Training Recommender Systems at Scale: Communication-Efficient Model and Data Parallelism

Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (KDD)


In this paper, we consider hybrid parallelism—a paradigm that employs both Data Parallelism (DP) and Model Parallelism (MP)—to scale distributed training of large recommendation models. We propose a compression framework called Dynamic Communication Thresholding (DCT) for communication-efficient hybrid training. DCT filters the entities to be communicated across the network through a simple hard-thresholding function, allowing only the most relevant information to pass through. For communication efficient DP, DCT compresses the parameter gradients sent to the parameter server during model synchronization. The threshold is updated only once every few thousand iterations to reduce the computational overhead of compression. For communication efficient MP, DCT incorporates a novel technique to compress the activations and gradients sent across the network during the forward and backward propagation, respectively. This is done by identifying and updating only the most relevant neurons of the neural network for each training sample in the data. We evaluate DCT on publicly available natural language processing and recommender models and datasets, as well as recommendation systems used in production at Facebook. DCT reduces communication by at least 100× and 20× during DP and MP, respectively. The algorithm has been deployed in production, and it improves end-to-end training time for a state-of-the-art industrial recommender model by 37%, without any loss in performance.

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