Best practices of distributed training on CPU

To improve the training speed of CPU distributed training, we must consider two aspects:

  1. Improve the training speed mainly by improving utilization rate of CPU;

  2. Improve the communication speed mainly by reducing the amount of data transmitted in the communication;

  3. Improve the data IO speed by dataset API;

  4. Improve the distributed training speed by changing distributed training strategy.

Improve CPU utilization

The CPU utilization mainly depends on ParallelExecutor, which can make full use of the computing power of multiple CPUs to speed up the calculation.

For detailed API usage, please refer to api_fluid_ParallelExecutor . A simple example:

# Configure the execution strategy, mainly to set the number of threads
exec_strategy = fluid.ExecutionStrategy()
exec_strategy.num_threads = 8

# Configure the composition strategy, for CPU training, you should use the Reduce mode for training.
build_strategy = fluid.BuildStrategy()
if int(os.getenv("CPU_NUM")) > 1:

pe = fluid.ParallelExecutor(

Among the parameters above:

  • num_threads : the number of threads used by the model training. It is preferably close to the number of the physical CPU cores of the machine where the training is performed.

  • reduce_strategy : For CPU training, you should choose fluid.BuildStrategy.ReduceStrategy.Reduce

Configuration of general environment variables:

  • CPU_NUM: The number of replicas of the model, preferably the same as num_threads

Improve communication speed

To reduce the amount of communication data and improve communication speed is achieved mainly by using sparse updates, the current support for sparse update is mainly api_fluid_layers_embedding.

data ='ids', shape=[1], dtype='int64')
fc = fluid.layers.embedding(input=data, size=[dict_size, 16], is_sparse=True)

Among the parameters above:

  • is_sparse: Use sparse updates to configure embedding. If the dict_size of embedding is large but the number of data are very small each time, it is recommended to use the sparse update method.

Improve data IO speed

To improve the CPU’s distributed training speed, you can first consider using the dataset API as data reader. Dataset is a multi producer and multi consumer data reading method. By default, data reading thread and training thread are coupled. In multi-threaded training, dataset shows a high performance advantage.

Refer to this page for API introduction:

Combined with the actual model CTR-DNN, you can learn more about how to use dataset:

Using train_from_dataset for network training.

dataset = fluid.DatasetFactory().create_dataset()
exe = fluid.Executor(fluid.CPUPlace())

Change distributed training strategy

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Change distributed training strategy

The core of improving CPU distributed training speed is to choose appropriate distributed training strategy, such as defining communication strategy, compiling strategy, executing strategy and so on. PaddlePaddle released DistributedStrategy API in V1.7 version , which can be very flexible and convenient to specify distributed operation strategy.

First, we need to introduce relevant libraries into the code:

from paddle.fluid.incubate.fleet.parameter_server.distribute_transpiler import fleet
import paddle.fluid.incubate.fleet.base.role_maker as role_maker
from paddle.fluid.incubate.fleet.parameter_server.distribute_transpiler.distributed_strategy_factory import DistributedStrategyFactory

At present, there are four kinds of training strategies: synchronous training, asynchronous, half asynchronous training and GEO training.

The default configuration of the above policy is introduced by the following code:

# step1: get distributed strategy
# Sync
strategy = DistributedStrategyFactory.create_sync_strategy()
# Half-Async
strategy = DistributedStrategyFactory.create_half_async_strategy()
# Async
strategy = DistributedStrategyFactory.create_async_strategy()
strategy = DistributedStrategyFactory.create_geo_strategy(update_frequency=400)

# step2: define role of node
role = role_maker.PaddleCloudRoleMaker()

# step3: get distributed training program
optimizer = fluid.optimizer.SGD(learning_rate) # 以 SGD 优化器为例
optimizer = fleet.distributed_optimizer(optimizer, strategy)

# step4.1: run parameter server node
if fleet.is_server():

# step4.2: run worker node
elif fleet.is_worker():
    # Do training

PaddlePaddle supports adjusting the details of the training strategy:

  • The build_strategy and exec_strategy which used to create compiled_program can generate from strategy:

compiled_program = fluid.compiler.CompiledProgram(fleet.main_program).with_data_parallel(
  • Training strategy details can be customized, Paddlepaddle supports customized configuration of distributetranspierconfig, trainerruntimeconfig, serverruntimeconfig, fluid.executionstrategy and fluid.buildstrategy. Take distributetranspillerconfig as an example. The modification method is as follows:

strategy = DistributedStrategyFactory.create_sync_strategy()

# Mode 1 (recommended):
config = strategy.get_program_config()
config.min_block_size = 81920

# Mode 2
config = DistributeTranspilerConfig()
config.min_block_size = 81920
# config = dict()
# config['min_block_size'] = 81920