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ever had the problem that you have access to a big machine (with many cores), and you want to run many (tens of thousands) small computations, but you want to make sure that not too many cores are used?
i’ve had this problem, and since i now have a pretty nice (i think so) solution, i thought that maybe more people are interested in it. so here’s my setup. i have a program, let’s call it primefinder, which, for a certain input n (where n is a natural number ≤ 21000), computes a prime of n bits with special properties. the program loops over all possible n, and checks for each n if a file n.prime exists. if it does not, it creates it (with zero content), computes the prime (which can take between minutes and days), writes the prime into the file and continues with the next file. this simple task distribution technique allows me to run the program in parallel on different machines (since the files are in a nfs folder) with many instances on each machine. now at our institute, we have a big computation machine (64 cores) and four user machines (on which the users work, each 32 cores). since the user machines are often not intensively used (and that only during certain times of the day), i want to use these as well. but there should be enough cores free, so the users won’t notice that there are computations going on in the background. on the computation server, also other people want to run something, so there should also be some free cores. optimally, my program would somehow decide how many cores are used by others, and use the rest. or most of them, to leave some free, especially on the user machines.
after a suggestion by our it guys, i started writing a bash script which controls the instances of my program on the same machine. the first version used the time of the day to determine the number of processes. everything was computed in terms of the number of cores of the machine, the load (with a load modifier applied, since some machines have uninterruptable processes running which do not effectively do something, and which won’t go away until the next reboot) and the hour of the day. but it is not easy to find a good scheme which yields good results on all machines. something which works well on the user machines is wasting processor time on the computation server.
so today i rewrote the program to use profiles. a profile contains information on the number of cores (this is necessary since the computation server has hyperthreading enabled, and thus returns twice the number of cores), the number of processes to be started, and the number of cores to be left free during each hour and day of a week. so on weekends or nights, i choose lower numbers for the free cores for the user machines, while for the computational server the number is always 1.
a profile can look like this (this is from a user machine, the file is called primefinderrunner-user.profile for later reference):

1 CORES 32
2 STARTUP $[CORES-CORES/8]
3 0 $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8]
4 1 $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/4] $[CORES/4] $[CORES/4] $[CORES/8]
5 2 $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/4] $[CORES/4] $[CORES/4] $[CORES/8]
6 3 $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/4] $[CORES/4] $[CORES/4] $[CORES/8]
7 4 $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/4] $[CORES/4] $[CORES/4] $[CORES/8]
8 5 $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/2] $[CORES/4] $[CORES/4] $[CORES/4] $[CORES/8]
9 6 $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/8] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16] $[CORES/16]

the line with prefix CORES gives the number of cores. the line prefixed by STARTUP gives the number of processes to run (at most); here, we use 7/8 of the number of cores. the lines prefixed by a number between 0 (sunday) and 6 (saturday) have 24 entries following: every entry (seperated by exactly one space, as the prefix itself is separated by exactly one space from the entries!) says how many cores should be free at each time of the day. usually during night (up to 7 am) at least 1/16 of the total number of cores should be free, while during workday (8 am to 7 pm) half of the cores should be free. of course, the numbers are different for weekends (saturday and sunday) than for the other working days.
now the script itself looks like this (for reference, the filename is primefinderrunner.sh):

  1 #/bin/bash
  2  
  3 initProfile() {
  4     PROFILEFN=primefinderrunner-$PROFILE.profile
  5     CORES=`grep "^CORES " $PROFILEFN`
  6     CORES=${CORES/CORES }
  7     STARTUP=`grep "^STARTUP " $PROFILEFN`
  8     STARTUP=${STARTUP/STARTUP }
  9     eval STARTUP=$STARTUP
 10 }
 11  
 12 LOADMODIFIER=0
 13 if [ "$1" != "" ]
 14 then
 15     PROFILE=$1
 16 else
 17     PROFILE=`hostname`
 18 fi
 19 if [ "$2" != "" ]
 20 then
 21     LOADMODIFIER=$2
 22 fi
 23 initProfile
 24 if [ "$CORES" == "" ]
 25 then
 26     echo "Cannot load profile $PROFILEFN!"
 27     exit
 28 fi
 29 echo Cores: $CORES
 30 echo Load modifier: $LOADMODIFIER
 31  
 32 computeFreecores() { 
 33     # two arguments: day (0..6) and hour (0..23)
 34     FREECORES=0
 35     DAY=`date +%w`
 36     LINE=`grep "^$DAY " $PROFILEFN`
 37     LINE=${LINE/$DAY }
 38     HOUR=`date +%k`
 39     for ((i=0;i<$HOUR;++i));
 40     do
 41         LINE=${LINE#* }
 42     done
 43     LINE=${LINE/ *}
 44     eval FREECORES=$LINE
 45 }
 46  
 47 computeFreecores
 48  
 49 stopsignal() {
 50     for PID in `jobs -p`;
 51     do
 52         FILE=`lsof -p $PID -F n 2>/dev/null | grep primedatabase | grep -v "\\.nfs"`
 53         A=${FILE#n*}
 54         A=${A/ (nfs*}
 55         echo killing $PID with open file $A
 56         rm $A
 57         kill $PID
 58     done
 59     exit
 60 }
 61  
 62 trap 'stopsignal' 2
 63  
 64 echo "Starting $STARTUP instances"
 65  
 66 determineToAdd() {
 67     computeFreecores
 68     LOAD=`uptime`
 69     LOAD=${LOAD#*average: }
 70     LOAD=${LOAD/,*}
 71     LOAD=${LOAD/.*}
 72     ADD=$[CORES-FREECORES-LOAD-LOADMODIFIER]
 73     echo Load: $[LOAD-LOADMODIFIER], Intended number of free cores: $FREECORES
 74 }
 75  
 76 # Start programs in the background
 77 determineToAdd
 78 for ((i=1;i<=STARTUP;++i));
 79 do
 80     primefinder &amp;
 81     sleep 2
 82 done
 83 sleep 20
 84 if [ $ADD -lt 0 ]
 85 then
 86     ADD=0
 87 fi
 88 for ((i=ADD+1;i<=STARTUP;++i));
 89 do
 90     kill -SIGSTOP %$i
 91 done
 92  
 93 CURRRUNNING=$ADD
 94 RUNNINGSTART=1 # The first one running
 95 RUNNINGSTOP=$CURRRUNNING # The last one running
 96  
 97 startOne() {
 98     # Assume that $CURRRUNNING < $STARTUP
 99     RUNNINGSTOP=$[(RUNNINGSTOP % STARTUP) + 1]
100     kill -SIGCONT %$RUNNINGSTOP
101     CURRRUNNING=$[CURRRUNNING+1]
102 }
103  
104 stopOne() {
105     # Assume that $CURRRUNNING > 0
106     kill -SIGSTOP %$RUNNINGSTART
107     RUNNINGSTART=$[(RUNNINGSTART % STARTUP) + 1]
108     CURRRUNNING=$[CURRRUNNING-1]
109 }
110  
111 # Start mainloop
112 while [ 1 ]
113 do
114     sleep 60
115  
116     # Determine how many threads should be added/removed
117     determineToAdd
118     if [ $ADD -gt 0 ]
119     then
120         if [ $[ADD+CURRRUNNING] -gt $STARTUP ]
121         then
122             ADD=$[STARTUP-CURRRUNNING]
123         fi
124         # Add processes
125         echo ADD:$ADD
126         for ((i=0;i<ADD;++i))
127         do
128             startOne
129         done
130     fi
131     if [ $ADD -lt 0 ]
132     then
133         REM=$[-ADD]
134         # Clip
135         if [ $REM -gt $CURRRUNNING ]
136         then
137             REM=$CURRRUNNING
138         fi
139         # Remove processes
140         echo REMOVE:$REM
141         for ((i=0;i<REM;++i))
142         do
143             stopOne
144         done
145     fi
146     sleep 60
147 done

the script first starts all instances, then stops the ones which are too many, and then starts the main loop. in the main loop, it waits 60 seconds (for the average load to adjust to the new process count), and then decides how many cores should be left free, and what that means for the number of processes (add/remove some). note that the profile file is read every minute, so it can be changed any time without any need to re-run the whole thing.
in case the script is stopped (with control+c), all primefinder processes are killed and their open file is deleted. to determine the open file, i use lsof with some greps. you have to adjust and test that line before using this script!
note that this script is quite a hack, and far from perfect. and it is somehow system dependent, or at least “setup dependent” since it has certain assumptions on the executables, on how the output of lsof looks like, … so better make sure it works before you use it, especially on bigger systems. also note that in the beginning, all instances are ran (they are started with a two second delay between two instances), and then everything is run for 20 seconds before the first adjustment (i.e. stopping processes which are too many) are made. if you share the system with other people, this might already annoy others when they try to measure timings of their programs (especially if hyperthreading is enabled).

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felix wrote on june 24, 2011 at 12:24:

i published a newer version of the script here. also note that this verison has a small bug in line 73: the load is given incorrectly, the output must be $[LOAD+LOADMODIFIER]. this is fixed in the newer version.