Parallel computing

Parallel computing is what HPC is really all about: processing things on more than one CPU at once. By now, you should have read all of the previous tutorials.

Parallel programming models

Parallel programming is a completely different way of programming. Most Triton users don’t need to write their own applications, at most they will be running existing programs, but in order to understand things, we start with some introduction.

The two main models are:

  • Shared memory program (or multithreading) runs on only one node because, like the name says, all the memory has to be accessible to all the processes. Thus, scaleability is limited to a number of CPU cores available within one computational node. The code is easier to implement and the same code can still be run in a serial mode. Examples of application that utilize this model: Matlab, R, OpenMP applications, typical parallel desktop programs.
  • Message passing programming (e.g. MPI, message passing interface) can run on multiple nodes interconnected with the network via passing data through MPI software libraries. The large-scale scientific programs are MPI. MPI can scale to thousands of CPU cores, but it’s harder to implement from the programmer point of view.

Both models, MPI and shared memory, can be combined in one application, in this case we are talking about hybrid parallel programming model.

Most historical scientific code is MPI, but these days more and more people are using shared memory models.

The important note is that a normal, serial code can’t just be run as parallel without modifications. As a user it is your responsibility to understand what parallel model implementation your code has, if any. Knowing this, you can proceed with the instructions below.

Another important note regarding parallelism is that all the applications scale good up to some upper limit which depends on application implementation, size and type of problem you solve and some other factors. The best practice is to benchmark your code on different number of CPU cores before actual production run.

If you want to run some program in parallel, you have to know something about it - is it shared memory or MPI? A program doesn’t magically get faster when you ask more processors if it’s not designed to.

Shared memory: OpenMP programs

OpenMP is a standard de facto for the multithreading implementations. There are many others, but this one is the most common, supported by all known compiler suits. For other implementations of shared memory parallelism, please consult your code docs.

Simple code compiling:

gcc -fopenmp -O2 -g omp_program.c -o omp_program

Running an OpenMP code:

srun --cpus-per-task=12 --mem-per-cpu=2000 --time=45:00 omp_program

The basic slurm options you need are --cpus-per-task=N (or -c N) to specify the number of cores to use within one node. If your memory needs scale with the number of cores, use --mem-per-core=, if you require a fixed amount of memory (per node regardless of number of processors), use --mem.

The SLURM batch file will look similar:

#!/bin/bash -l
#SBATCH --cpus-per-task=12
#SBATCH  --mem-per-cpu=2000
#SBATCH --time=45:00
srun omp_program

Good to know that OpenMP is both an environment and set of libraries, but those libraries always come as part of the compiler, thus no need to load extra modules if you compile with the default gcc.

Other programs and multithreading

Some programs use multiple threads for their parallel computations. A good example of this kind of program is MATLAB, that user parallel pool of workers; or R, which uses the parallel-package for its parallel applys. Threaded applications behave similarly to OpenMP applications in that one needs to specify the number of cores per task and amount of memory per core.

Message passing programs: MPI

For compiling/running an MPI job one has to pick up one of the MPI library suites. Big vendors provide their own (Cray, Intel) while there are other popular MPI flavors available. To compile and run code you need to pick one. Since most of the MPI codes will also use math libs, makes sense to pick a toolchain that provides all at once.

For basic use of MPI programs, you usually need the -n option to specify the number of MPI threads.

Loading module:

module load openmpi  # GCC + OpenMPI

Compiling a code:

mpif90 -O2 -g mpi_prog.f -o mpi_prog

Running an MPI code in the batch mode:

#SBATCH -n 16                # 16 processes
#SBATCH --constraint=avx     # run on nodes with AVX instructions
#SBATCH --time=4:00:00       # takes 4 hours all together
#SBATCH --mem-per-cpu=4000   # 4GB per process

module load openmpi  # NOTE: should same as you used to compile the code
srun ./mpi_prog

Triton has multiple architectures around (12, 20, 24, 40 CPU cores per node), even though SLURM optimizes resources usage and allocate CPUs within one node, which gives better performance for the app, it still makes sense to put constraints explicitly.

Monitoring performance

You can use the seff program (with a jobid) to list what percent of available processors and memory you used. If your processor usage is far below, your code may not be working correctly in a parallel environment.


  1. Run srun -c 4 hostname, srun -n 4 hostname, and srun -N 4 hostname. What’s the difference and why?

In hpc-examples (at /scratch/scip/hpc-examples), you find some examples.

  1. Find the files openmp/hello_omp.c and openmp/hello_omp.slrm that have a short example of OpenMP. Compile and run it - a slurm script is included.
  2. Find the files mpi/hello_mpi.c and mpi/hello_mpi.slrm that have a short example of MPI. Compile and run it - a slurm script is included.

Next steps

See the next pages: