Heavily inspired by the Layer-to-Layer algorithm and Zero-Offload, OffloadModel uses the CPU to store the entire model, optimizer state and gradients. OffloadModel then brings in a layer (or a number of layers) onto the GPU for training at a time during the forward and backward pass. The intermediate activations for the layer boundaries are also stored on the CPU and copied to the GPU as needed for the backward pass. Once the backward pass is completed all the parameters are updated with the gradients present on the CPU.


Offload uses the following techniques to enable large model training:

1. The model is assumed to be nn.Sequential and sharded (almost) equally based on the number of parameters into a list of nn.Modules. Each nn.Module now contains a fraction of the whole model which we shall refer to as model shards.

2. At each iteration, each of the model shards are copied from the CPU -> GPU, FW pass is computed using the minibatch of data and the model shard is copied back from GPU -> CPU. In the BW pass, the same process is repeated.

3. The optimizer remains on the CPU and gradients and parameters are all moved onto the CPU before running optimizer.step. This ensures that the CPU is responsible for updating the parameters and holding onto the optimizer state.

4. If activation checkpointing is enabled, we use torch.autograd.Function to disable graph construction in the FW pass and copy intermediate activations from GPU -> CPU after the FW pass of a given shard is complete. The reverse copy is carried out in the BW pass.

5. Microbatches are used to enable larger throughput and offset the cost of moving model parameters and activations from CPU <-> GPU. Micro-batches allow you to specify large mini-batches which are broken down into micro-batches and fed to the model shards at each iteration. In short it is a way to allow more computation at a given time on a model shard to offset the cost of copying from CPU <-> GPU.

Best practices for using fairscale.experimental.nn.OffloadModel

  1. Using OffloadModel to train large models can result in loss of throughput which can be overcome by using activation checkpointing and microbatches.

  2. OffloadModel currently only works for nn.Sequential models.

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