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MATLAB Parallel Computing Toolbox simultaneous job problem



This document describes a potential problem that occurs when using the Parallel Computing Toolbox (PCT) on the FASRC cluster. If you are not familiar with the PCT, please read our companion document first.
This problem only affects users submitting multiple jobs simultaneously to SLURM on the cluster using the Parallel Computing Toolbox or the Distributed Computing Server. If you are unsure if this affects your workflow, please contact RCHelp.

Description of the problem

Sometimes multiple parallel MATLAB jobs using the Parallel Computing Toolbox (PCT) would crash. The usual scenario is that the first job would run, but the subsequent jobs would hang or crash as MATLAB won’t allow for a second matlabpool to open.

Analysis and resolution of the problem

When a person submit multiple jobs that are all using PCT for parallelization, the multiple matlabpools that get created have the ability to interfere with one another and this can lead to errors and early termination of scripts.
The MATLAB PCT requires a temporary Job Storage Location where it stores information about the MATLAB pool that is in use. This is simply a directory on the filesystem that MATLAB writes various files to in order to coordinate the parallelization of the matlabpool. By default, this information is stored in /home/YourUsername/.matlab/ (the default JobStorageLocation). When submitting multiple jobs to SLURM that will all use the PCT, all of the jobs will attempt to use this default location for storing job information, thereby creating a race condition where one job modifies the files that were put in place by another. Clearly, this situation must be avoided.
The solution is to have each of your jobs that will use the PCT set a unique location for storing job information. To do this, a temporary directory must be created before launching MATLAB in your submission script and then the matlabpool must be created to explicitly use this unique temporary directory.
The following is an example batch job submission script to do this:

#SBATCH -J par_for_test
#SBATCH -p general
#SBATCH -t 0-0:30
#SBATCH -n 12
#SBATCH --mem-per-cpu=2000
#SBATCH -o par_for_test.out
#SBATCH -e par_for_test.err
module load math/matlab-R2014a
# Create a local work directory
mkdir -p /scratch/$USER/$SLURM_JOB_ID
matlab -nosplash -nodesktop -r "pfor"
# Cleanup local work directory
rm -rf /scratch/$USER/$SLURM_JOB_ID

Also, the corresponding MATLAB script needs to include these lines:

% create a local cluster object
pc = parcluster('local')
% explicitly set the JobStorageLocation to the temp directory that was
% created in your sbatch script
pc.JobStorageLocation = strcat('/scratch/YourUsername/', getenv('SLURM_JOB_ID'))
% start the parallel pool with 12 workers
matlabpool(pc, 12)

NOTE: MATLAB discontinues the use of matlabpool and replaces this with parpool in release R2013b and later. Also, one is able to deploy unlimited MATLAB workers on a compute node with the latest installations.

[pkrastev@holy2a18302 test]$ cat par_for_test.out
< M A T L A B (R) >
Copyright 1984-2014 The MathWorks, Inc.
R2014a ( 64-bit (glnxa64)
February 11, 2014
To get started, type one of these: helpwin, helpdesk, or demo.
For product information, visit
pc =
Local Cluster
Profile: local
Modified: false
NumWorkers: 32
JobStorageLocation: /n/home06/pkrastev/.matlab/local_cluster_jobs/R2014a
RequiresMathWorksHostedLicensing: false
Associated Jobs:
Number Pending: 0
Number Queued: 0
Number Running: 0
Number Finished: 0
pc =
Local Cluster
Profile: local
Modified: true
NumWorkers: 32
JobStorageLocation: /scratch/pkrastev/15697660
RequiresMathWorksHostedLicensing: false
Associated Jobs:
Number Pending: 0
Number Queued: 0
Number Running: 0
Number Finished: 0
Starting parallel pool (parpool) using the 'local' profile ... connected to 8 workers.
ans =
Pool with properties:
Connected: true
NumWorkers: 8
Cluster: local
AttachedFiles: {}
IdleTimeout: 30 minute(s) (30 minutes remaining)
SpmdEnabled: true
The computed value of pi is 3.1408824.
The parallel Monte-Carlo method is executed in 13.61 seconds.

Further reading

MATLAB’s documentation on JobStorageLocation

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