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Machine Learning

This is an introduction of how to run machine learning applications on ZIH systems. For machine learning purposes, we recommend to use the cluster alpha and/or power.

Cluster: power

The compute nodes of the cluster power are built on the base of Power9 architecture from IBM. The system was created for AI challenges, analytics and working with data-intensive workloads and accelerated databases.

The main feature of the nodes is the ability to work with the NVIDIA Tesla V100 GPU with NV-Link support that allows a total bandwidth with up to 300 GB/s. Each node on the cluster power has 6x Tesla V-100 GPUs. You can find a detailed specification of the cluster in our Power9 documentation.


The cluster power is based on the Power9 architecture, which means that the software built for x86_64 will not work on this cluster.

Power AI

There are tools provided by IBM, that work on cluster power and are related to AI tasks. For more information see our Power AI documentation.

Cluster: Alpha

Another cluster for machine learning tasks is alpha. It is mainly dedicated to ScaDS.AI topics. Each node on the cluster alpha has 2x AMD EPYC CPUs, 8x NVIDIA A100-SXM4 GPUs, 1 TB RAM and 3.5 TB local space (/tmp) on an NVMe device. You can find more details of the cluster in our Alpha Centauri documentation.


On the cluster alpha load the module environment:

[marie@alpha ]$ module load release/23.04

Machine Learning via Console

Python and Virtual Environments

Python users should use a virtual environment when conducting machine learning tasks via console.

For more details on machine learning or data science with Python see data analytics with Python.


R also supports machine learning via console. It does not require a virtual environment due to a different package management.

For more details on machine learning or data science with R see data analytics with R.

Machine Learning with Jupyter

The Jupyter Notebook is an open-source web application that allows you to create documents containing live code, equations, visualizations, and narrative text. JupyterHub allows to work with machine learning frameworks (e.g. TensorFlow or PyTorch) on ZIH systems and to run your Jupyter notebooks on HPC nodes.

After accessing JupyterHub, you can start a new session and configure it. For machine learning purposes, select either cluster alpha or power and the resources, your application requires.

In your session you can use Python, R or RStudio for your machine learning and data science topics.

Machine Learning with Containers

Some machine learning tasks require using containers. In the HPC domain, the Singularity container system is a widely used tool. Docker containers can also be used by Singularity. You can find further information on working with containers on ZIH systems in our containers documentation.

The official source for Docker containers with TensorFlow, PyTorch and many other packages is the PowerAI container DockerHub repository of IBM.


You could find other versions of software in the container on the "tag" tab on the Docker web page of the container.

In the following example, we build a Singularity container with TensorFlow from the DockerHub and start it:

marie@ml$ singularity build my-ML-container.sif docker://ibmcom/powerai:1.6.2-tensorflow-ubuntu18.04-py37-ppc64le    #create a container from the DockerHub with TensorFlow version 1.6.2
marie@ml$ singularity run --nv my-ML-container.sif    #run my-ML-container.sif container supporting the Nvidia's GPU. You can also work with your container by: singularity shell, singularity exec

Additional Libraries for Machine Learning

The following NVIDIA libraries are available on all nodes:

Name Path
NCCL /usr/local/cuda/targets/ppc64le-linux
cuDNN /usr/local/cuda/targets/ppc64le-linux


For optimal NCCL performance it is recommended to set the NCCL_MIN_NRINGS environment variable during execution. You can try different values but 4 should be a pretty good starting point.

marie@compute$ export NCCL_MIN_NRINGS=4

The following HPC related software is installed on all nodes:

Name Path
IBM Spectrum MPI /opt/ibm/spectrum_mpi/
PGI compiler /opt/pgi/
IBM XLC Compiler /opt/ibm/xlC/
IBM XLF Compiler /opt/ibm/xlf/
IBM ESSL /opt/ibmmath/essl/
IBM PESSL /opt/ibmmath/pessl/

Datasets for Machine Learning

There are many different datasets designed for research purposes. If you would like to download some of them, keep in mind that many machine learning libraries have direct access to public datasets without downloading it, e.g. TensorFlow Datasets. If you still need to download some datasets use Datamover machine.

The ImageNet Dataset

The ImageNet project is a large visual database designed for use in visual object recognition software research. In order to save space in the filesystem by avoiding to have multiple duplicates of this lying around, we have put a copy of the ImageNet database (ILSVRC2012 and ILSVR2017) under /data/horse/shared/imagenet which you can use without having to download it again. For the future, the ImageNet dataset will be available in Warm Archive. ILSVR2017 also includes a dataset for recognition objects from a video. Please respect the corresponding Terms of Use.