Efficient use of processors and network on Betzy

Interconnect - InfiniBand

A cluster (using Betzy as the example) contains a rather large number of nodes (Betzy consists of 1344 nodes) with an interconnect that enables efficient delivery of messages (message passing interface, MPI) between the nodes. On Betzy, Mellanox InfiniBand is used, in a HDR-100 configuration. The HDR (high data rate) standard is 200 Gbits/s and HDR-100 is half of this. This is a trade-off, as each switch port can accommodate two compute nodes. All the compute nodes are connected in a Dragonfly topology.

While not fully symmetrical, tests have shown that the slowdown by spreading the ranks randomly around the compute nodes had less than the 10% specified by the tender. Acceptance tests showed from 8 to zero percent slow-down depending on the application. Hence for all practical purposes there is no need to pay special attention to schedule jobs within a single rack/cell etc.

Processors and cores

Each compute node on Betzy contains two sockets with a 64 core AMD processor per socket. Every processor has 64 cores each supporting 2-way simultaneous multithreading (SMT). To not confuse these threading capabilities in hardware with threads in software (e.g., pthreads or OpenMP), we use the term virtual core from now on.

For applications it looks as if every compute node has 256 independent virtual cores numbered from 0 to 255. Due to SMT, always two of these seemingly independent virtual cores form a pair and share the executing units of a core. If both of these two virtual cores are used in parallel by an application, the application’s performance will be the same as if it used only one virtual core (and the other one is left idle) or if two different applications would use one virtual core each, each of the two applications would achieve only half of the performance of a core. To achieve the maximum performance from each core, it is therefore important to pay attention to the mapping of processes to cores, that is, any two processes (or software threads) of an application must not share the two virtual cores or, in other words, one of the two virtual cores in a pair shall be kept idle.

The following command provides information about the numbering of virtual cores:

cat /proc/cpuinfo | sed '/processor\|physical id\|core id/!d' | sed 'N;N;s/\n/ /g'

The first 128 entries (processor 0-127) correspond to the first virtual core. Accordingly, the second 128 entries (processor 128-255) correspond to the second virtual core. So, if one limits the placement of processes to processor numbers 0-127, no process will share executional units with any other process.

Both Intel MPI and OpenMPI provide means to achieve such placements and below we will show how.

Available MPI implementations

The MPI to use is selected at application build time. Two MPI implementations are supported:

  • Intel MPI

  • OpenMPI

Behavior of Intel MPI can be adjusted through environment variables environment variables, which start with I_MPI (more information).

OpenMPI uses both environment variables (which must be used when running through srun) and command line options (for use with mpirun). Command line options override both the config files and environment variables. For a complete list of parameters run ompi_info --param all all --level 9, or see the documentation.

Slurm: Requesting pure MPI or hybrid MPI + OpenMP jobs

Pure MPI

#SBATCH --ntasks=4096
#SBATCH --nodes=32
#SBATCH --ntasks-per-node=128

This will request 32 nodes with 128 ranks per compute nodes giving a total of 4096 ranks/tasks. The --ntasks is not strictly needed (if missing, it will be calculated from --nodes and --ntasks-per-node.)

To get the total number of cores in a pure MPI job script the environment variable $SLURM_NTASKS is available.

For well behaved MPI applications the job scripts are relatively simple. The only important thing to notice is that processes (MPI ranks) should be mapped with one rank per two SMT threads (also often referred to a physical cores).

For both Intel- and OpenMPI the simplest command line would be mpirun ./a.out This will launch the MPI application with the default settings, while not with optimal performance it will run the application using the resources requested in the run script.

Hybrid MPI + OpenMP

For large core count a pure MPI solution is often not optimal. Like HPL (the top500 test) the hybrid model is the highest performing case.

#SBATCH --nodes=1200
#SBATCH --ntasks-per-node=8
#SBATCH --cpus-per-task=16

This will request 1200 nodes placing 8 MPI ranks per node and provide 16 OpenMP threads to each MPI rank, a total of 128 cores per compute node. 1200 times 128 is 153600 cores.

To get the total number of cores in a Hybrid MPI + OpenMP job script one can multiply the environment variables $SLURM_NTASKS and $SLURM_CPUS_PER_TASK.

To generate a list of all the Slurm variables just issue an env command in the job script and all environment variables will be listed.

Most OpenMP or threaded programs respond to the environment variable OMP_NUM_THREADS and you can set it to the number of CPUs per task set by Slurm: export OMP_NUM_THREADS=$SLURM_CPUS_PER_TASK

The mapping of ranks and OpenMP threads onto the cores on the compute node can often be tricky. There are many ways of dealing with this, from the simplest solution by just relying on the defaults to explicit placement of the ranks and threads on precisely specified cores.

Intel MPI

There are a number of environment variables to be used with Intel MPI, they all start with I_MPI:



  • I_MPI_PIN_PROCESSOR_EXCLUDE_LIST The variable I_MPI_PIN_DOMAIN is good when running hybrid codes, setting it to the number of threads per rank will help the launcher to place the ranks correctly. Setting I_MPI_PIN_PROCESSOR_EXCLUDE_LIST=128-255 will make sure that only cores 0-127 are used for MPI ranks. This ensures that no two ranks share the same physical core.


There are currently some issues with mapping of threads started by MPI processes. These threads are scheduled/placed on the same core as the MPI rank itself. The issue seems to be an openMP issue with GNU OpenMP. We are working to resolve this issue.

Binding/pinning processes

Since not all memory is equally “distant”, some sort of binding to keep the process located on cores close to the memory is normally beneficial.

Intel MPI

Binding/pinning to cores can be requested with an environment flag, I_MPI_PIN=1.

To limit the ranks to only the fist thread on SMT e.g. using only cores 0 to 127 set the Intel MPI environment variable I_MPI_PIN_PROCESSOR_EXCLUDE_LIST to 128-255, e.g.:



The simplest solution is just to request binding at the command line:

mpirun --bind-to core ./a.out

To learn more about the binding options try issuing the following command:

mpirun --help binding

Optimizing collective MPI operations

For OpenMPI, setting the variable OMPI_MCA_coll_hcoll_enable to 0 to disable or 1 to enable can have a significant effect on the performance of your MPI application. Most of the times it is beneficial to enable it by including export OMPI_MCA_coll_hcoll_enable=1 in the run script.

srun vs mpirun on Betzy

Most if the times the mpirun command can be used. The mpirun sets up the MPI environment and makes sure that everything is ready for the MPI function MPI_init() when it’s called in the start of any MPI program.

As Slurm is built with MPI support srun will also set up the MPI environment.

Both mpirun and srun launch the executable on the requested nodes. While there is a large range of opinions on this matter it’s hard to make a final statement about which one is best. If you do development on small systems like your laptop or stand alone system there is generally no Slurm and mpirun is the only option, so mpirun will work on everything from Raspberry Pis through laptops to Betzy.

Performance testing does not show any significant performance difference when launching jobs in a normal way.

Creating a hostfile or machinefile

Some application ask for a list of hosts to distribute the tasks across nodes and cores.

To make a host- or machinefile, you can use srun:

srun /bin/hostname | uniq

A more complicated example is a nodelist file for the molecular mechanics application NAMD :

srun /bin/hostname | uniq | awk -F\. 'BEGIN {print “group main”};{print "host ", $1}' > nodelist

Transport options for OpenMPI

Most of the following is hidden behind some command line options, but in case more information is needed about the subject of transport a few links will provide more insight.

For detailed list of settings a good starting point is here: https://www.open-mpi.org/faq/

OpenMPI 4.x uses UCX for transport, this is a communication library: https://github.com/openucx/ucx/wiki/FAQ

Transport layer PML (point-to-point message layer): https://rivis.github.io/doc/openmpi/v2.1/pml-ob1-protocols.en.xhtml

Transport layer UCX: <https://www.openucx.org/ and https://github.com/openucx/ucx/wiki/UCX-environment-parameters>

Collective optimisation library hcoll from Mellanox is also an option: https://docs.mellanox.com/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=12006295

Setting the different devices and transports can be done using environment variables:

export UCX_IB_DEVICE_SPECS=0x119f:4115:ConnectX4:5,0x119f:4123:ConnectX6:5
export UCX_NET_DEVICES=mlx5_0:1
export OMPI_MCA_coll_hcoll_enable=1
export UCX_TLS=self,sm,dc

From the UCX documentation the list of internode transports include:

  • rc

  • ud

  • dc

The last one is Mellanox scalable offloaded dynamic connection transport. The self is a loopback transport to communicate within the same process, while sm is all shared memory transports. There are two shared memory transports installed

  • cma

  • knem

Selecting cma or knem might improve performance for applications that use a high number of MPI ranks per node. With 128 cores and possibly 128 MPI ranks per node the intra node communication is quite important.

Depending on the communication pattern of your application, the use of point-to-point or collectives, the usage of Mellanox optimised offload collectives can have an impact.