Efficient DataFlow¶

This tutorial gives an overview of how to build an efficient DataFlow, using ImageNet dataset as an example. Our goal in the end is to have a Python generator which yields preprocessed ImageNet images and labels as fast as possible. Since it is simply a generator interface, you can use the DataFlow in other Python-based frameworks (e.g. Keras) or your own code as well.

We use ILSVRC12 training set, which contains 1.28 million images. The original images (JPEG compressed) are 140G in total. The average resolution is about 400x350 [1]. Following the ResNet example, we need images in their original resolution, so we will read the original dataset (instead of a down-sampled version), and then apply complicated preprocessing to it. We will need to reach a speed of, roughly 1k ~ 2k images per second, to keep GPUs busy.

Note that the actual performance would depend on not only the disk, but also memory (for caching) and CPU (for data processing). You may need to tune the parameters (#processes, #threads, size of buffer, etc.) or change the pipeline for new tasks and new machines to achieve the best performance.

This tutorial is quite complicated because you do need this knowledge of hardware & system to run fast on ImageNet-sized dataset. However, for smaller datasets (e.g. several GBs of space, or lightweight preprocessing), a simple reader plus some prefetch should work well enough.

We start from a simple DataFlow:

from tensorpack import *
ds0 = dataset.ILSVRC12('/path/to/ILSVRC12', 'train', shuffle=True)
ds1 = BatchData(ds0, 256, use_list=True)
TestDataSpeed(ds1).start()


Here ds0 simply reads original images from the filesystem. It is implemented simply by:

for filename, label in filelist:


And ds1 batch the datapoints from ds0, so that we can measure the speed of this DataFlow in terms of “batch per second”. By default, BatchData will stack the datapoints into an numpy.ndarray, but since original images are of different shapes, we use use_list=True so that it just produces lists.

On an SSD you probably can already observe good speed here (e.g. 5 it/s, that is 1280 images/s), but on HDD the speed may be just 1 it/s, because we are doing heavy random read on the filesystem (regardless of whether shuffle is True).

We will now add the cheapest pre-processing now to get an ndarray in the end instead of a list (because training will need ndarray eventually):

  ds = dataset.ILSVRC12('/path/to/ILSVRC12', 'train', shuffle=True)
ds = AugmentImageComponent(ds, [imgaug.Resize(224)])
ds = BatchData(ds, 256)


You’ll start to observe slow down after adding more pre-processing (such as those in the ResNet example). Now it’s time to add threads or processes:

  ds0 = dataset.ILSVRC12('/path/to/ILSVRC12', 'train', shuffle=True)
ds1 = AugmentImageComponent(ds0, lots_of_augmentors)
ds = PrefetchDataZMQ(ds1, nr_proc=25)
ds = BatchData(ds, 256)


Here we start 25 processes to run ds1, and collect their output through ZMQ IPC protocol. Using ZMQ to transfer data is faster than multiprocessing.Queue, but data copy (even within one process) can still be quite expensive when you’re dealing with large data. For example, to reduce copy overhead, the ResNet example deliberately moves certain pre-processing (the mean/std normalization) from DataFlow to the graph. This way the DataFlow only transfers uint8 images as opposed float32 which takes 4x more memory.

Alternatively, you can use multi-threading like this:

  ds0 = dataset.ILSVRC12('/path/to/ILSVRC12', 'train', shuffle=True)
augmentor = AugmentorList(lots_of_augmentors)
map_func=lambda x: augmentor.augment(x), buffer_size=1000)
# ds1 = PrefetchDataZMQ(ds1, nr_proc=1)
ds = BatchData(ds1, 256)


Since no fork() is happening here, there’ll be only one instance of ds0. 25 threads will all fetch data from the same ds0 instance, run the augmentor function and put results into a buffer of size 1000. To reduce the effect of GIL, you want to uncomment the line so that everything above it (including all the threads) happen in an independent process.

There is no answer whether it is faster to use threads or processes. Processes avoid the cost of GIL but bring the cost of communication. You can also try a combination of both (several processes each with several threads).

Random read is usually not a good idea, especially if the data is not on a SSD. We can also dump the dataset into one single LMDB file and read it sequentially.

from tensorpack import *
class RawILSVRC12(DataFlow):
def __init__(self):
meta = dataset.ILSVRCMeta()
self.imglist = meta.get_image_list('train')
# we apply a global shuffling here because later we'll only use local shuffling
np.random.shuffle(self.imglist)
self.dir = os.path.join('/path/to/ILSVRC', 'train')
def get_data(self):
for fname, label in self.imglist:
fname = os.path.join(self.dir, fname)
with open(fname, 'rb') as f:
jpeg = np.asarray(bytearray(jpeg), dtype='uint8')
yield [jpeg, label]
def size(self):
return len(self.imglist)
ds0 = RawILSVRC12()
ds1 = PrefetchDataZMQ(ds0, nr_proc=1)
dftools.dump_dataflow_to_lmdb(ds1, '/path/to/ILSVRC-train.lmdb')


The above script builds a DataFlow which produces jpeg-encoded ImageNet data. We store the jpeg string as a numpy array because the function cv2.imdecode expect this format. We use 1 prefetch process to speed up. If nr_proc>1, ds1 will take data from several forks of ds0 and will therefore be not identical to ds0 any more.

It will generate a database file of 140G. We build a DataFlow to read the LMDB file sequentially:

from tensorpack import *
ds = LMDBData('/path/to/ILSVRC-train.lmdb', shuffle=False)
ds = BatchData(ds, 256, use_list=True)
TestDataSpeed(ds).start()


Depending on whether the OS has cached the file for you (and how large the RAM is), the above script can run at a speed of 10~130 it/s, roughly corresponding to 250MB~3.5GB/s bandwidth. You can test your cached and uncached disk read bandwidth with sudo hdparm -Tt /dev/sdX. As a reference, on Samsung SSD 850, the uncached speed is about 16it/s.

ds = LMDBData('/path/to/ILSVRC-train.lmdb', shuffle=False)
ds = LocallyShuffleData(ds, 50000)
ds = BatchData(ds, 256, use_list=True)


Instead of shuffling all the training data in every epoch (which would require random read), the added line above maintains a buffer of datapoints and shuffle them once a while. It will not affect the model as long as the buffer is large enough, but it can also consume much memory if too large.

ds = LMDBData(db, shuffle=False)
ds = LocallyShuffleData(ds, 50000)
ds = LMDBDataPoint(ds)
ds = MapDataComponent(ds, lambda x: cv2.imdecode(x, cv2.IMREAD_COLOR), 0)
ds = AugmentImageComponent(ds, lots_of_augmentors)
ds = BatchData(ds, 256)

1. LMDBDataPoint deserialize the datapoints (from raw bytes to [jpeg_string, label] – what we dumped in RawILSVRC12)

2. Use OpenCV to decode the first component into ndarray

3. Apply augmentations to the ndarray

Both imdecode and the augmentors can be quite slow. We can parallelize them like this:

ds = LMDBData(db, shuffle=False)
ds = LocallyShuffleData(ds, 50000)
ds = PrefetchData(ds, 5000, 1)
ds = LMDBDataPoint(ds)
ds = MapDataComponent(ds, lambda x: cv2.imdecode(x, cv2.IMREAD_COLOR), 0)
ds = AugmentImageComponent(ds, lots_of_augmentors)
ds = PrefetchDataZMQ(ds, 25)
ds = BatchData(ds, 256)


Since we are reading the database sequentially, having multiple identical instances of the underlying DataFlow will result in biased data distribution. Therefore we use PrefetchData to launch the underlying DataFlow in one independent process, and only parallelize the transformations. (PrefetchDataZMQ is faster but not fork-safe, so the first prefetch has to be PrefetchData. This is supposed to get fixed in the future).

Let me summarize what the above DataFlow does:

1. One process reads LMDB file, shuffle them in a buffer and put them into a multiprocessing.Queue (used by PrefetchData).

2. 25 processes take items from the queue, decode and process them into [image, label] pairs, and send them through ZMQ IPC pipe.

3. The main process takes data from the pipe, makes batches and feeds them into the graph, according to what InputSource is used.

The above DataFlow can run at a speed of 1k ~ 2k images per second if you have good CPUs, RAM, disks and augmentors. As a reference, tensorpack can train ResNet-18 (a shallow ResNet) at 4.5 batches (1.2k images) per second on 4 old TitanX. A DGX-1 (8 P100) can train ResNet-50 at 1.7k images/s according to the official benchmark. So DataFlow will not be a serious bottleneck if configured properly.

More Efficient DataFlow¶

To work with larger datasets (or smaller networks, or more/better GPUs) you could be severely bounded by CPU or disk speed of a single machine. One way is to optimize the preprocessing routine (e.g. write something in C++ or use TF reading operators). Another way to scale is to run DataFlow in a distributed fashion and collect them on the training machine. E.g.:

# Data Machine #1, process 1-20:
df = MyLargeData()
send_dataflow_zmq(df, 'tcp://1.2.3.4:8877')

# Data Machine #2, process 1-20:
df = MyLargeData()
send_dataflow_zmq(df, 'tcp://1.2.3.4:8877')

# Training Machine, process 1-10:
df = MyLargeData()
send_dataflow_zmq(df, 'ipc:///tmp/ipc-socket')

# Training Machine, training process
df = RemoteDataZMQ('ipc:///tmp/ipc-socket', 'tcp://0.0.0.0:8877')
TestDataSpeed(df).start()