 Relationship between session, graph and device in TensorFlow

  • Graph: A computational graph is the connectivity framework of a deep learning model, where nodes are operators and edges are the data streams that connect them. Building a deep learning model in TensorFlow is the functional equivalent of designing a graph, where specified layer operations (for example, fully-connected layers) are nodes, and the sequence and connectivity of layers (such as a convolutional layer followed by max-pooling) define the edges.

  • Session: A session is the computational platform that encapsulates a graph. It handles data flow into and out of the graph, variable initialisation, model/weight storage and weight restoration, along with a number of other operations that are required to manage the computational task.

  • Device: The device identifies the hardware on which a session is run, such as the IPU, CPU or TPU. In many of the applications targeting the IPU, it will be helpful to segregate tasks between the CPU and IPU to leverage those aspects of the computation that they are each best suited for.

In the sections that follow, these three concepts will form a recurrent theme in building and deploying models from TensorFlow.

There are a number of references, user guides, model repositories and texts that can be valuable in learning the framework. See the Resources section for further reading.

3.1. Preliminary graphs

The focus now is to implement our first basic graphs targeting the IPU. The first step will be a straightforward additive graph with nothing save the fundamental components required for running on an IPU.

From there, we add the XLA library, which is required for a number of TensorFlow operators.

Finally, we add the concept of sharding, in which we take our first steps to model parallelism by splitting a basic graph across four IPUs then consolidate the calculations from the separate IPUs to produce a single final result.

3.2. A basic graph

We begin with a simple example of adding some floating-point numbers.

 1import numpy as np
 3from tensorflow.python.ipu.scopes import ipu_scope
 4import tensorflow.compat.v1 as tf
 5from tensorflow.python.ipu.config import IPUConfig
 8# Configure arguments for targeting the IPU
 9cfg = IPUConfig()
10cfg.auto_select_ipus = 1
13with tf.device("cpu"):
14  pa = tf.placeholder(np.float32, [2], name="a")
15  pb = tf.placeholder(np.float32, [2], name="b")
16  pc = tf.placeholder(np.float32, [2], name="c")
19def basic_graph(pa, pb, pc):
20  # Do basic addition with tensors
21  o1 = pa + pb
22  o2 = pa + pc
23  simple_graph_output = o1 + o2
24  return simple_graph_output
27with ipu_scope("/device:IPU:0"):
28  result = basic_graph(pa, pb, pc)
30with tf.Session() as sess:
31  # Run the graph through the session feeding it an arbitrary dictionary
32  result = sess.run(result,
33                    feed_dict={
34                        pa: [1., 1.],
35                        pb: [0., 1.],
36                        pc: [1., 5.]
37                    })
38  print(result)

Let’s review the key sections of the code. In lines 1-5 are the basic import statements, two of which pertain to the IPU specifically. Line 3 imports the IPUConfig configuration API, which will be the main interface to set configuration options for running the IPU session. ipu_scope is a helper function that ensures that the device and resource scopes are set (that is, that the hardware is properly initialised when called by the script).

 8# Configure arguments for targeting the IPU
 9cfg = IPUConfig()
10cfg.auto_select_ipus = 1

In this section of the code, basic configuration options are being defined. The IPUConfig is a hierarchical structure of configuration options, organized into categories. To set a configuration option, assign to one of its attributes.

3.2.1. Selecting hardware to run on

The auto_select_ipus option enables you to select from the available IPUs in a system. In this example, one IPU is selected. This can be changed to any number between 1 and the number of IPUs available in your system. For example, the Dell EMC DSS8440 IPU Server has eight C2 cards installed, each with two IPUs, so it has 16 IPUs available in total.

This option will be important when we explore sharding, in which a single graph is segregated into separate sections, each section targeting a distinct IPU.

14with tf.device("cpu"):
15  pa = tf.placeholder(np.float32, [2], name="a")
16  pb = tf.placeholder(np.float32, [2], name="b")
17  pc = tf.placeholder(np.float32, [2], name="c")

In this section, TensorFlow placeholders are being placed into the CPU part of the graph. These will be used to feed data using a feed dictionary when executing session.run().

20def basic_graph(pa, pb, pc):
21  # Do basic addition with tensors
22  o1 = pa + pb
23  o2 = pa + pc
24  simple_graph_output = o1 + o2
25  return simple_graph_output
28with ipu_scope("/device:IPU:0"):
29  result = basic_graph(pa, pb, pc)

In this section, a graph of operations is created to do simple arithmetic on three input tensors. The ipu_scope directive is used to ensure that these operations are placed on the IPU system.

Then the graph is executed by using session.run(), the following output can be seen in the console log:

...: I tensorflow/compiler/plugin/poplar/driver/executor.cc:660] Device /device:IPU:0 attached to IPU: 0
[3. 8.]

The last line shows the result of adding the vectors. The line before that informs us that the targeted device was the IPU, and the index of the IPU that ran the graph was IPU 0.

Note that "/device:IPU:0" in the script is a logical identifier for the IPU, and so when using auto_select_ipus, the actual IPU selected to run the graph may not be IPU 0, but could be any of the other IPUs that are free and available on the server. This will be covered in more detail in Sharding a graph.

3.2.2. Running on the IPU Model simulator

You can also run the graph on an “IPU Model” running on the host. The IPU Model is a simulation of the behaviour of the IPU hardware. It does not implement every aspect of a real IPU.

When using an IPU Model instead of actual IPU hardware, the runtime operations will behave exactly as they would on hardware. However, the profiler will estimate the performance of operations and memory use, so the profiling information will not be as precise as running on hardware. By default, the memory use will not include that required for IPU code.

If you set the IPUConfig.ipu_model.compile_ipu_code option to True then Poplar will compile code for the IPU (in addition to the CPU code that is actually executed by the IPU Model). In this case, the reported IPU memory usage will include the memory used for code.

The IPU Model can be a useful tool for debugging OOM-related issues.

By default, the code will be run on IPU hardware. To run on the IPU Model instead, you need to set the environment variable TF_POPLAR_FLAGS='--use_ipu_model', for example:

# Make sure we append to the environment variable, in case there are
# already other flags in there.
os.environ['TF_POPLAR_FLAGS'] = os.environ.get('TF_POPLAR_FLAGS', '') + ' --use_ipu_model'

3.3. Compiling the graph for the IPU

XLA (Accelerated Linear Algebra) is a domain-specific compiler for linear algebra that can accelerate TensorFlow models. The Graphcore implementation generates code optimised for the IPU.

The main interface to XLA is the ipu.ipu_compiler.compile() function, which will take a graph and a feed dictionary for input tensors, and return a tensor set. ipu.ipu_compiler.compile() sits between the graph definition and the session construct, as shown below:


To ensure that your code is executed efficiently on the IPU, you should compile it with ipu.ipu_compiler.compile(). For operations that are to be placed on an IPU, this should be called inside an ipu_scope.

Let’s now build on our previous TensorFlow script by adding ipu.ipu_compiler.compile to the session definition.

 1import numpy as np
 3from tensorflow.python.ipu import ipu_compiler
 4from tensorflow.python.ipu.config import IPUConfig
 5from tensorflow.python.ipu.scopes import ipu_scope
 6import tensorflow.compat.v1 as tf
 9# Configure argument for targeting the IPU
10cfg = IPUConfig()
11cfg.auto_select_ipus = 1
14with tf.device("cpu"):
15  pa = tf.placeholder(np.float32, [2], name="a")
16  pb = tf.placeholder(np.float32, [2], name="b")
17  pc = tf.placeholder(np.float32, [2], name="c")
20def basic_graph(pa, pb, pc):
21  # Do basic addition on tensors
22  o1 = pa + pb
23  o2 = pa + pc
24  simple_graph_output = o1 + o2
25  return simple_graph_output
28with ipu_scope("/device:IPU:0"):
29  xla_result = ipu_compiler.compile(basic_graph, [pa, pb, pc])
31with tf.Session() as sess:
32  # Base run
33  result = sess.run(xla_result,
34                    feed_dict={
35                        pa: [1., 1.],
36                        pb: [0., 1.],
37                        pc: [1., 5.]
38                    })
40  print(result)

The script has now gone from calling basic_graph directly, to feeding it as the graph input to ipu.ipu_compiler.compile(). This takes the graph, along with the corresponding placeholders, as input.

Using XLA has certain restrictions, the most relevant of which is that the dimensions of all tensors involved in the graph must be fully defined at compile time.

As a result, the dimensions of the placeholders fed to ipu.ipu_compiler.compile() have been defined on the CPU. The values of these tensors are not defined until the session.run() call.

In most IPU-specific implementations, it is likely that an entire graph will be parsed through ipu.ipu_compiler.compile(). However, it is also possible to compile only a portion of a graph with XLA and then combine the resulting tensor set with another, non-XLA, graph.

Further details about XLA compilation are available on the TensorFlow website: https://www.tensorflow.org/xla/.

3.4. Sharding a graph

The final script of this introductory series focuses on sharding: the process of splitting a graph across multiple IPUs. In essence, the session continues to be a single entity, so that the graph construct is treated as a single model, but distinct portions of the graph live on different IPUs, as illustrated below:

Sharding across two IPUs

Fig. 3.2 Sharding across two IPUs

Let’s now return to our basic script and add the sharding component.

 1import numpy as np
 3from tensorflow.python import ipu
 4from tensorflow.python.ipu.scopes import ipu_scope
 5from tensorflow.compiler.plugin.poplar.ops import gen_ipu_ops
 6import tensorflow.compat.v1 as tf
 9NUM_IPUS = 4
11# Configure the IPU system
12cfg = ipu.config.IPUConfig()
13cfg.auto_select_ipus = NUM_IPUS
16# Create the CPU section of the graph
17with tf.device("cpu"):
18  pa = tf.placeholder(np.float32, [2], name="a")
19  pb = tf.placeholder(np.float32, [2], name="b")
20  pc = tf.placeholder(np.float32, [2], name="c")
22# Define a trace event
23with tf.device('cpu'):
24  report = gen_ipu_ops.ipu_event_trace()
27# Distribute the computation across four shards
28def sharded_graph(pa, pb, pc):
29  with ipu.scopes.ipu_shard(0):
30    o1 = pa + pb
31  with ipu.scopes.ipu_shard(1):
32    o2 = pa + pc
33  with ipu.scopes.ipu_shard(2):
34    o3 = pb + pc
35  with ipu.scopes.ipu_shard(3):
36    out = o1 + o2 + o3
37    return out
40# Create the IPU section of the graph
41with ipu_scope("/device:IPU:0"):
42  result = ipu.ipu_compiler.compile(sharded_graph, [pa, pb, pc])
44with tf.Session() as sess:
45  # sharded run
46  result = sess.run(result,
47                    feed_dict={
48                        pa: [1., 1.],
49                        pb: [0., 1.],
50                        pc: [1., 5.]
51                    })
53  print(result)

Focusing on the sharding parts of this new script, line 14 uses auto_select_ipus to select four separate IPUs for the task. This will go through the IPUs accessible by the host, determine which are being utilised and which are free, and then subscribe to those IPUs that are available.

In lines 29-38, the standard sum graph is defined (with the addition of one more sum on shard 2). Now each portion of the sum is performed on a distinct shard, using

with ipu.scopes.ipu_shard(shard_index):

As a result, shards 0 through 2 perform independent tensor sums, while shard 3 performs an accumulated sum from the other three shards. In line 43 we are using ipu.ipu_compiler.compile() to parse the graph.

The output of the session run will be something similar to this:

...:  I tensorflow/compiler/plugin/poplar/driver/executor.cc:660] Device /device:IPU:0 attached to IPUs: 24
[array([ 4., 14.], dtype=float32)]

The first thing to note is that the sum is correct so we know that the sharded implementation works correctly.

The second thing to note is that the IPU ID is reported as 24. This is a multi-IPU ID and corresponds to the individual IPUs 4, 5, 6 and 7. These are the IPUs selected to host the graph and to process respective shards as indexed in the code. See the IPU Command Line Tools document for more information about how IPU IDs are allocated.

3.5. Adding variables

Do not add variables using tf.Variable([shape], initializer), because they will fail to obey certain operations, such as assign_add.

Make sure that all variables are added using a variable scope that is marked as a resource. This can be done globally, as shown below:

vscope = tf.get_variable_scope()
var = tf.get_variable(name, shape=[...], dtype=tf.float32, initializer=tf.constant_initializer(0.5))

Or it can be done locally, in a specific scope:

with tf.variable_scope("vs", use_resource=True):
  var = tf.get_variable(name, shape=[...], dtype=tf.float32, initializer=tf.constant_initializer(0.5))

3.5.1. Troubleshooting

If you get an error similar to the following (especially the lines containing VariableV2) it indicates that a variable has been created which is not a resource variable.

InvalidArgumentError (see above for traceback): Cannot assign a device for operation
  'InceptionV1/Logits/Conv2d_0c_1x1/biases': Could not satisfy explicit device specification
  '/device:IPU:0' because no supported kernel for IPU devices is available.
Colocation Debug Info:
Colocation group had the following types and devices:
Assign: CPU
VariableV2: CPU

3.5.2. Note on the global_step counter

More advanced execution control frameworks in TensorFlow use a scalar counter called global_step to count the number of iterations of training which have occurred. This counter is serialised along with the model. It allows the model to base parameters on the step count, even if the model is run multiple times.

There is an add operation which adds to the global_step scalar on each training pass. If the global_step variable is placed on the IPU device, then this increment operation will occur on the IPU too. This will cause the Poplar training engine to be swapped out for the increment engine on each training step, causing very poor performance.

To avoid this, use the expression tf.train.get_or_create_global_step() in the CPU context before you create any special training sessions. This will ensure that the global_step variable is on the CPU.

with tf.device("cpu"):

with ipu.scopes.ipu_scope("/device:IPU:0"):
  out = ipu.ipu_compiler.compile(model_fn, [...])