Parallel R

Implicit Parallelization

The system-wide installation of Rstudio / Microsoft R Open on the Grid uses the Intel Math Kernel Lbrary (MKL) for fast multithreaded computations. R started on the Grid via a wrapper script will use the number of CPUs you specify when starting your application. For example, starting R via Rstudio -n 5 from the command line will start R with MKL correctly configured to use 5 cores. You can set the number of cores used by MKL using the setMKLthreads function in the RevoUtilsMath package; more information about MKL in R is available here. Some popular R packages, including data.table, also provide some degree of implicit parallelization. The number of threads used by data.table can be set using the setDTthreads function.

Explicit Parallelization

It is also possible to explicilty parallelize your own analysis code. There are a large number of R packages available for parallel computing.

The future package is simple, easy to use, and can make use of several backends to enable parallelization accross CPUs, add-hoc clusters, HPC clusters (including LSF on the grid) via future.batchtools and others. A number of front-ends are available, including future.apply  and furrr.

The foreach package is another popular option with a number of available backends, including doFuture that allows you to use foreach as a future frontend.

For a more comprehensive survey of parallel computing in R refer to the High Performance Computing Task View.

Code Examples

The following code examples were adapted from the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) seminar R for High Performance Computing given through XSEDE.

Below are a number of very simple examples to highlight how the frameworks can be included in your code. Nota Bene! The number of workers are dynamically determined by asking LSF (the scheduler) how many cores you have reserved via the LSB_MAX_NUM_PROCESSORS environment variable. DO NOT use the mc.detectcores() routine or anything similar, as this will clobber your code as well as any other code running on the same compute node.

All the following examples will use the following example function :

myProc <- function(size=10000000) {
  #Load a large vector
  vec <- rnorm(size)
  #Now sum the vec values

It is important not to use more cores than we've reserved:

## detect the number of CPUs we are allowed to use
n_cores <- as.integer(Sys.getenv('LSB_MAX_NUM_PROCESSORS'))
## use multiprocess backend
plan(multiprocess, workers = n_cores) 

The future.apply package provides *apply functions that use future backends.

## replicate in parallel
future_replicate(10, myProc())

The doFuture package makes it easy to write parallel loops:

foreach (i = 1:10, .combine = c) %dopar% { myProc() }

Scheduler Submission (Job) Script

If submitted via the terminal, the following batch submission script will submit your R code to the compute grid and will allocate 4 CPU cores for the work (as well as 5 GB of RAM for a run time limit of 12 hrs). If your code is written as above, using LSB_MAX_NUM_PROCESSORS, then your code will detect that 4 cores have been allocated. (Please note the second, long command may wrap on the page, but should be submitted as one line)

bsub -n 4 -q long -W 12:00 -R "rusage[mem=5000]" -M 5000 R CMD BATCH my_parallel_code.R

Updated on 4/19/2020