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Effortless Scaling with Kubernetes

Metaflow provides a set of easy-to-use tools that help you to make your code scale up (by running your code on a larger machine) or scale out (by allowing you to trivially parallelize your code over an arbitrarily large number of machines) using Kubernetes.

Requesting resources with resources decorator

Consider the following example:

from metaflow import FlowSpec, step, resources

class BigSum(FlowSpec):

@resources(memory=60000, cpu=1)
def start(self):
import numpy
import time
big_matrix = numpy.random.ranf((80000, 80000))
t = time.time()
self.sum = numpy.sum(big_matrix)
self.took = time.time() - t

def end(self):
print("The sum is %f." % self.sum)
print("Computing it took %dms." % (self.took * 1000))

if __name__ == '__main__':

This example creates a huge 80000x80000 random matrix, big_matrix. The matrix requires about 80000^2 * 8 bytes = 48GB of memory.

If you attempt to run this on your local machine, it is likely that the following will happen:

$ python run

2019-11-29 02:43:39.689 [5/start/21975 (pid 83812)] File "", line 11, in start
2018-11-29 02:43:39.689 [5/start/21975 (pid 83812)] big_matrix = numpy.random.ranf((80000, 80000))
2018-11-29 02:43:39.689 [5/start/21975 (pid 83812)] File "mtrand.pyx", line 856, in mtrand.RandomState.random_sample
2018-11-29 02:43:39.689 [5/start/21975 (pid 83812)] File "mtrand.pyx", line 167, in mtrand.cont0_array
2018-11-29 02:43:39.689 [5/start/21975 (pid 83812)] MemoryError
2018-11-29 02:43:39.689 [5/start/21975 (pid 83812)]
2018-11-29 02:43:39.844 [5/start/21975 (pid 83812)] Task failed.
2018-11-29 02:43:39.844 Workflow failed.
Step failure:
Step start (task-id 21975) failed.

This fails quickly due to a MemoryError on most laptops as we are unable to allocate 48GB of memory.

The resources decorator suggests resource requirements for a step. The memory argument specifies the amount of RAM in megabytes and cpu the number of CPU cores requested. It does not produce the resources magically, which is why the run above failed.

The resources decorator gains all its power in collaboration with Kubernetes. Note that for this section, you will need to have Metaflow working in an AWS cloud environment (either having deployed it yourself or running in the Metaflow sandbox)

With the following command, you instruct Metaflow to run all your steps on Kubernetes:

$ python run --with kubernetes

The --with kubernetes option instructs Metaflow to run all tasks as separate Kubernetes pods, instead of using a local process for each task. It has the same effect as adding @kubernetes decorator to all steps in the code.

This time the run should succeed thanks to the large enough instance. Note that in this case the resources decorator is used as a prescription for the size of the box that Kubernetes should run the job on; please be sure that this resource requirement can be met.

You should see an output like this:

The sum is 3200003911.795288.
Computing it took 4497ms.

In addition to cpu and memory you can specify disk=D to request D MB of disk space for the instance.

Using Kubernetes selectively with @kubernetes decorator

A close relative of the resources decorator is kubernetes. It takes exactly the same keyword arguments as resources but instead of being a mere suggestion, it forces the step to be run on Kubernetes.

The main benefit of kubernetes is that you can selectively run some steps locally and some on Kubernetes. In the example above, try replacing resources with kubernetes and run it as follows:

$ python run

You will see that the start step gets executed on a large Kubernetes pod but the end step, which does not need special resources, is executed locally without the additional latency of launching a Kubernetes pod. Executing a foreach step launches parallel Kubernetes pods with the specified resources for the step.

Parallelization over multiple cores

When running locally, branches in your flow are executed in parallel as separate processes which the operating system can allocate to separate CPU cores. This means that your flow can utilize multiple cores without you having to do anything special besides defining branches in the flow.

When running --with kubernetes, branches are mapped to separate Kubernetes pods that are executed in parallel. All this makes sense for basic use cases. What if you want to utilize multiple cores on a Kubernetes pod?

Metaflow provides a utility function called parallel_map as an answer. This function is almost equivalent to Pool().map in the Python's built-in multiprocessing library. The main differences are the following:

  • parallel_map supports lambdas and any other callables of Python.
  • parallel_map does not suffer from bugs present in multiprocessing.
  • parallel_map can handle larger amounts of data.

Besides the Kubernetes use case, parallel_map may be appropriate for simple operations that might be too cumbersome to implement as separate steps.

Here is an extension of our previous example that implements a multi-core sum() by partitioning the matrix by row:

from metaflow import FlowSpec, step, batch, parallel_map

class BigSum(FlowSpec):

@kubernetes(memory=60000, cpu=8)
def start(self):
import numpy
import time
big_matrix = numpy.random.ranf((80000, 80000))
t = time.time()
parts = parallel_map(lambda i: big_matrix[i:i+10000].sum(),
range(0, 80000, 10000))
self.sum = sum(parts)
self.took = time.time() - t

def end(self):
print("The sum is %f." % self.sum)
print("Computing it took %dms." % (self.took * 1000))

if __name__ == '__main__':

Note that we use cpu=8 to request eight CPU cores from Kubernetes, so our parallel_map can benefit from optimal parallelism.

Disappointingly, in this case the parallel sum is not faster than the original simple implementation due to the overhead of launching separate processes in parallel_map. A less trivial operation might see a much larger performance boost.

Kubernetes tips and tricks

Here are some useful tips and tricks related to running Metaflow on Kubernetes.

What value of @timeout should I set?

Metaflow sets a default timeout of 5 days so that you tasks don't get stuck infinitely while running on Kubernetes. For more details on how to use @timeout please read this.

How much @resources can I request?

Here are the current defaults for different resource types:

  • cpu: 1
  • memory: 4096 (4GB)
  • disk: 10240 (10GB)

When setting @resources, keep in mind the configuration of your Kubernetes cluster. Your pod will be stuck in a unschedulable state if Kubernetes is unable to provision the requested resources. Additionally, as a good measure, don't request more resources than what your workflow actually needs. On the other hand, never optimize resources prematurely.

You can place your Kubernetes pod in a specific namespace by using the namespace argument. By default, all pods execute on a vanilla python docker image corresponding to the version of Python interpreter used to launch the flow and can be overridden using the image argument.

You can also specify the resource requirements on command line as well:

$ python run --with kubernetes:cpu=4,memory=10000,namespace=foo,image=ubuntu:latest

Safeguard flags

It is almost too easy to launch Kubernetes pods with Metaflow. Consider a foreach loop defined as follows:

self.params = range(1000), foreach='params')

When run with --with kubernetes, this code would launch 1000 parallel pods which may turn out to be quite expensive.

To safeguard against inadvertent launching of many parallel pods, the run and resume commands have a flag --max-num-splits which fails the task if it attempts to launch more than 100 splits by default. Use the flag to increase the limit if you actually need more tasks.

$ python run --max-num-splits 200

Another flag, --max-workers, limits the number of tasks run in parallel. Even if a foreach launched 100 splits, --max-workers would make only 16 (by default) of them run in parallel at any point in time. If you want more parallelism, increase the value of --max-workers.

$ python run --max-workers 32

If you interrupt a Metaflow run, any pods launched by the run get killed by Metaflow automatically. Even if something went wrong during the final cleanup, the tasks will finish and die eventually, at the latest when they hit the maximum time allowed for a pod.

Accessing Kubernetes logs

As a convenience feature, you can also see the logs of any past step as follows:

$ python logs 15/end

Big Data

The previous sections focused on CPU and memory-bound steps. Loading and processing big data is often an IO-bound operation, which requires a different approach.

Read Loading and Storing Data for more details about how to build efficient data pipelines in Metaflow.

Disk space

You can request higher disk space for pods by using the disk attribute of @kubernetes.

Large data artifacts

Metaflow uses Python's default object serialization format, Pickle, to persist data artifacts.

Unfortunately Python was not able to pickle objects larger than 2GB prior to Python 3.5. If you need to store large data artifacts, such as a large data frame, using a recent version of Python 3 is highly recommended.

In the rare cases where Metaflow's built-in serialization does not work for you, you can use Metaflow S3 client to persist arbitrary data in S3.