Aims of this seminar


Technical specifications

GPU hardware details

#GPUs GPUs FP16 TFLOP/s FP32 FP64 Capability CPU Note
44 V100 31.3 15.7 7.8 7.0 Skylake
160 T4 65.1 8.1 0.25 7.5 Skylake
332 A40 37.4 37.4 0.58 8.6 Icelake No IB
296 A100 77.9 19.5 9.7 8.0 Icelake Fast Mimer
32 A100fat 77.9 19.5 9.7 8.0 Icelake Fast Mimer

The compute cluster

The cluster environment


  • Login servers:,
    • ssh, ssh
    • Thinlinc (web, or using the thinlinc client)
    • Accessible from within SUNET networks; otherwise use of VPN is required
    • alvis1 has 4 shared T4 GPUs and can be used for brief testing, development, debugging, and light pre/post-processing.
    • alvis2 is the primary data transfer node.
  • Login nodes are shared resources for all users; don't run jobs here, don't use up to much memory.

Alvis OpenOndemand portal

  • Browse files
  • Edit text files
  • Launch interactive apps on nodes
    • Jupyter notebooks
    • Desktop
    • RStudio
    • MATLAB jupyter proxy (planned)
    • Visual Studio Code (planned)


  • See filesystem page for documentation, with examples on how to share files.
  • Your (backed up) home directory is quite limited; additional storage areas must be applied for via additional storage projects in SUPR.
  • The C3SE_quota shows you all your centre storage areas, usage and quotas.
Path: /cephyr/users/my_user
  Space used:    17.5GiB       Quota:      30GiB
  Files used:      20559       Quota:      60000

Path: /cephyr/NOBACKUP/groups/my_storage_project
  Space used:  2646.5GiB       Quota:    5000GiB
  Files used:     795546       Quota:    1000000


  • Depending on the license type and permissions, a number of popular datasets have been made semi-publicly available through the central storage under /mimer/NOBACKUP/Datasets/
  • In all cases, the use of the datasets are only allowed for non-commercial, research applications
  • Note that in certain cases, the provider of the dataset requires you to cite some literature if you use the dataset in your research
  • It is the responsibility of the users to make sure their use of the datasets complies with the above-mentioned permissions and requirements
  • In some cases, further information about the dataset can be found in a README file under the pertinent directory
  • A list of the currently available datasets and supplementary information can be found under datasets
  • alvis2 will get a download service which can be used to fetch very large datasets (announced later)


  • Our systems currently run Rocky Linux 8, which is a open-source version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux
    • It's not Ubuntu!
    • Users do NOT have sudo rights!
    • You can't install software using apt-get!
    • The system installation is intentionally sparse; you access software via modules and containers.

Software - Containers

  • It is possible to run containers via Apptainer
    • Apptainer is a fork off of Singularity
  • No, it will not be possible to run docker, but you can easily convert docker containers to apptainer containers
  • We provide some containers under /apps/containers
  • Instructions on how to use build and use containers
  • You can build your container on the log-in nodes with apptainer build my_container.sif my_recipe.def

Software - Modules

  • A lot of software available in modules.
  • Commercial software and libraries; MATLAB, CUDA, Nsight Compute and much more.
  • Tools, compilers, MPI, math libraries, etc.
  • Major version update of all software versions is done twice yearly
    • 2021a: GCC 10.3.0, OpenMPI 4.1.1, CUDA 11.3.1, Python 3.9.5, ...
    • 2021b: GCC 11.2.0, OpenMPI 4.1.1, CUDA 11.4.1, Python 3.9.6, ...
    • 2022a: GCC 11.3.0, OpenMPI 4.1.4, CUDA 11.7.0, Python 3.10.4, ...
  • Mixing toolchains versions will not work
  • Popular top level applications such as TensorFlow and PyTorch may be updated within a single toolchain version.

Software - Toolchains

  • Tip: You can test things out on the login node. Try loading and purging modules; changes are temporary.
  • Putting load commands directly in your ~/.bashrc will likely break system utilities like Thinlinc (for you).
  • module load Foo/1.2.3 or ml Foo/1.2.3 for loading
  • module list or ml to list all currently loaded modules
  • module spider Bar or ml spider Bar for searching
  • module keyword Bar or ml keyword Bar for searching keywords (e.g. extensions in python bundles)
  • module purge or ml purge for unloading all modules
  • Modules provide development information as well, so can be used as dependencies for builds.
  • Flat module system.

Software installation

  • We build a lot of modules and containers for general use upon request.
  • We provide pip, apptainer, conda, and virtualenv so you can install your own Python packages locally.
    • See Python information on our homepage for examples.
    • Do not use pip install --user, this is likely to make a mess when used with any other approach and fill up your home directory quota quickly.
    • Be aware of your quota! Consider making a container if you need environments.
  • You can use modules for linking to software you build yourself.
  • Trying to mix conda, virtualenv, containers, and modules will not work well.

Software - Installing binary (pre-compiled) software

  • Common problem is that software requires a newer glibc version. This is tied to the OS and can't be upgraded.
    • You can use Apptainer container to wrap this for your software.
  • Make sure to use binaries that are compiled optimised for the hardware.
    • Alvis CPUs support up to AVX512.
    • Difference can be huge. Example: Compared to our optimised NumPy builds, a generic x86 version from pip up to ~9x slower on Vera.
  • CPU: AVX512 > AVX2 > AVX > SSE > Generic instructions.
  • GPU: Make sure you use the right CUDA compute capabilities for the GPU you choose.

Running jobs on Alvis

  • Alvis is dedicated to AI/ML research which typically involves GPU-hungry computations; therefore, your job must allocate at least one GPU
  • You only allocate GPUs (cores and memory is assigned automatically)
  • Hyperthreading is disabled on Alvis
  • Alvis comes in three phases (I, II, and III), and there is a variety in terms of:
    • number of cores
    • number and type of GPUs
    • memory per node
    • CPU architecture


  • Alvis runs the SLURM workload manager, a batch queuing software
  • Allocations and usage is defined on a (SNIC) project level.
  • Fairshare system; you can go over your monthly allocation but your past 30 days ("monthly") rolling average affects your queue priority.
  • For more details see Running jobs.

Job command overview

  • sbatch: submit batch jobs
  • srun: submit interactive jobs
  • jobinfo (squeue): view the job-queue and the state of jobs in queue, shows amount of idling resources
  • scontrol show job <jobid>: show details about job, including reasons why it's pending
  • sprio: show all your pending jobs and their priority
  • scancel: cancel a running or pending job
  • sinfo: show status for the partitions (queues): how many nodes are free, how many are down, busy, etc.
  • sacct: show scheduling information about past jobs
  • projinfo: show the projects you belong to, including monthly allocation and usage
  • For details, refer to the -h flag, man pages, or google!

Allocating GPUs on Alvis

  • Specify the type of GPUs you want and the number of them per node, e.g:
    • #SBATCH --gpus-per-node=V100:2
    • #SBATCH --gpus-per-node=T4:3
    • #SBATCH --gpus-per-node=A100:1
  • If you need more memory, use the constraint flag -C to pick the nodes with more RAM:
    • #SBATCH --gpus-per-node=V100:2 -C 2xV100 (only 2 V100 on these nodes, thus twice the RAM per gpu)
    • #SBATCH --gpus-per-node=T4:1 -C MEM1536
  • Many more expert options:
    • #SBATCH --gpus-per-node=T4:8 -N 2 --cpus-per-task=32
    • #SBATCH -N 2 --gres=ptmpdir:1
    • #SBATCH -C NOGPU -n 32
    • #SBATCH --gres=gpuexlc:1,mps:1
  • Mixing GPUs of different types is not possible

GPU cost on Alvis

Type VRAM System memory per GPU CPU cores per GPU Cost
T4 16GB 72 or 192 GB 4 0.35
A40 48GB 64 GB 16 1
V100 32GB 96 or 192 GB 8 1.31
A100 40GB 64 or 128 GB 16 1.84
A100fat 80GB 256 GB 16 2.2
  • Example: using 2xT4 GPUs for 10 hours costs 7 "GPU hours" (2 x 0.35 x 10).
  • The cost reflects the actual price of the hardware (normalised against an A40 node/GPU).

Querying visible devices

  • Control groups (an OS feature) is used automatically to limit your session to the GPU you request.
  • Using $CUDA_VISIBLE_DEVICES you can make sure that your application has correctly picked up the hardware
srun -A YOUR_ACCOUNT -t 00:02:00 --gpus-per-node=V100:2 --pty bash
srun: job 22441 queued and waiting for resources
srun: job 22441 has been allocated resources
  • Most software tend to "just work"

Long running jobs

  • We only allow for maximum 7 days walltime.
  • Anything long running should use checkpointing of some sort to save partial results.
  • You will not be recompensed for aborted simulations from hardware or software errors.
  • The plan is to introduce a partition which only allows for short jobs for interactive use.

Multi-node jobs

  • For multi node jobs your application will need to handle all the inter-node communication, typically done with MPI.
  • You may need to port your problem to a framework that supports distributed learning, e.g. Horovod
  • If you can run multiple separate jobs with fewer GPUs each this is preferable for system utilisation.
  • You will only be able to allocate full nodes when requesting more than one.

Example: Working with many small files

#!/usr/bin/env bash
#SBATCH -A SNIC2020-Y-X -p alvis
#SBATCH -t 1-00:00:00
#SBATCH --gpus-per-node=V100:1

unzip -d $TMPDIR/
apptainer exec --nv ~/tensorflow-2.1.0.sif --training_input=$TMPDIR/
# or use available containers e.g.
# /apps/containers/TensorFlow/TensorFlow_v2.3.1-tf2-py3-GPU-Jupyter.sif
  • Prefer to write code that uses HDF5, netCDF, zip, tar directly. h5py is very easy to use.

Example: Job arrays

#!/usr/bin/env bash
#SBATCH -A SNIC2020-Y-X -p alvis
#SBATCH -t 5:00:00
#SBATCH --gpus-per-node=T4:2
#SBATCH --array=0-9
#SBATCH --mail-type=end

module load fosscuda/2019b PyTorch/2.3.1-Python-3.7.4 HDF5
python dataset_$SLURM_ARRAY_TASK_ID.hdf5
  • Environment variables like $SLURM_ARRAY_TASK_ID can also be accessed from within all programming languages, e.g:
array_id = getenv('SLURM_ARRAY_TASK_ID'); % matlab
array_id = os.getenv('SLURM_ARRAY_TASK_ID') # python

Example: Multi-node

#!/usr/bin/env bash
#SBATCH -A SNIC2020-Y-X -p alvis
#SBATCH -t 1-00:00:00
#SBATCH --gpus-per-node=T4:8
## 2 tasks across 2 nodes
#SBATCH --nodes 2 --ntasks 2

module load fosscuda/2019b Horovod/0.19.1-TensorFlow-2.1.0-Python-3.7.4

mpirun python
  • Multi-node jobs start on the first node which should then launch the rest (with mpirun/srun).
  • Make sure you are using the resources you request!
  • If using a container, you need to load a matching MPI from the module system

Interactive use

  • Alvis is a batch queue system, you should expect a queue sometimes. Bulk of simulations should be in queued batch jobs.
  • Use jobinfo to pick what happens to be idle.
  • Login node allows for light interactive use; it has 4 T4 GPUs (alvis1), but they are all shared.
    • Use nvidia-smi to check current usage and select your GPU number with export CUDA_VISIBLE_DEVICES=X.`
  • Login node needs to be restarted occasionally; do not make your production runs rely on the login nodes uptime!
  • Run interactively on compute nodes with srun, e.g.
    • srun -A SNIC2020-X-Y -p alvis --gpus-per-node=T4:1 --pty bash

Jupyter Notebooks

  • Jupyter Notebooks can run on login node or on compute nodes
srun -A SNIC2020-X-Y -p alvis -t 8:00:00 --gpus-per-node=V100:1 --pty \
    jupyter lab
srun -A SNIC2020-X-Y -p alvis -t 4:00:00 --gpus-per-node=T4:1 --pty \
    apptainer exec --nv my_container.sif jupyter notebook
  • Start long running notebooks with sbatch to decouple them from the login node.


  • Open OnDemand portal
  • Can be used to launch notebooks and desktops on nodes.
  • We are looking to add several more features; viewing storage projects, improving job templates, additional applications

Job and queue monitoring

  • jobinfo shows you the queue and available GPUs
    • You can ssh into nodes when jobs are running, and for example run nvidia-smi or htop.
    • Common reasons for queue status
      • Priority: Waiting for other queued jobs with higher priority.
      • Resources: Waiting for sufficient resources to be free.
      • AssocGrpTRESRunMinutesLimit: We limit how much you can have running at once (<= 200% of 30-day allocation * 0.8^x where x is the number of stars in projinfo).
  • JOBID gives you an URL to a public Grafana page for your job usage.
  • dcgmi reports after jobs finish
  • sinfo -Rl command shows reason if nodes are down (typically for maintenance)
  • Alvis Grafana page shows state of login node and queue.


  • We have a Tensorboard guide
    • Add a Tensorboard callback to generate logs to a job-specific directory (overlapping logs confuses Tensorboard!)
    • Connecting via SSH tunnel (preferable), Thinlinc, or proxy server.
    • Tip: the SSH tunnel can also be used for running other services on nodes, like code-server.
  • Be aware of security, because Tensorboard offers none!

Things to keep in mind

  • Never run (big or long) jobs on the login node! otherwise, the misbehaving processes will be killed by the administrators
    • If this is done repeatedly, you will be logged out, and your account will temporarily be blocked
  • You can however use the login node for interactively:
    • Preparing your job and checking if everything's OK before submitting the job
    • Debugging a lightweight job and running tests
  • You are expected to keep an eye on how your job performs especially for new jobscripts/codes!
    • Linux command line tools available on the login node and on the allocated nodes can help you check CPU, memory and network usage

Getting support

  • We provide support to our users, but not for any and all problems
    • We can help you with software installation issues, and recommend compiler flags etc. for optimal performance
    • We can install software system-wide if there are many users who need it - but probably not for one user (unless the installation is simple)
    • We don't support your application software or help debugging your code/model or prepare your input files.
    • Book a time to meet us under office hours for help with things that are hard to put into a support request email

Identifying the issue

  • If you run into trouble, first figure out what seems to go wrong. Use the following as a checklist:
    • make sure you simply aren't over disk quota with C3SE_quota
    • something wrong with your job script or input file?
    • is there a bug in the program?
    • any error messages? Look in your manuals, and use Google!
    • check the metrics with Did you over-allocate memory until your program was killed?
    • Try to isolate the problem - does it go away if you run a smaller job? does it go away if you use your home directory instead of the local disk on the node?
    • Try to create a test case - the smallest and simplest possible case that reproduces the problem

Error reports

  • In order to help you, we need as much and as good information as possible:

    • What's the job-ID of the failing job?
    • What working directory and what job-script?
    • What software are you using?
    • What's happening - especially error messages?
    • Did this work before, or has it never worked?
    • Do you have a minimal example?
    • No need to attach files; just point us to a directory on the system.
  • Support cases must go through

Further learning