Check-N-Run: a Checkpointing System for Training Deep Learning Recommendation Models

USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation (NSDI)


Checkpoints play an important role in training long running machine learning (ML) models. Checkpoints take a snapshot of an ML model and store it in a non-volatile memory so that they can be used to recover from failures to ensure rapid training progress. In addition, they are used for online training to improve inference prediction accuracy with continuous learning. Given the large and ever-increasing model sizes, checkpoint frequency is often bottlenecked by the storage write bandwidth and capacity. When checkpoints are maintained on remote storage, as is the case with many industrial settings, they are also bottlenecked by network bandwidth. We present Check-N-Run, a scalable checkpointing system for training large ML models at Facebook. While Check-N-Run is applicable to long running ML jobs, we focus on checkpointing recommendation models which are currently the largest ML models with Terabytes of model size. Check-N-Run uses two primary techniques to address the size and bandwidth challenges. First, it applies differential checkpointing, which tracks and checkpoints the modified part of the model. Differential checkpointing is particularly valuable in the context of recommendation models where only a fraction of the model (stored as embedding tables) is updated on each iteration. Second, Check-N-Run leverages quantization techniques to significantly reduce the checkpoint size, without degrading training accuracy. These techniques allow Check-N-Run to reduce the required write bandwidth by 6-17× and the required capacity by 2.5-8× on real-world models at Facebook, and thereby significantly improve checkpoint capabilities while reducing the total cost of ownership.

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