GPU-Accelerated R in the Cloud with Teraproc Cluster-as-a-Service

Analysis of statistical algorithms can generate workloads that run for hours, if not days, tying up a single computer. Many statisticians and data scientists write complex simulations and statistical analysis using the R statistical computing environment. Often these programs have a very long run time. Given the amount of time R programmers can spend waiting for results, it makes sense to take advantage of parallelism in the computation and the available hardware.

In a previous post on the Teraproc blog, I discussed the value of parallelism for long-running R models, and showed how multi-core and multi-node parallelism can reduce run times. In this blog I’ll examine another way to leverage parallelism in R, harnessing the processing cores in a general-purpose graphics processing unit (GPU) to dramatically accelerate commonly used clustering algorithms in R. The most widely used GPUs for GPU computing are the NVIDIA Tesla series. A Tesla K40 GPU has 2,880 integrated cores, 12 GB of memory with 288 GB/sec of bandwidth delivering up to 5 trillion floating point calculations per second.

The examples in this post build on the excellent work of Mr. Chi Yau available at r-tutor.com. Chi is the author of the CRAN open-source rpud package as well as rpudplus, R libraries that make is easy for developers to harness the power of GPUs without programming directly in CUDA C++. To learn more about R and parallel programming with GPUs you can download Chi’s e-book. For illustration purposes, I’ll focus on an example involving distance calculations and hierarchical clustering, but you can use the rpud package to accelerate a variety of applications.

Hierarchical Clustering in R

Cluster analysis, or clustering, is the process of grouping objects such that objects in the same cluster are more similar (by a given metric) to each other than to objects in other clusters. Cluster analysis is a problem with significant parallelism. In a post on the Teraproc blog we showed an example that involved clustering analysis using k-means. In this post we’ll look at hierarchical cluster in R with hclust, a function that makes it simple to create a dendrogram (a tree diagram as in Figure 1) based on differences between observations. This type of analysis is useful in all kinds of applications from taxonomy to cancer research to time-series analysis of financial data.

Figure 1: Dendrogram created using hierarchical clustering in R.
Figure 1: Dendrogram created using hierarchical clustering in R.

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ArrayFire: A Portable Open-Source Accelerated Computing Library

The ArrayFire library is a high-performance software library with a focus on portability and productivity. It supports highly tuned, GPU-accelerated algorithms using an easy-to-use API. ArrayFire wraps GPU memory into a simple “array” object, enabling developers to process vectors, matrices, and volumes on the GPU using high-level routines, without having to get involved with device kernel code.

ArrayFire Capabilities

ArrayFire is an open source C/C++ library, with language bindings for R, Java and Fortran. ArrayFire has a range of functionality, including

ArrayFire has three back ends to enable portability across many platforms: CUDA, OpenCL and CPU. It even works on embedded platforms like NVIDIA’s Jetson TK1.

In a past post about ArrayFire we demonstrated the ArrayFire capabilities and how you can increase your productivity by using ArrayFire. In this post I will tell you how you can use ArrayFire to exploit various kind of parallelism on NVIDIA GPUs. Continue reading


Accelerate R Applications with CUDA

R is a free software environment for statistical computing and graphics that provides a programming language and built-in libraries of mathematics operations for statistics, data analysis, machine learning and much more. Many domain experts and researchers use the R platform and contribute R software, resulting in a large ecosystem of free software packages available through CRAN (the Comprehensive R Archive Network).
However, R, like many other high-level languages, is not performance competitive out of the box with lower-level languages like C++, especially for highly data- and computation-intensive applications. R programs tend to process large amounts of data, and often have significant independent data and task parallelism. Therefore, R applications stand to benefit from GPU acceleration. This way, R users can benefit from R’s high-level, user-friendly interface while achieving high performance.
In this article, I will introduce the computation model of R with GPU acceleration, focusing on three topics:

  • accelerating R computations using CUDA libraries;
  • calling your own parallel algorithms written in CUDA C/C++ or CUDA Fortran from R; and
  • profiling GPU-accelerated R applications using the CUDA Profiler.

The GPU-Accelerated R Software Stack

Figure 1 shows that there are two ways to apply the computational power of GPUs in R:

  1. use R GPU packages from CRAN; or
  2. access the GPU through CUDA libraries and/or CUDA-accelerated programming languages, including C, C++ and Fortran.
modelFigure 1: The R + GPU software stack.

The first approach is to use existing GPU-accelerated R packages listed under High-Performance and Parallel Computing with R on the CRAN site. Examples include gputools and cudaBayesreg. These packages are very easy to install and use. On the other hand, the number of GPU packages is currently limited, quality varies, and only a few domains are covered. This will improve with time.
The second approach is to use the GPU through CUDA directly. Continue reading