This lesson is in the early stages of development (Alpha version)

Scaling a pipeline across a cluster


Teaching: 30 min
Exercises: 15 min
  • How do I run my workflow on an HPC system?

  • Understand the Snakemake cluster job submission workflow.

HPC cluster architecture

Most HPC clusters are run using a scheduler. The scheduler is a piece of software that decides when a job will run, and on which nodes. It allows a set of users to share a shared computing system as efficiently as possible. In order to use it, users typically must write their commands to be run into a shell script and then “submit” it to the scheduler.

A good analogy would be a university’s room booking system. No one gets to use a room without going through the booking system. The booking system decides which rooms people get based on their requirements (# of students, time allotted, etc.).

Some Assumptions

HPC clusters vary in their configuration, available software, and use. In order to keep this episode focused, some assumptions have been made:

  • Your cluster uses the Slurm scheduler. If your system uses a different scheduler such as PBS then you may need to adjust the batch system command used to submit jobs.
  • Your cluster uses environment modules to manage the software available to you. While some module names are used here, the actual modules may not be the same on your system. Please consult your HPC user support if you have difficulty finding the correct modules to use.

Right now we have a reasonably effective pipeline that scales nicely on our local computer. However, for the sake of this course, we’ll pretend that our workflow actually takes significant computational resources and needs to be run on a HPC cluster.

Normally, updating a workflow to run on a HPC cluster requires a lot of work. Batch scripts need to be written, and you’ll need to monitor and babysit the status of each of your jobs. This is especially difficult if one batch job depends on the output from another. Even moving from one cluster to another (especially ones using a different scheduler) requires a large investment of time and effort. Frequently most of the batch scripts need to be rewritten.

Snakemake does all of this for you. All details of running the pipeline on the cluster are handled by Snakemake - this includes writing batch scripts, submitting, and monitoring jobs. In this scenario, the role of the scheduler is limited to ensuring each Snakemake rule is executed with the resources it needs.

We’ll explore how to port our example Snakemake pipeline by example. Our current Snakefile is shown below. If you have skipped the previous episode, or if your current Snakefile does not match, then please update to the following code. If you require a configuration file, you can use .solutions/reduce_duplication/config.yaml.

# load the configuration
configfile: 'config.yaml'

INPUT_DIR = config['input_dir']
PLOT_DIR = config['plot_dir']
DAT_DIR = config['dat_dir']
RESULTS_FILE = config['results_file']
ARCHIVE_FILE = config['archive_file']

# Single file patterns
# Now define all the wildcard patterns that either depend on
# directory and file configuration, or are used more than once.

# Note the use of single curly braces for global variables
# and double curly braces for snakemake wildcards

# a single plot file

# a single dat file
DAT_FILE = f'{DAT_DIR}.dat'

# a single input book

# File lists
# Now we can use the single file patterns in conjunction with
# glob_wildcards and expand to build the lists of all expected files.

# the list of book names
BOOK_NAMES = glob_wildcards(BOOK_FILE).book

# The list of all dat files

# The list of all plot files

# Rules
# Note that when using this pattern, it is rare for a rule to
# define filename patterns directly. Nearly all inputs and outputs
# can be specified using the existing global variables.

# pseudo-rule that tries to build everything.
# Just add all the final outputs that you want built.
rule all:
    input: ARCHIVE_FILE

# Generate summary table
rule zipf_test:
    output: RESULTS_FILE
    # This shell command only contains wildcards, so it does not
    # require an f-string or double curly braces.
    shell:  'python {input.cmd} {input.dats} > {output}'

# delete everything so we can re-run things
# This rules uses an f-string and single curly braces since all values
# are global variables rather than wildcards.
rule clean:
    shell: f'rm -rf {DAT_DIR} {PLOT_DIR} {RESULTS_FILE} {ARCHIVE_FILE}'

# Count words in one of the books
rule count_words:
    output: DAT_FILE
    shell: 'python {input.cmd} {} {output}'

# plot one word count dat file
rule make_plot:
    output: PLOT_FILE
    shell: 'python {input.cmd} {input.dat} {output}'

# create an archive with all results
rule create_archive:
    output: ARCHIVE_FILE
    shell: 'tar -czvf {output} {input}'

To run Snakemake on a cluster, we need to tell it how it to submit jobs. This is done using the --cluster argument. In this configuration, Snakemake runs on the cluster login node and submits jobs. Each cluster job executes a single rule and then exits. Snakemake detects the creation of output files, and submits new jobs (rules) once their dependencies are created. Snakemake has many options available to fine-tune the interactions with the scheduler, including resource requests, and the maximum number of jobs to submit at any time. We will explore the essential options here.

Transferring our workflow

The first step will be to transfer our files to the cluster and log on via SSH.

Please Follow Your System Procedures

Generic advice for transferring files and logging on to a HPC cluster is given here. Please follow your system’s own user guidelines. If your HPC system allows graphical desktops, you could run a browser on the login node and download the code samples for this workshop directly to the cluster.

The essential thing is to be logged into the cluster login node, with your Snakefile and other data files available.

snakemake clean
tar -czvf pipeline.tar.gz .
# transfer the pipeline via scp
scp pipeline.tar.gz
# log on to the cluster
ssh -X

At this point we’ve archived our entire pipeline, sent it to the cluster, and logged on. Let’s create a folder for our pipeline and unpack it there:

mkdir pipeline
mv pipeline.tar.gz pipeline
cd pipeline
tar -xvzf pipeline.tar.gz

CSIRO Clusters

On the CSIRO Pearcey system, snakemake and all required Python packages are available in the python/3.6.1 module. Load it with:

module load python/3.6.1

If Snakemake and Python are not already installed on your cluster, you can install them using the following commands:

bash -b
echo 'export PATH=~/miniconda3/bin:~/.local/bin:$PATH' >> ~/.bashrc
source ~/.bashrc
conda install -y matplotlib numpy graphviz
pip install --user snakemake

Assuming you’ve transferred your files and everything is set to go, the command snakemake -n should work without errors.

Cluster configuration with cluster.yaml

Snakemake uses a YAML-formatted configuration file to retrieve cluster submission parameters (JSON is also supported, but not shown here). An example (using SLURM) is shown below.

    time: 0:5:0
    mem: 1G

    time: 0:10:0
    mem: 2G

This file has several components. The values under __default__ represent a set of default configuration values that will be used for all rules. The defaults won’t always be perfect, however - chances are some rules may need to run with non-default amounts of memory, cores, or time limits. We are using the count_words rule as an example of this.

This is sufficient configuration for these exercises. For more information, please consult the Cluster Configuration documentation.

Local rule execution

Some Snakemake rules perform trivial tasks where job submission might be overkill (i.e. less than 1 minute worth of compute time). It would be a better idea to have these rules execute locally (i.e. where the snakemake command is run) instead of as a job. Snakemake lets you indicate which rules should always run locally with the localrules keyword. Let’s define all, clean, and make_archive as local rules near the top of our Snakefile (in the example code we added this line just before the all rule).

localrules: all, clean, make_archive

Running our workflow on the cluster

Ok, time for the moment we’ve all been waiting for - let’s run our workflow on the cluster. To run our Snakefile, we’ll run the following command:

snakemake --jobs 100 --cluster-config cluster.yaml --cluster "sbatch --mem={cluster.mem} --time {cluster.time} --cpus-per-task {threads}"

Job submission options will vary

Some HPC systems require additional options when submitting jobs, such as an account or partitiion name. Please consult your system guidelines for the additional arguments.

While things execute, you may wish to SSH to the cluster in another window so you can watch the pipeline’s progress with watch squeue -u $(whoami).

Now, let’s dissect the command we just ran:

Notes on $PATH

As with any cluster jobs, jobs started by Snakemake need to have the commands they are running on $PATH. For some schedulers (SLURM), no modifications are necessary - variables are passed to the jobs by default. You just need to load all the required environment modules prior to running Snakemake.

Dealing with Busy Systems

When some clusters are busy, there may be a delay between when a job completes and when the output file appears on the file system being monitored by Snakemake. If this delay is too long, Snakemake will decide that the rule has failed. If this appears to be happening, you can instruct Snakemake to wait longer with the --latency-wait argument:

snakemake --latency-wait 60 --jobs 100 --cluster-config cluster.yaml --cluster "sbatch --mem={cluster.mem} --time {cluster.time} --cpus-per-task {threads}"

The value is a wait time in seconds.

Submitting a workflow with nohup

nohup some_command & runs a command in the background and lets it keep running if you log off. Try running the pipeline in cluster mode using nohup (run snakemake clean beforehand).

Where does the Snakemake log go to?

Why might this technique be useful?

You can kill the running Snakemake process with killall snakemake. Notice that if you try to run Snakemake again, it says the directory is locked. You can unlock the directory with snakemake --unlock.

Running Snakemake itself as a batch job

Can we also submit the snakemake --cluster pipeline as a batch job?

Is this a good idea? What are some problems of this approach?

Key Points

  • Snakemake generates and submits its own batch scripts for your scheduler.

  • localrules defines rules that are executed locally, and never submitted to a cluster.

  • $PATH must be passed to Snakemake rules.

  • nohup <command> & prevents <command> from exiting when you log off.