Powering the Artificial Intelligence Revolution

May 18, 2020

It has been observed by many that we are at the dawn of the next industrial revolution: The Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution.  The benefits delivered by this intelligence revolution will be many: in medicine, improved diagnostics and precision treatment, better weather forecasting, and self-driving vehicles to name a few.  However, one of the costs of this revolution is going to be increased electrical consumption by the data centers that will power it. Data center power usage is projected to double over the next 10 years and is on track to consume 11% of worldwide electricity by 2030. Beyond AI adoption, other drivers of this trend are the movement to the cloud and increased power usage of CPUs, GPUs and other server components, which are becoming more powerful and smart.

AI’s two basic elements, training and inference, each consume power differently.  Training involves computationally intensive matrix operations over very large data sets, often measured in terabytes to petabytes. Examples of these data sets can range from online sales data to captured video feeds to ultra-high-resolution images of tumors.  AI inference is computationally much lighter in nature, but can run indefinitely as a service, which draws a lot of power when hit with a large number of requests.  Think of a facial recognition application for security in an office building.  It runs continuously but would stress the compute and storage resources at 8:00am and again at 5:00pm as people come and go to work.

However, getting a good handle on power usage in AI is difficult.  Energy consumption is not part of standard metrics tracked by job schedulers and while it can be set up, it is complicated and vendor dependent. This means that most users are “flying blind” when it comes to energy usage.

To map out AI energy requirements, Dr. Miro Hodak led a team of Lenovo engineers and researchers, which looked at the energy cost of an often-used AI workload. The study, Towards Power Efficiency in Deep Learning on Data Center Hardware, (registration required) was recently presented at the 2019 IEEE International Conference on Big Data and was published in the conference proceedings. This work looks at the energy cost of training ResNet50 neural net with ImageNet dataset of more than 1.3 million images on a Lenovo ThinkSystem SR670 server equipped with 4 Nvidia V100 GPUs. AC data from the server’s power supply, indicates  that 6.3 kWh of energy, enough to power an average home for six hours, is needed to fully train this AI model. In practice, trainings like these are repeated multiple times to tune the resulting models, resulting in energy costs that are actually several times higher.

The study breaks down the total energy into its components as shown in Fig. 1. As expected, the bulk of the energy is consumed by the GPUs. However, given that the GPUs handle all of the computationally intensive parts, the 65% share of energy is lower than expected. This shows that simplistic estimates of AI energy costs using only GPU power are inaccurate and miss significant contributions from the rest of the system. Besides GPUs, CPU and memory account for almost quarter of the energy use and 9% of energy is spent on AC to DC power conversion (this is within line of 80 PLUS Platinum certification of SR670 PSUs).

Figure 1

The study also investigated ways to decrease energy cost by system tuning without changing the AI workload. We found that two types of system settings make most difference: UEFI settings and GPU OS-level settings. ThinkSystem servers provides four UEFI running modes: Favor Performance, Favor Energy, Maximum Performance and Minimum Power. As shown in Table 1, the last option is the best and provides up to 5% energy savings. On the GPU side, 16% of energy can be saved by capping V100 frequency to 1005 MHz as shown in Figure 2. Taking together, our study showed that system tunings can decrease energy usage by 22% while increasing runtime by 14%. Alternatively, if this runtime cost is unacceptable, a second set of tunings, which save 18% of energy while increasing time by only 4%, was also identified. This demonstrates that there is lot of space on system side for improvements in energy efficiency.

Table 1

 

Figure 2

Energy usage in HPC has been a visible challenge for over a decade, and Lenovo has long been a leader in energy efficient computing. Whether through our innovative Neptune liquid-cooled system designs, or through Energy-Aware Runtime (EAR) software, a technology developed in collaboration with Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC). EAR analyzes user applications to find optimum CPU frequencies to run them at. For now, EAR is CPU-only, but investigations into extending it to GPUs are ongoing.  Results of our study show that that is a very promising way to bring energy savings to  both HPC and AI.

Enterprises are not used to grappling with the large power profiles that AI requires, the way HPC users have become accustomed.  Scaling out these AI solutions will only make that problem more acute.  The industry is beginning to respond.  MLPerf, currently the leading collaborative project for AI performance evaluation, is preparing new specifications for power efficiency. For now, it is limited to inference workloads and will most likely be voluntary, but it represents a step in the right direction.

So, in order to enjoy those precise weather forecasts and self-driven cars, we’ll need to solve the power challenges they create.  Today, as the power profile of CPUs and GPUs surges ever upward, enterprise customers face a choice between three factors: system density (the number of servers in a rack), performance and energy efficiency.  Indeed, many enterprises are accustomed to filling up rack after rack with low cost, adequately performing systems that have limited to no impact on the electric bill.   Unfortunately, until the power dilemma is solved, those users must be content with choosing only two of those three factors.

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