Start Off 2017 with Our Stanford Advisors

We were very excited to meet with our advisors (Prof. Stephen Boyd, Prof. Rob Tibshirani and Prof. Trevor Hastie) at H2O.AI on Jan 6, 2017.
Our CEO, Sri Ambati, made two great observations at the start of the meeting:

  • First was the hardware trend where hardware companies like Intel/Nvidia/AMD plan to put the various machine learning algorithms into hardware/GPUs.
  • Second was the data trend where more and more datasets are images/texts/audio instead of the traditional transactional datasets.  To deal with these new datasets, deep learning seems to be the go-to algorithm.  However, with deep learning, it might work very well but it was very difficult to explain to business or regulatory professionals how and why it worked.

There were several techniques to get around this problem and make machine learning solutions interpretable to our customers:

  • Patrick Hall pointed out that monotonicity determines interpretability, not linearity of systems.  He cited a credit scoring system using a constrained neural network, when the input variable was monotonic to the response variable, the system could automatically generate reason codes.
  • One could use deep learning and simpler algorithms (like GLM, Random Forest, etc.) on datasets.  When the performances were similar, we chose the simple models since they tended to be more interpretable. These meetings were great learning opportunities for us.
  • Another suggestion is to use a layered approach:
    • Use deep learning to extract a small number of features from a high dimension datasets. 
    • Next, use a simple model that used these extracted features to perform specific tasks. 
    This layered approach could provide great speed up as well.  Imagine the cases where you could use feature sets for images/text/speech derived from others on your datasets, all you need to do was to build your simple model off the feature sets to perform the functions you desired.  In this case, deep learning is the equivalent of PCA for non-linear features.  Prof. Boyd seemed to like GLRM (check out H2O GLRM) as well for feature extraction.
    With this layered approach, there were more system parameters to tune.  Our auto-ML toolbox would be perfect for this!  Go team!

Subsequently the conversation turned to visualization of datasets.  Patrick Hall brought up the approach to first use clustering to separate the datasets and apply simple models for each cluster.  This approach was very similar to their hierarchical mixture of experts algorithm described in their elements of statistical learning book.  Basically, you built decision trees from your dataset, then fit linear models at the leaf nodes to perform specific tasks. 

Our very own Dr. Wilkinson had built a dataset visualization tool that could summarize a big dataset while maintaining the characteristics of the original datasets (like outliners and others). Totally awesome!

Arno Candel brought up the issue of overfitting and how to detect it during the training process rather than at the end of the training process using the held-out set.  Prof. Boyd mentioned that we should checkout Bayesian trees/additive models.

Last Words of Wisdom from our esteemed advisors: Deep learning was powerful but other algorithms like random forest could beat deep learning depending on the datasets.  Deep learning required big datasets to train.  It worked best with datasets that had some kind of organization in it like spatial features (in images) and temporal trends (in speech/time series).  Random forest, on the other hand, worked perfectly well with dataset with no such organization/features.

Indexing 1 Billion Time Series with H2O and ISax

At H2O, we have recently debuted a new feature called ISax that works on time series data in an H2O Dataframe. ISax stands for Indexable Symbolic Aggregate ApproXimation, which means it can represent complex time series patterns using a symbolic notation and thereby reducing the dimensionality of your data. From there you can run H2O’s ML algos or use the index for searching or data analysis. ISax has many uses in a variety of fields including finance, biology and cybersecurity.

Today in this blog we will use H2O to create an ISax index for analytical purposes. We will generate 1 Billion time series of 256 steps on an integer U(-100,100) distribution. Once we have the index we’ll show how you can search for similar patterns using the index.

We’ll show you the steps and you can run along, assuming you have enough hardware and patience. In this example we are using a 9 machine cluster, each with 32 cores and 256GB RAM. We’ll create a 1B row synthetic data set and form random walks for more interesting time series patterns. We’ll run ISax and perform the search, the whole process takes ~30 minutes with our cluster.

Raw H2O Frame Creation
In the typical use case, H2O users would be importing time series data from disk. H2O can read from local filesystems, NFS, or distributed systems like Hadoop. H2O cluster file reads are parallelized across the nodes for speed. In our case we’ll be generating a 256 column, 1B row frame. By the way H2O Dataframes scales better by increasing rows instead of columns. Each row will be an individual time series. The ISax algo assumes the time series data is row based.

rawdf = h2o.create_frame(cols=256, rows=1000000000, real_fraction=0.0, integer_fraction=1.0,missing_fraction=0.0)

isax_sshot1

Random Walk
Here we do a row wise cumulative sum to simulate random walks. The .head call triggers the execution graph so we can do a time measurement.

tsdf = rawdf.cumsum(axis=1)
print tsdf.head()

isax_sshot2

Lets take a quick peek at our time series
tsdf[0:2,:].transpose().as_data_frame(use_pandas=True).plot()

isax_sshot3

Run ISax
Now we’re ready to run isax and generate the index. The output of this command is another H2O Frame that contains the string representation of the isax word, along with the numeric columns in case you want to run ML algos.
res = tsdf.isax(num_words=20,max_cardinality=10)

isax_sshot4

Takes 10 minutes and H2O’s MapReduce framework makes efficient use of all 288 cpu cores.

isax_cluster_3
isax_sshot5

Now that we have the index done, lets search for similar time series patterns in our 1B time series data set. Lets make indexes on the isax result frame and the original time series frame.

res["idx"] =1
res["idx"] = res["idx"].cumsum(axis=0)
tsdf["idx"] = 1
tsdf["idx"] = tsdf["idx"].cumsum(axis=0)

Im going to pick the second time series that we plotted (the green “C2”) time series.
myidx = res[res["iSax_index"]=="5^20_5^20_7^20_9^20_9^20_9^20_9^20_9^20_8^20_6^20
_4^20_3^20_2^20_1^20_1^20_0^20_0^20_0^20_0^20_0^20"]["idx"]

There are 4342 other time series with the same index in the 1B time series dataframe. Lets just plot the first 10 and see how similar they look

mylist = myidx.as_data_frame(use_pandas=True)["idx"][0:10].tolist()
mydf = tsdf[tsdf["idx"].isin(mylist)].as_data_frame(use_pandas=True)
mydf.ix[:,0:256].transpose().plot(figsize=(20,10))

isax_sshot6

The successful implementation of a fast in memory ISax algo can be attributed to the H2O platform having a highly efficient, easy to code, open source MapReduce framework, and the Rapids api that can deploy your distributed algos to Python or R. In my next blog, I will show how to get started with writing your own MapReduce functions in H2O on structured data by using ISax as an example.

References
https://www.quora.com/MLconf-2015-Seattle-How-does-the-symbolic-aggregate-approximation-SAX-technique-work

http://cs.gmu.edu/~jessica/SAX_DAMI_preprint.pdf

H2O GBM Tuning Tutorial for R

In this tutorial, we show how to build a well-tuned H2O GBM model for a supervised classification task. We specifically don’t focus on feature engineering and use a small dataset to allow you to reproduce these results in a few minutes on a laptop. This script can be directly transferred to datasets that are hundreds of GBs large and H2O clusters with dozens of compute nodes.

This tutorial is written in R Markdown. You can download the source from H2O’s github repository.

A port to a Python Jupyter Notebook version is available as well.

Installation of the H2O R Package

Either download H2O from H2O.ai’s website or install the latest version of H2O into R with the following R code:

# The following two commands remove any previously installed H2O packages for R.
if ("package:h2o" %in% search()) { detach("package:h2o", unload=TRUE) }
if ("h2o" %in% rownames(installed.packages())) { remove.packages("h2o") }

# Next, we download packages that H2O depends on.
pkgs <- c("methods","statmod","stats","graphics","RCurl","jsonlite","tools","utils")
for (pkg in pkgs) {
  if (! (pkg %in% rownames(installed.packages()))) { install.packages(pkg) }
}

# Now we download, install and initialize the H2O package for R.
install.packages("h2o", type="source", repos=(c("http://h2o-release.s3.amazonaws.com/h2o/rel-turchin/8/R")))

Launch an H2O cluster on localhost

library(h2o)
h2o.init(nthreads=-1)
## optional: connect to a running H2O cluster
#h2o.init(ip="mycluster", port=55555) 
Starting H2O JVM and connecting: . Connection successful!

R is connected to the H2O cluster: 
    H2O cluster uptime:         1 seconds 248 milliseconds 
    H2O cluster version:        3.8.2.8 
    H2O cluster name:           H2O_started_from_R_arno_wyu958 
    H2O cluster total nodes:    1 
    H2O cluster total memory:   3.56 GB 
    H2O cluster total cores:    8 
    H2O cluster allowed cores:  8 
    H2O cluster healthy:        TRUE 
    H2O Connection ip:          localhost 
    H2O Connection port:        54321 
    H2O Connection proxy:       NA 
    R Version:                  R version 3.2.2 (2015-08-14)

Import the data into H2O

Everything is scalable and distributed from now on. All processing is done on the fully multi-threaded and distributed H2O Java-based backend and can be scaled to large datasets on large compute clusters.
Here, we use a small public dataset (Titanic), but you can use datasets that are hundreds of GBs large.

## 'path' can point to a local file, hdfs, s3, nfs, Hive, directories, etc.
df <- h2o.importFile(path = "http://s3.amazonaws.com/h2o-public-test-data/smalldata/gbm_test/titanic.csv")
dim(df)
head(df)
tail(df)
summary(df,exact_quantiles=TRUE)

## pick a response for the supervised problem
response <- "survived"

## the response variable is an integer, we will turn it into a categorical/factor for binary classification
df[[response]] <- as.factor(df[[response]])           

## use all other columns (except for the name) as predictors
predictors <- setdiff(names(df), c(response, "name")) 
> summary(df,exact_quantiles=TRUE)
 pclass          survived        name sex         age               sibsp            parch           ticket            fare              cabin                 embarked
 Min.   :1.000   Min.   :0.000        male  :843  Min.   : 0.1667   Min.   :0.0000   Min.   :0.000   Min.   :    680   Min.   :  0.000   C23 C25 C27    :   6  S :914  
 1st Qu.:2.000   1st Qu.:0.000        female:466  1st Qu.:21.0000   1st Qu.:0.0000   1st Qu.:0.000   1st Qu.:  19950   1st Qu.:  7.896   B57 B59 B63 B66:   5  C :270  
 Median :3.000   Median :0.000                    Median :28.0000   Median :0.0000   Median :0.000   Median : 234604   Median : 14.454   G6             :   5  Q :123  
 Mean   :2.295   Mean   :0.382                    Mean   :29.8811   Mean   :0.4989   Mean   :0.385   Mean   : 249039   Mean   : 33.295   B96 B98        :   4  NA:  2  
 3rd Qu.:3.000   3rd Qu.:1.000                    3rd Qu.:39.0000   3rd Qu.:1.0000   3rd Qu.:0.000   3rd Qu.: 347468   3rd Qu.: 31.275   C22 C26        :   4          
 Max.   :3.000   Max.   :1.000                    Max.   :80.0000   Max.   :8.0000   Max.   :9.000   Max.   :3101298   Max.   :512.329   C78            :   4          
                                                  NA's   :263                                        NA's   :352       NA's   :1         NA             :1014          
 boat             body            home.dest                
 Min.   : 1.000   Min.   :  1.0   New York  NY        : 64 
 1st Qu.: 5.000   1st Qu.: 72.0   London              : 14 
 Median :10.000   Median :155.0   Montreal  PQ        : 10 
 Mean   : 9.405   Mean   :160.8   Cornwall / Akron  OH:  9 
 3rd Qu.:13.000   3rd Qu.:256.0   Paris  France       :  9 
 Max.   :16.000   Max.   :328.0   Philadelphia  PA    :  8 
 NA's   :911      NA's   :1188    NA                  :564 

From now on, everything is generic and directly applies to most datasets. We assume that all feature engineering is done at this stage and focus on model tuning. For multi-class problems, you can use h2o.logloss() or h2o.confusionMatrix() instead of h2o.auc() and for regression problems, you can use h2o.deviance() or h2o.mse().

Split the data for Machine Learning

We split the data into three pieces: 60% for training, 20% for validation, 20% for final testing.
Here, we use random splitting, but this assumes i.i.d. data. If this is not the case (e.g., when events span across multiple rows or data has a time structure), you’ll have to sample your data non-randomly.

splits <- h2o.splitFrame(
  data = df, 
  ratios = c(0.6,0.2),   ## only need to specify 2 fractions, the 3rd is implied
  destination_frames = c("train.hex", "valid.hex", "test.hex"), seed = 1234
)
train <- splits[[1]]
valid <- splits[[2]]
test  <- splits[[3]]

Establish baseline performance

As the first step, we’ll build some default models to see what accuracy we can expect. Let’s use the AUC metric for this demo, but you can use h2o.logloss and stopping_metric="logloss" as well. It ranges from 0.5 for random models to 1 for perfect models.

The first model is a default GBM, trained on the 60% training split

## We only provide the required parameters, everything else is default
gbm <- h2o.gbm(x = predictors, y = response, training_frame = train)

## Show a detailed model summary
gbm

## Get the AUC on the validation set
h2o.auc(h2o.performance(gbm, newdata = valid)) 

The AUC is over 94%, so this model is highly predictive!

[1] 0.9431953

The second model is another default GBM, but trained on 80% of the data (here, we combine the training and validation splits to get more training data), and cross-validated using 4 folds.
Note that cross-validation takes longer and is not usually done for really large datasets.

## h2o.rbind makes a copy here, so it's better to use splitFrame with `ratios = c(0.8)` instead above
gbm <- h2o.gbm(x = predictors, y = response, training_frame = h2o.rbind(train, valid), nfolds = 4, seed = 0xDECAF)

## Show a detailed summary of the cross validation metrics
## This gives you an idea of the variance between the folds
gbm@model$cross_validation_metrics_summary

## Get the cross-validated AUC by scoring the combined holdout predictions.
## (Instead of taking the average of the metrics across the folds)
h2o.auc(h2o.performance(gbm, xval = TRUE))

We see that the cross-validated performance is similar to the validation set performance:

[1] 0.9403432

Next, we train a GBM with “I feel lucky” parameters.
We’ll use early stopping to automatically tune the number of trees using the validation AUC.
We’ll use a lower learning rate (lower is always better, just takes more trees to converge).
We’ll also use stochastic sampling of rows and columns to (hopefully) improve generalization.

gbm <- h2o.gbm(
  ## standard model parameters
  x = predictors, 
  y = response, 
  training_frame = train, 
  validation_frame = valid,
  
  ## more trees is better if the learning rate is small enough 
  ## here, use "more than enough" trees - we have early stopping
  ntrees = 10000,                                                            
  
  ## smaller learning rate is better (this is a good value for most datasets, but see below for annealing)
  learn_rate=0.01,                                                         
  
  ## early stopping once the validation AUC doesn't improve by at least 0.01% for 5 consecutive scoring events
  stopping_rounds = 5, stopping_tolerance = 1e-4, stopping_metric = "AUC", 
  
  ## sample 80% of rows per tree
  sample_rate = 0.8,                                                       

  ## sample 80% of columns per split
  col_sample_rate = 0.8,                                                   

  ## fix a random number generator seed for reproducibility
  seed = 1234,                                                             
  
  ## score every 10 trees to make early stopping reproducible (it depends on the scoring interval)
  score_tree_interval = 10                                                 
)

## Get the AUC on the validation set
h2o.auc(h2o.performance(gbm, valid = TRUE))

This model doesn’t seem to be much better than the previous models:

[1] 0.939335

For this small dataset, dropping 20% of observations per tree seems too aggressive in terms of adding regularization. For larger datasets, this is usually not a bad idea. But we’ll let this parameter tune freshly below, so no worries.

Note: To see what other stopping_metric parameters you can specify, simply pass an invalid option:

gbm <- h2o.gbm(x = predictors, y = response, training_frame = train, stopping_metric = "yada")
Error in .h2o.checkAndUnifyModelParameters(algo = algo, allParams = ALL_PARAMS,  : 
  "stopping_metric" must be in "AUTO", "deviance", "logloss", "MSE", "AUC", 
  "lift_top_group", "r2", "misclassification", but got yada

Hyper-Parameter Search

Next, we’ll do real hyper-parameter optimization to see if we can beat the best AUC so far (around 94%).

The key here is to start tuning some key parameters first (i.e., those that we expect to have the biggest impact on the results). From experience with gradient boosted trees across many datasets, we can state the following “rules”:

  1. Build as many trees (ntrees) as it takes until the validation set error starts increasing.
  2. A lower learning rate (learn_rate) is generally better, but will require more trees. Using learn_rate=0.02and learn_rate_annealing=0.995 (reduction of learning rate with each additional tree) can help speed up convergence without sacrificing accuracy too much, and is great to hyper-parameter searches. For faster scans, use values of 0.05 and 0.99 instead.
  3. The optimum maximum allowed depth for the trees (max_depth) is data dependent, deeper trees take longer to train, especially at depths greater than 10.
  4. Row and column sampling (sample_rate and col_sample_rate) can improve generalization and lead to lower validation and test set errors. Good general values for large datasets are around 0.7 to 0.8 (sampling 70-80 percent of the data) for both parameters. Column sampling per tree (col_sample_rate_per_tree) can also be tuned. Note that it is multiplicative with col_sample_rate, so setting both parameters to 0.8 results in 64% of columns being considered at any given node to split.
  5. For highly imbalanced classification datasets (e.g., fewer buyers than non-buyers), stratified row sampling based on response class membership can help improve predictive accuracy. It is configured with sample_rate_per_class (array of ratios, one per response class in lexicographic order).
  6. Most other options only have a small impact on the model performance, but are worth tuning with a Random hyper-parameter search nonetheless, if highest performance is critical.

First we want to know what value of max_depth to use because it has a big impact on the model training time and optimal values depend strongly on the dataset.
We’ll do a quick Cartesian grid search to get a rough idea of good candidate max_depth values. Each model in the grid search will use early stopping to tune the number of trees using the validation set AUC, as before.
We’ll use learning rate annealing to speed up convergence without sacrificing too much accuracy.

## Depth 10 is usually plenty of depth for most datasets, but you never know
hyper_params = list( max_depth = seq(1,29,2) )
#hyper_params = list( max_depth = c(4,6,8,12,16,20) ) ##faster for larger datasets

grid <- h2o.grid(
  ## hyper parameters
  hyper_params = hyper_params,
  
  ## full Cartesian hyper-parameter search
  search_criteria = list(strategy = "Cartesian"),
  
  ## which algorithm to run
  algorithm="gbm",
  
  ## identifier for the grid, to later retrieve it
  grid_id="depth_grid",
  
  ## standard model parameters
  x = predictors, 
  y = response, 
  training_frame = train, 
  validation_frame = valid,
  
  ## more trees is better if the learning rate is small enough 
  ## here, use "more than enough" trees - we have early stopping
  ntrees = 10000,                                                            
  
  ## smaller learning rate is better
  ## since we have learning_rate_annealing, we can afford to start with a bigger learning rate
  learn_rate = 0.05,                                                         
  
  ## learning rate annealing: learning_rate shrinks by 1% after every tree 
  ## (use 1.00 to disable, but then lower the learning_rate)
  learn_rate_annealing = 0.99,                                               
  
  ## sample 80% of rows per tree
  sample_rate = 0.8,                                                       

  ## sample 80% of columns per split
  col_sample_rate = 0.8, 
  
  ## fix a random number generator seed for reproducibility
  seed = 1234,                                                             
  
  ## early stopping once the validation AUC doesn't improve by at least 0.01% for 5 consecutive scoring events
  stopping_rounds = 5,
  stopping_tolerance = 1e-4,
  stopping_metric = "AUC", 
  
  ## score every 10 trees to make early stopping reproducible (it depends on the scoring interval)
  score_tree_interval = 10                                                
)

## by default, display the grid search results sorted by increasing logloss (since this is a classification task)
grid                                                                       

## sort the grid models by decreasing AUC
sortedGrid <- h2o.getGrid("depth_grid", sort_by="auc", decreasing = TRUE)    
sortedGrid

## find the range of max_depth for the top 5 models
topDepths = sortedGrid@summary_table$max_depth[1:5]                       
minDepth = min(as.numeric(topDepths))
maxDepth = max(as.numeric(topDepths))
> sortedGrid
H2O Grid Details
================

Grid ID: depth_grid 
Used hyper parameters: 
  -  max_depth 
Number of models: 15 
Number of failed models: 0 

Hyper-Parameter Search Summary: ordered by decreasing auc
   max_depth           model_ids               auc
1         27 depth_grid_model_13  0.95657931811778
2         25 depth_grid_model_12 0.956353902507749
3         29 depth_grid_model_14 0.956241194702733
4         21 depth_grid_model_10 0.954663285432516
5         19  depth_grid_model_9 0.954494223724993
6         13  depth_grid_model_6 0.954381515919978
7         23 depth_grid_model_11 0.954043392504931
8         11  depth_grid_model_5 0.952183713722175
9         15  depth_grid_model_7 0.951789236404621
10        17  depth_grid_model_8 0.951507466892082
11         9  depth_grid_model_4 0.950436742744435
12         7  depth_grid_model_3 0.946942800788955
13         5  depth_grid_model_2 0.939306846999155
14         3  depth_grid_model_1 0.932713440405748
15         1  depth_grid_model_0  0.92902225979149

It appears that max_depth values of 19 to 29 are best suited for this dataset, which is unusally deep!

> minDepth
[1] 19
> maxDepth
[1] 29

Now that we know a good range for max_depth, we can tune all other parameters in more detail. Since we don’t know what combinations of hyper-parameters will result in the best model, we’ll use random hyper-parameter search to “let the machine get luckier than a best guess of any human”.

hyper_params = list( 
  ## restrict the search to the range of max_depth established above
  max_depth = seq(minDepth,maxDepth,1),                                      
  
  ## search a large space of row sampling rates per tree
  sample_rate = seq(0.2,1,0.01),                                             
  
  ## search a large space of column sampling rates per split
  col_sample_rate = seq(0.2,1,0.01),                                         
  
  ## search a large space of column sampling rates per tree
  col_sample_rate_per_tree = seq(0.2,1,0.01),                                
  
  ## search a large space of how column sampling per split should change as a function of the depth of the split
  col_sample_rate_change_per_level = seq(0.9,1.1,0.01),                      
  
  ## search a large space of the number of min rows in a terminal node
  min_rows = 2^seq(0,log2(nrow(train))-1,1),                                 
  
  ## search a large space of the number of bins for split-finding for continuous and integer columns
  nbins = 2^seq(4,10,1),                                                     
  
  ## search a large space of the number of bins for split-finding for categorical columns
  nbins_cats = 2^seq(4,12,1),                                                
  
  ## search a few minimum required relative error improvement thresholds for a split to happen
  min_split_improvement = c(0,1e-8,1e-6,1e-4),                               
  
  ## try all histogram types (QuantilesGlobal and RoundRobin are good for numeric columns with outliers)
  histogram_type = c("UniformAdaptive","QuantilesGlobal","RoundRobin")       
)

search_criteria = list(
  ## Random grid search
  strategy = "RandomDiscrete",      
  
  ## limit the runtime to 60 minutes
  max_runtime_secs = 3600,         
  
  ## build no more than 100 models
  max_models = 100,                  
  
  ## random number generator seed to make sampling of parameter combinations reproducible
  seed = 1234,                        
  
  ## early stopping once the leaderboard of the top 5 models is converged to 0.1% relative difference
  stopping_rounds = 5,                
  stopping_metric = "AUC",
  stopping_tolerance = 1e-3
)

grid <- h2o.grid(
  ## hyper parameters
  hyper_params = hyper_params,
  
  ## hyper-parameter search configuration (see above)
  search_criteria = search_criteria,
  
  ## which algorithm to run
  algorithm = "gbm",
  
  ## identifier for the grid, to later retrieve it
  grid_id = "final_grid", 
  
  ## standard model parameters
  x = predictors, 
  y = response, 
  training_frame = train, 
  validation_frame = valid,
  
  ## more trees is better if the learning rate is small enough
  ## use "more than enough" trees - we have early stopping
  ntrees = 10000,                                                            
  
  ## smaller learning rate is better
  ## since we have learning_rate_annealing, we can afford to start with a bigger learning rate
  learn_rate = 0.05,                                                         
  
  ## learning rate annealing: learning_rate shrinks by 1% after every tree 
  ## (use 1.00 to disable, but then lower the learning_rate)
  learn_rate_annealing = 0.99,                                               
  
  ## early stopping based on timeout (no model should take more than 1 hour - modify as needed)
  max_runtime_secs = 3600,                                                 
  
  ## early stopping once the validation AUC doesn't improve by at least 0.01% for 5 consecutive scoring events
  stopping_rounds = 5, stopping_tolerance = 1e-4, stopping_metric = "AUC", 
  
  ## score every 10 trees to make early stopping reproducible (it depends on the scoring interval)
  score_tree_interval = 10,                                                
  
  ## base random number generator seed for each model (automatically gets incremented internally for each model)
  seed = 1234                                                             
)

## Sort the grid models by AUC
sortedGrid <- h2o.getGrid("final_grid", sort_by = "auc", decreasing = TRUE)    
sortedGrid

We can see that the best models have even better validation AUCs than our previous best models, so the random grid search was successful!

Hyper-Parameter Search Summary: ordered by decreasing auc
  col_sample_rate col_sample_rate_change_per_level col_sample_rate_per_tree  histogram_type max_depth
1            0.49                             1.04                     0.94 QuantilesGlobal        28
2            0.92                             0.93                     0.56 QuantilesGlobal        27
3            0.35                             1.09                     0.83 QuantilesGlobal        29
4            0.42                             0.98                     0.53 UniformAdaptive        24
5             0.7                             1.02                     0.56 UniformAdaptive        25
  min_rows min_split_improvement nbins nbins_cats sample_rate           model_ids               auc
1        2                     0    32        256        0.86 final_grid_model_68 0.974049027895182
2        4                     0   128        128        0.93 final_grid_model_96 0.971400394477318
3        4                 1e-08    64        128        0.69 final_grid_model_38 0.968864468864469
4        1                 1e-04    64         16        0.69 final_grid_model_55 0.967793744716822
5        2                 1e-08    32        256        0.34 final_grid_model_22 0.966553958861651

We can inspect the best 5 models from the grid search explicitly, and query their validation AUC:

for (i in 1:5) {
  gbm <- h2o.getModel(sortedGrid@model_ids[[i]])
  print(h2o.auc(h2o.performance(gbm, valid = TRUE)))
}
[1] 0.974049
[1] 0.9714004
[1] 0.9688645
[1] 0.9677937
[1] 0.966554

You can also see the results of the grid search in Flow:
alt text

Model Inspection and Final Test Set Scoring

Let’s see how well the best model of the grid search (as judged by validation set AUC) does on the held out test set:

gbm <- h2o.getModel(sortedGrid@model_ids[[1]])
print(h2o.auc(h2o.performance(gbm, newdata = test)))

Good news. It does as well on the test set as on the validation set, so it looks like our best GBM model generalizes well to the unseen test set:

[1] 0.9712568

We can inspect the winning model’s parameters:

gbm@parameters
> gbm@parameters
$model_id
[1] "final_grid_model_68"

$training_frame
[1] "train.hex"

$validation_frame
[1] "valid.hex"

$score_tree_interval
[1] 10

$ntrees
[1] 10000

$max_depth
[1] 28

$min_rows
[1] 2

$nbins
[1] 32

$nbins_cats
[1] 256

$stopping_rounds
[1] 5

$stopping_metric
[1] "AUC"

$stopping_tolerance
[1] 1e-04

$max_runtime_secs
[1] 3414.017

$seed
[1] 1234

$learn_rate
[1] 0.05

$learn_rate_annealing
[1] 0.99

$distribution
[1] "bernoulli"

$sample_rate
[1] 0.86

$col_sample_rate
[1] 0.49

$col_sample_rate_change_per_level
[1] 1.04

$col_sample_rate_per_tree
[1] 0.94

$histogram_type
[1] "QuantilesGlobal"

$x
 [1] "pclass"    "sex"       "age"       "sibsp"     "parch"     "ticket"    "fare"      "cabin"    
 [9] "embarked"  "boat"      "body"      "home.dest"

$y
[1] "survived"

Now we can confirm that these parameters are generally sound, by building a GBM model on the whole dataset (instead of the 60%) and using internal 5-fold cross-validation (re-using all other parameters including the seed):

model <- do.call(h2o.gbm,
        ## update parameters in place
        {
          p <- gbm@parameters
          p$model_id = NULL          ## do not overwrite the original grid model
          p$training_frame = df      ## use the full dataset
          p$validation_frame = NULL  ## no validation frame
          p$nfolds = 5               ## cross-validation
          p
        }
)
model@model$cross_validation_metrics_summary
> model@model$cross_validation_metrics_summary
Cross-Validation Metrics Summary: 
                               mean           sd cv_1_valid  cv_2_valid  cv_3_valid  cv_4_valid cv_5_valid
F0point5                  0.9082877  0.017469764  0.9448819  0.87398374   0.8935743   0.9034908  0.9255079
F1                        0.8978795  0.008511053  0.9099526   0.8820513   0.8989899   0.9119171  0.8864865
F2                        0.8886758  0.016845208  0.8775137  0.89026916   0.9044715  0.92050207  0.8506224
accuracy                  0.9236877  0.004604631 0.92883897   0.9151291  0.92248064  0.93307084  0.9189189
auc                       0.9606385  0.006671454 0.96647465   0.9453869    0.959375  0.97371733 0.95823866
err                     0.076312296  0.004604631 0.07116105 0.084870845  0.07751938  0.06692913 0.08108108
err_count                        20    1.4142135         19          23          20          17         21
lift_top_group            2.6258688  0.099894695  2.3839285   2.8229167    2.632653   2.6736841  2.6161616
logloss                  0.23430987  0.019006629 0.23624699  0.26165685  0.24543843  0.18311584 0.24509121
max_per_class_error      0.11685239  0.025172591 0.14285715 0.104166664 0.091836736  0.07368421 0.17171717
mcc                       0.8390522  0.011380583  0.8559271  0.81602895  0.83621955   0.8582395  0.8288459
mean_per_class_accuracy  0.91654545 0.0070778215   0.918894   0.9107738  0.91970664   0.9317114  0.9016414
mean_per_class_error     0.08345456 0.0070778215 0.08110599 0.089226194 0.080293365  0.06828865 0.09835859
mse                      0.06535896  0.004872401 0.06470373   0.0717801   0.0669676 0.052562267 0.07078109
precision                 0.9159663   0.02743855   0.969697  0.86868685        0.89   0.8979592 0.95348835
r2                        0.7223932  0.021921812  0.7342935  0.68621415   0.7157123   0.7754977 0.70024836
recall                    0.8831476  0.025172591 0.85714287   0.8958333  0.90816325   0.9263158 0.82828283
specificity              0.94994324  0.016345335  0.9806452   0.9257143     0.93125   0.9371069      0.975

Ouch! So it looks like we overfit quite a bit on the validation set as the mean AUC on the 5 folds is “only” 96.06% +/- 0.67%. So we cannot always expect AUCs of 97% with these parameters on this dataset. So to get a better estimate of model performance, the Random hyper-parameter search could have used nfolds = 5 (or 10, or similar) in combination with 80% of the data for training (i.e., not holding out a validation set, but only the final test set). However, this would take more time, as nfolds+1 models will be built for every set of parameters.

Instead, to save time, let’s just scan through the top 5 models and cross-validated their parameters with nfolds=5 on the entire dataset:

for (i in 1:5) {
  gbm <- h2o.getModel(sortedGrid@model_ids[[i]])
  cvgbm <- do.call(h2o.gbm,
        ## update parameters in place
        {
          p <- gbm@parameters
          p$model_id = NULL          ## do not overwrite the original grid model
          p$training_frame = df      ## use the full dataset
          p$validation_frame = NULL  ## no validation frame
          p$nfolds = 5               ## cross-validation
          p
        }
  )
  print(gbm@model_id)
  print(cvgbm@model$cross_validation_metrics_summary[5,]) ## Pick out the "AUC" row
}
[1] "final_grid_model_68"
Cross-Validation Metrics Summary: 
         mean          sd cv_1_valid cv_2_valid cv_3_valid cv_4_valid cv_5_valid
auc 0.9606385 0.006671454 0.96647465  0.9453869   0.959375 0.97371733 0.95823866
[1] "final_grid_model_96"
Cross-Validation Metrics Summary: 
          mean           sd cv_1_valid cv_2_valid cv_3_valid cv_4_valid cv_5_valid
auc 0.96491456 0.0052218214  0.9631913  0.9597024  0.9742985  0.9723933 0.95498735
[1] "final_grid_model_38"
Cross-Validation Metrics Summary: 
         mean          sd cv_1_valid cv_2_valid cv_3_valid cv_4_valid cv_5_valid
auc 0.9638506 0.004603204 0.96134794  0.9573512   0.971301 0.97192985 0.95732325
[1] "final_grid_model_55"
Cross-Validation Metrics Summary: 
         mean           sd cv_1_valid cv_2_valid cv_3_valid cv_4_valid cv_5_valid
auc 0.9657447 0.0062724343  0.9562212 0.95428574  0.9686862 0.97490895 0.97462124
[1] "final_grid_model_22"
Cross-Validation Metrics Summary: 
         mean           sd cv_1_valid cv_2_valid cv_3_valid cv_4_valid cv_5_valid
auc 0.9648925 0.0065437974 0.96633065 0.95285714  0.9557398  0.9736511 0.97588384

The avid reader might have noticed that we just implicitly did further parameter tuning using the “final” test set (which is part of the entire dataset df), which is not good practice – one is not supposed to use the “final” test set more than once. Hence, we’re not going to pick a different “best” model, but we’re just learning about the variance in AUCs. It turns out, for this tiny dataset, that the variance is rather large, which is not surprising.

Keeping the same “best” model, we can make test set predictions as follows:

gbm <- h2o.getModel(sortedGrid@model_ids[[1]])
preds <- h2o.predict(gbm, test)
head(preds)
gbm@model$validation_metrics@metrics$max_criteria_and_metric_scores

Note that the label (survived or not) is predicted as well (in the first predict column), and it uses the threshold with the highest F1 score (here: 0.528098) to make labels from the probabilities for survival (p1). The probability for death (p0) is given for convenience, as it is just 1-p1.

> head(preds)
  predict         p0         p1
1       0 0.98055935 0.01944065
2       0 0.98051200 0.01948800
3       0 0.81430963 0.18569037
4       1 0.02121241 0.97878759
5       1 0.02528104 0.97471896
6       0 0.92056020 0.07943980
> gbm@model$validation_metrics@metrics$max_criteria_and_metric_scores
Maximum Metrics: Maximum metrics at their respective thresholds
                        metric threshold    value idx
1                       max f1  0.528098 0.920792  96
2                       max f2  0.170853 0.926966 113
3                 max f0point5  0.767931 0.959488  90
4                 max accuracy  0.767931 0.941606  90
5                max precision  0.979449 1.000000   0
6                   max recall  0.019425 1.000000 206
7              max specificity  0.979449 1.000000   0
8             max absolute_MCC  0.767931 0.878692  90
9   max min_per_class_accuracy  0.204467 0.928994 109
10 max mean_per_class_accuracy  0.252473 0.932319 106

You can also see the “best” model in more detail in Flow:
alt text
alt text

The model and the predictions can be saved to file as follows:

h2o.saveModel(gbm, "/tmp/bestModel.csv", force=TRUE)
h2o.exportFile(preds, "/tmp/bestPreds.csv", force=TRUE)

The model can also be exported as a plain old Java object (POJO) for H2O-independent (standalone/Storm/Kafka/UDF) scoring in any Java environment.

h2o.download_pojo(gbm)
/*
  Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0
    http://www.apache.org/licenses/LICENSE-2.0.html

  AUTOGENERATED BY H2O at 2016-06-02T17:06:34.382-07:00
  3.9.1.99999
  
  Standalone prediction code with sample test data for GBMModel named final_grid_model_68

  How to download, compile and execute:
      mkdir tmpdir
      cd tmpdir
      curl http://172.16.2.75:54321/3/h2o-genmodel.jar > h2o-genmodel.jar
      curl http://172.16.2.75:54321/3/Models.java/final_grid_model_68 > final_grid_model_68.java
      javac -cp h2o-genmodel.jar -J-Xmx2g -J-XX:MaxPermSize=128m final_grid_model_68.java

     (Note:  Try java argument -XX:+PrintCompilation to show runtime JIT compiler behavior.)
*/
import java.util.Map;
import hex.genmodel.GenModel;
import hex.genmodel.annotations.ModelPojo;

...
class final_grid_model_68_Tree_0_class_0 {
  static final double score0(double[] data) {
    double pred =      (data[9 /* boat */] <14.003472f ? 
         (!Double.isNaN(data[9]) && data[9 /* boat */] != 12.0f ? 
            0.13087687f : 
             (data[3 /* sibsp */] <7.3529413E-4f ? 
                0.13087687f : 
                0.024317414f)) : 
         (data[5 /* ticket */] <2669.5f ? 
             (data[5 /* ticket */] <2665.5f ? 
                 (data[10 /* body */] <287.5f ? 
                    -0.08224204f : 
                     (data[2 /* age */] <14.2421875f ? 
                        0.13087687f : 
                         (data[4 /* parch */] <4.892368E-4f ? 
                             (data[6 /* fare */] <39.029896f ? 
                                 (data[1 /* sex */] <0.5f ? 
                                     (data[5 /* ticket */] <2659.5f ? 
                                        0.13087687f : 
                                        -0.08224204f) : 
                                    -0.08224204f) : 
                                0.08825309f) : 
                            0.13087687f))) : 
                0.13087687f) : 
             (data[9 /* boat */] <15.5f ? 
                0.13087687f : 
                 (!GenModel.bitSetContains(GRPSPLIT0, 42, data[7 
...

Ensembling Techniques

After learning above that the variance of the test set AUC of the top few models was rather large, we might be able to turn this into our advantage by using ensembling techniques. The simplest one is taking the average of the predictions (survival probabilities) of the top k grid search model predictions (here, we use k=10):

prob = NULL
k=10
for (i in 1:k) {
  gbm <- h2o.getModel(sortedGrid@model_ids[[i]])
  if (is.null(prob)) prob = h2o.predict(gbm, test)$p1
  else prob = prob + h2o.predict(gbm, test)$p1
}
prob <- prob/k
head(prob)

We now have a blended probability of survival for each person on the Titanic.

> head(prob)
          p1
1 0.02258923
2 0.01615957
3 0.15837298
4 0.98565663
5 0.98792208
6 0.17941366

We can bring those ensemble predictions to our R session’s memory space and use other R packages.

probInR  <- as.vector(prob)
labelInR <- as.vector(as.numeric(test[[response]]))
if (! ("cvAUC" %in% rownames(installed.packages()))) { install.packages("cvAUC") }
library(cvAUC)
cvAUC::AUC(probInR, labelInR)
[1] 0.977534

This simple blended ensemble test set prediction has an even higher AUC than the best single model, but we need to do more validation studies, ideally using cross-validation. We leave this as an exercise for the reader – take the parameters of the top 10 models, retrain them with nfolds=5 on the full dataset, set keep_holdout_predictions=TRUE and average the predicted probabilities in h2o.getFrame(cvgbm[i]@model$cross_validation_holdout_predictions_frame_id), then score that with cvAUC as shown above).

For more sophisticated ensembling approaches, such as stacking via a superlearner, we refer to the H2O Ensemble github page.

Summary

We learned how to build H2O GBM models for a binary classification task on a small but realistic dataset with numerical and categorical variables, with the goal to maximize the AUC (ranges from 0.5 to 1). We first established a baseline with the default model, then carefully tuned the remaining hyper-parameters without “too much” human guess-work. We used both Cartesian and Random hyper-parameter searches to find good models. We were able to get the AUC on a holdout test set from the low 94% range with the default model to the mid 97% after tuning, and to the high 97% with some simple ensembling technique known as blending. We performed simple cross-validation variance analysis to learn that results were slightly “lucky” due to the specific train/valid/test set splits, and settled to expect mid 96% AUCs instead.

Note that this script and the findings therein are directly transferrable to large datasets on distributed clusters including Spark/Hadoop environments.

More information can be found here http://www.h2o.ai/docs/.

Hyperparameter Optimization in H2O: Grid Search, Random Search and the Future

“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better and your better is best.” – St. Jerome

tl;dr

H2O now has random hyperparameter search with time- and metric-based early stopping. Bergstra and Bengio[1] write on p. 281:

Compared with neural networks configured by a pure grid search, we find that random search over the same domain is able to find models that are as good or better within a small fraction of the computation time.

Even smarter means of searching the hyperparameter space are in the pipeline, but for most use cases random search does as well.

What Are Hyperparameters?

Nearly all model algorithms used in machine learning have a set of tuning “knobs” which affect how the learning algorithm fits the model to the data. Examples are the regularization settings alpha and lambda for Generalized Linear Modeling or ntrees and max_depth for Gradient Boosted Models. These knobs are called hyperparameters to distinguish them from internal model parameters, such as GLM’s beta coefficients or Deep Learning’s weights, which get learned from the data during the model training process.

What Is Hyperparameter Optimization?

The set of all combinations of values for these knobs is called the hyperparameter space. We’d like to find a set of hyperparameter values which gives us the best model for our data in a reasonable amount of time. This process is called hyperparameter optimization.

H2O contains good default values for many datasets, but to get the best performance for your data you will want to tune at least some of these hyperparameters to maximize the predictive performance of your models. You should start with the most important hyperparameters for your algorithm of choice, for example ntrees and max_depth for the tree models or the hidden layers for Deep Learning.

H2O provides some guidance by grouping the hyperparameters by their importance in the Flow UI. You should look carefully at the values of the ones marked critical, while the secondary or expert ones are generally used for special cases or fine tuning.

Note that some hyperparameters, such as learning_rate, have a very wide dynamic range. You should choose values that reflect this for your search (e.g., powers of 10 or of 2) to ensure that you cover the most relevant parts of the hyperparameter space. (Bergstra and Bengio p. 290)

Measuring Model Quality

There are many different ways to measure model quality. If you don’t know which to use, H2O will choose a good general-purpose metric for you based on the category of your model (binomial or multinomial classification, regression, clustering, …). However, you may want to choose a metric to compare your models based on your specific goals (e.g., maximizing AUC, minimizing log loss, minimizing false negatives, minimizing mean squared error, …).

Overfitting

Overfitting is the phenomenon of fitting a model so thoroughly to your training data that it begins to memorize the fine details of that specific data, rather than finding general characteristics of that data which will also apply to future data on which you want to make predictions.

Overfitting not only applies to the model training process, but also to the model selection process. During the process of tuning the hyperparameters and selecting the best model you should avoid overfitting them to your training data. Otherwise, the hyperparameter values that you choose will be too highly tuned to your selection data, and will not generalize as well as they could to new data. Note that this is the same principle as, but subtly different from, overfitting during model training. Ideally you should use cross-validation or a validation set during training and then a final holdout test (validation) dataset for model selection. As Bergstra and Bengio write on p. 290,

The standard practice for evaluating a model found by cross-validation is to report [test set error] for the [hyperparameter vector] that minimizes [validation error].

You can read much more on this topic in Chapter 7 of Elements of Statistical Learning from H2O advisors and Stanford professors Trevor Hastie and Rob Tibshirani with Jerome Friedman [2].

Selecting Hyperparameters Manually and With Cartesian Grid

The traditional method of selecting the values for your hyperparameters has been to individually train a number of models with different combinations of values, and then to compare the model performance to choose the best model. For example, for a tree-based model you might choose ntrees of (50, 100 and 200) and max_depth of (5, 10, 15 and 20) for a total of 3 x 4 = 12 models. This process of trying out hyperparameter sets by hand is called manual search. By looking at the models’ predictive performance, as measured by test-set, cross-validation or validation metrics, you select the best hyperparameter settings for your data and needs.

As the number of hyperparameters and the lists of desired values increase this obviously becomes quite tedious and difficult to manage.

A Little Help?

For several years H2O has included grid search, also known as Cartesian Hyperparameter Search or exhaustive search. Grid search builds models for every combination of hyperparameter values that you specify.

Bergstra and Bengio write on p. 283:

Grid search … typically finds a better [set of hyperparameters] than purely manual sequential optimization (in the same amount of time)

H2O keeps track of all the models resulting from the search, and allows you to sort the list based on any supported model metric (e.g., AUC or log loss). For the example above, H2O would build your 12 models and return the list sorted with the best first, either using the metric of your choice or automatically using one that’s generally appropriate for your model’s category.

H2O allows you to run multiple hyperparameter searches and to collect all the models for comparison in a single sortable result set: just name your grid and run multiple searches. You can even add models from manual searches to the result set by specifying a grid search with a single value for each interesting hyperparameter:

# Begin with a random search of a space of 6 * 5 = 30 possible models:
hyper_parameters = { 'alpha': [0.01,0.1,0.3,0.5,0.7,0.9], 
                     'lambda': [1e-4,1e-5,1e-6,1e-7,1e-8] }

search_criteria = { 'strategy': "RandomDiscrete", 'seed': 42,
                    'stopping_metric': "AUTO", 
                    'stopping_tolerance': 0.001,
                    'stopping_rounds': 2 }
            
random_plus_manual = 
    H2OGridSearch(H2OGeneralizedLinearEstimator(family='binomial', nfolds=5),
      hyper_parameters, 
      grid_id="random_plus_manual", 
      search_criteria=search_criteria)
    
random_plus_manual.train(x=x,y=y, training_frame=training_data)

# Now add a manual search to the results:
manual_hyper_parameters = {'alpha': [0.05], 'lambda': [1e-4]}
random_plus_manual = 
    H2OGridSearch(H2OGeneralizedLinearEstimator(family='binomial', nfolds=5),
      manual_hyper_parameters, 
      grid_id="random_plus_manual")

random_plus_manual.train(x=x,y=y, training_frame=training_data)

random_plus_manual.show()
print(random_plus_manual.sort_by('F1', False))

Searching Large Hyperparameter Spaces

As the number of hyperparameters being tuned increases, and the values that you would like to explore for those hyperparameters increases, you obviously get a combinatorial explosion in the number of models required for an exhaustive search. Since we always have time constraints on the model tuning process the obvious thing to do is to narrow down our choices by doing a coarser search of the space. Given a fixed amount of time, making random choices of hyperparameter values generally gives results that are better than the best results of an Cartesian (exhaustive) search.

Bergstra and Bengio write on p. 281:

Compared with neural networks configured by a pure grid search,
we find that random search over the same domain is able to find models that are as good or better within a small fraction of the computation time.
Granting random search the same computational budget, random search finds better models by effectively searching a larger, less promising configuration
space.

[F]or most data sets only a few of the hyper-parameters really matter,
but … different hyper-parameters are important on different data sets. This phenomenon makes grid search a poor choice for configuring algorithms for new data sets.

We propose random search as a substitute and baseline that is both reasonably efficient (roughly equivalent to or better than combinining manual search and grid search, in our experiments) and keeping the advantages of implementation simplicity and reproducibility of pure grid search.

[R]andom search … trades a small reduction in efficiency in low-dimensional spaces for a large improvement in efficiency in high-dimensional search spaces.

After doing a random search, if desired you can then iterate by “zooming in” on the regions of the hyperparameter space which look promising. You can do this by running additional, more targeted, random or Cartesian hyperparameter searches or manual searches. For example, if you started with alpha values of [0.0, 0.25, 0.5, 0.75, 1.0] and the middle values look promising, you can follow up with a finer grid of [0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.6, 0.7].

Random Hyperparameter Search in H2O

H2O has supported random hyperparameter search since version 3.8.1.1. To use it, specify a grid search as you would with a Cartesian search, but add search criteria parameters to control the type and extent of the search. You can specify a max runtime for the grid, a max number of models to build, or metric-based automatic early stopping. If you choose several of these then H2O will stop when the first of the criteria are met. As an example, you might specify “stop when MSE has improved over the moving average of the best 5 models by less than 0.0001, but take no more than 12 hours”.

H2O will choose a random set of hyperparameter values from the ones that you specify, without repeats, and build the models sequentially. You can look at the incremental results while the models are being built by fetching the grid with the h2o.getGrid (R) or h2o.get_grid (Python) functions. There’s also a getGrids command in Flow that will allow you to click on any of the grids you’ve built. H2O’s Flow UI will soon plot the error metric as the grid is being built to make the progress easy to visualize, something like this:

Error for Random Search

Choosing Search Criteria

In general, metric-based early stopping optionally combined with max runtime is the best choice. The number of models it will take to converge toward a global best can vary a lot (see below), and metric-based early stopping accounts for this automatically by stopping the search process when the error curve (learning curve[3]) flattens out.

The number of models required for convergence depends on a number of things, but mostly on the “shape” of the error function in the hyperparameter space [Bergstra and Bengio p. 291]. While most algorithms perform well in a fairly large region of the hyperparameter space on most datasets, some combinations of dataset and algorithm are very sensitive: they have a very “peaked” error functions. In tuning neural networks with a large numbers of hyperparameters and various datasets Bergstra and Bengio find convergence within 2-64 trials (models built), depending largely on which hyperparameters they choose to tune. In some classes of search they reach convergence in 4-8 trials, even with a very large search space:

Random experiment efficiency curves of a single-layer neural network for eight of the data sets used in Larochelle et al. (2007) … (7 hyper-parameters to optimize). … Random searches of 8 trials match or outperform grid searches of (on average) 100 trials.

Simpler algorithms such as GBM and GLM should require few trials to get close to a global minimum.

Examples: R

This example is clipped from GridSearch.md:


# Construct a large Cartesian hyper-parameter space
ntrees_opts = c(10000)       # early stopping will stop earlier
max_depth_opts = seq(1,20)
min_rows_opts = c(1,5,10,20,50,100)
learn_rate_opts = seq(0.001,0.01,0.001)
sample_rate_opts = seq(0.3,1,0.05)
col_sample_rate_opts = seq(0.3,1,0.05)
col_sample_rate_per_tree_opts = seq(0.3,1,0.05)
#nbins_cats_opts = seq(100,10000,100) # no categorical features
                                      # in this dataset

hyper_params = list( ntrees = ntrees_opts, 
                     max_depth = max_depth_opts, 
                     min_rows = min_rows_opts, 
                     learn_rate = learn_rate_opts,
                     sample_rate = sample_rate_opts,
                     col_sample_rate = col_sample_rate_opts,
                     col_sample_rate_per_tree = col_sample_rate_per_tree_opts
                     #,nbins_cats = nbins_cats_opts
)


# Search a random subset of these hyper-parmameters. Max runtime 
# and max models are enforced, and the search will stop after we 
# don't improve much over the best 5 random models.
search_criteria = list(strategy = "RandomDiscrete", 
                       max_runtime_secs = 600, 
                       max_models = 100, 
                       stopping_metric = "AUTO", 
                       stopping_tolerance = 0.00001, 
                       stopping_rounds = 5, 
                       seed = 123456)

gbm_grid <- h2o.grid("gbm", 
                     grid_id = "mygrid",
                     x = predictors, 
                     y = response, 

                     # faster to use a 80/20 split
                     training_frame = trainSplit,
                     validation_frame = validSplit,
                     nfolds = 0,

                     # alternatively, use N-fold cross-validation:
                     # training_frame = train,
                     # nfolds = 5,

                     # Gaussian is best for MSE loss, but can try 
                     # other distributions ("laplace", "quantile"):
                     distribution="gaussian",

                     # stop as soon as mse doesn't improve by 
                     # more than 0.1% on the validation set, 
                     # for 2 consecutive scoring events:
                     stopping_rounds = 2,
                     stopping_tolerance = 1e-3,
                     stopping_metric = "MSE",

                     # how often to score (affects early stopping):
                     score_tree_interval = 100, 
                     
                     ## seed to control the sampling of the 
                     ## Cartesian hyper-parameter space:
                     seed = 123456,
                     hyper_params = hyper_params,
                     search_criteria = search_criteria)

gbm_sorted_grid <- h2o.getGrid(grid_id = "mygrid", sort_by = "mse")
print(gbm_sorted_grid)

best_model <- h2o.getModel(gbm_sorted_grid@model_ids[[1]])
summary(best_model)

You can find another example here.

Examples: Python

This example is clipped from pyunit_benign_glm_grid.py:

hyper_parameters = {'alpha': [0.01,0.3,0.5], 'lambda': [1e-5,1e-6,1e-7,1e-8]}

# test search_criteria plumbing and max_models
search_criteria = { 'strategy': "RandomDiscrete", 'max_models': 3 }
max_models_g = H2OGridSearch(H2OGeneralizedLinearEstimator(family='binomial'),
                             hyper_parameters, search_criteria=search_criteria)
max_models_g.train(x=x,y=y, training_frame=training_data)

max_models_g.show()
print(max_models_g.grid_id)
print(max_models_g.sort_by('F1', False))

assert len(max_models_g.models) == 3, "expected 3 models, got: {}".format(len(max_models_g.models))
print(max_models_g.sorted_metric_table())
print(max_models_g.get_grid("r2"))

# test search_criteria plumbing and asymptotic stopping
search_criteria = { 'strategy': "RandomDiscrete", 'seed': 42,
            'stopping_metric': "AUTO", 'stopping_tolerance': 0.1,
            'stopping_rounds': 2 }
asymp_g = H2OGridSearch(H2OGeneralizedLinearEstimator(family='binomial', nfolds=5),
                    hyper_parameters, search_criteria=search_criteria)
asymp_g.train(x=x,y=y, training_frame=training_data)

asymp_g.show()
print(asymp_g.grid_id)
print(asymp_g.sort_by('F1', False))

assert len(asymp_g.models) == 5, "expected 5 models, got: {}".format(len(asymp_g.models))

Examples: Flow

Flow includes an example called GBM_GridSearch.flow which does both Cartesian and random searches:

search criteria

search criteria

What’s That Up In The Road? A Head? (Roadmap)

This section covers possible improvements for hyperparameter search in H2O and lays out a roadmap.

Ease of Use

With the addition of random hyperparameter search it becomes more practical for non-experts to get good, albeit not expert, results with the ML model training process:

Algorithmic approaches to hyper-parameter optimization make machine learning results easier to disseminate, reproduce, and transfer to other domains.[4] p. 8

We are looking into adding either fixed or heuristically-driven hyperparameter spaces for use with random search, essentially an “I’m Feeling Lucky” button for model building.

Covering the Space Better

One possibility for improving random search is choosing sets of hyperparameters which cover the space more efficiently than randomly choosing each value independently. Bergstra and Bengio cover this on pages 295-297, and find a potential improvement of only a few percentage points and only when doing searches of 100-500 models. This is because, as they state earlier, the number of hyperparameters which are important for a given dataset is quite small (1-4), and the random search process covers this low number of dimensions quite well. See the illustration of the projection of high hyperparameter space dimensions onto low on Bergstra and Bengio p. 284 and the plots of hyperparameter importance by dataset on p. 294. On p. 295 they show that the speed of convergence of the search is directly related to the number of hyperparameters which are important for the given dataset.

There is ongoing research on trying to predetermine the “variable importance” of hyperparameters for a given dataset. If this bears fruit we will be able to narrow the search so that we converge to a globally-good model more quickly.

Learning the Hyperparameter Space

Bergstra and Bengio and Bergstra, Bengio, Bardenet and Kegl note that random hyperparameter search works almost as well as more sophisticated methods for the types of algorithms available in H2O. For very complex algorithms like Deep Belief Networks (not available in H2O) they can be insufficient:

Random search has been shown to be sufficiently efficient for learning neural networks for several datasets, but we show it is unreliable for training DBNs.

  1. Random search is competitive with the manual optimization of DBNs … and 2) Automatic sequential optimization outperforms both manual and random search.

Automatic sequential optimization refers here to techniques which build a model of the hyperparameter space and use it to guide the search process. The most well-known of these is the use of Gaussian Process (GP) models. Bergstra, Bengio, Bardenet and Kegl compare random search against both Gaussian Process and Tree-structured Parzen Estimator (TPE) learning techniques. They train Deep Belief Networks of 10 hyperparameters on a very tiny dataset of 506 rows and 13 columns. [Bergstra, Bengio, Bardenet and Kegl p. 5], initializing the GP and TPE models with the results of a 30-model random search.

They find that for this test case the TPE method outperforms GP and GP outperforms random search beyond the initial 30 models. However, they can’t explain whether TPE does better because it narrows in on good hyperparameters more quickly or conversely because it searches more randomly than GP. [Bergstra, Bengio, Bardenet and Kegl p. 7] Also note that the size of the dataset is very, very small compared with the number of internal model parameters and model tuning hyperparameters. It is a bit hard to believe that these results apply to datasets of typical sizes for users of H2O (hundreds of millions or billions of rows, and hundreds or thousands of columns).

Experimentation and prototyping is clearly needed here to see which of these techniques, if any, are worth adding to H2O.


  1. Bergstra and Bengio. Random Search for Hyper-Parameter Optimization, 2012
  2. Trevor Hastie, Rob Tibshirani and Jerome Friedman. The Elements of Statistical Learning, 2008
  3. Andrew Ng. Machine Learning, 2016
  4. Bergstra, Bengio, Bardenet and Kegl. Algorithms for Hyper-parameter Optimization, 2011

Spam Detection with Sparkling Water and Spark Machine Learning Pipelines

This short post presents the “ham or spam” demo, which has already been posted earlier by Michal Malohlava, using our new API in latest Sparkling Water for Spark 1.6 and earlier versions, unifying Spark and H2O Machine Learning pipelines. It shows how to create a simple Spark Machine Learning pipeline and a model based on the fitted pipeline, which can be later used for prediction whether a particular message is spam or not.

Before diving into the demo steps, we would like to provide some details about the new features in the upcoming Sparkling Water 2.0:

  • Support for Apache Spark 2.0 and backwards compatibility with all previous versions.
  • The ability to run Apache Spark and Scala through H2O’s Flow UI.
  • H2O feature improvements and visualizations for MLlib algorithms, including the ability to score feature importance.
  • Visual intelligence for Apache Spark.
  • The ability to build Ensembles using H2O plus MLlib algorithms.
  • The power to export MLlib models as POJOs (Plain Old Java Objects), which can be easily run on commodity hardware.
  • A toolchain for ML pipelines.
  • Debugging support for Spark pipelines.
  • Model and data governance through Steam.
  • Bringing H2O’s powerful data munging capabilities to Apache Spark.
  • In order to run the code below, start your Spark shell with attached Sparkling Water JAR or use sparkling-shell script that already does this for you.

    You can start the Spark shell with Sparkling Water as follows:

    $SPARK_HOME/bin/spark-submit \
    --class water.SparklingWaterDriver \
    --packages ai.h2o:sparkling-water-examples_2.10:1.6.5 \
    --executor-memory=6g \
    --driver-memory=6g /dev/null
    

    Preferable Spark is Spark 1.6 and Sparkling Water 1.6.x.

    Prepare the coding environment

    Here we just import all required libraries.

    import org.apache.spark.SparkFiles
    import org.apache.spark.ml.PipelineModel
    import org.apache.spark.ml.feature._
    import org.apache.spark.ml.h2o.H2OPipeline
    import org.apache.spark.ml.h2o.features.{ColRemover, DatasetSplitter}
    import org.apache.spark.ml.h2o.models.H2ODeepLearning
    import org.apache.spark.sql.types.{StringType, StructField, StructType}
    import org.apache.spark.sql.{DataFrame, Row, SQLContext}
    import water.support.SparkContextSupport
    import water.fvec.H2OFrame
    

    Add our dataset to Spark environment. The dataset consists of 2 columns where the first one is the label ( ham or spam ) and the second one is the message itself. We don’t have to explicitly ask for Spark context since it’s already available via sc variable.

    val smsDataFileName = "smsData.txt"
    val smsDataFilePath = "examples/smalldata/" + smsDataFileName
    SparkContextSupport.addFiles(sc, smsDataFilePath)
    

    Create SQL support.

    implicit val sqlContext = SQLContext.getOrCreate(sc)
    

    Start H2O services.

    import org.apache.spark.h2o._
    implicit val h2oContext = H2OContext.getOrCreate(sc)
    

    Create helper method which loads the dataset, performs some basic filtering and at last creates Spark’s DataFrame with 2 columns – label and text.

    def load(dataFile: String)(implicit sqlContext: SQLContext): DataFrame = {
    val smsSchema = StructType(Array(
    StructField("label", StringType, nullable = false),
    StructField("text", StringType, nullable = false)))
    val rowRDD = sc.textFile(SparkFiles.get(dataFile)).map(_.split("\t")).filter(r => !r(0).isEmpty).map(p => Row(p(0),p(1)))
    sqlContext.createDataFrame(rowRDD, smsSchema)
    }
    

    Define the pipeline stages

    In Spark, a pipeline is formed of two basic elements – transformers and estimators. Estimators usually encapsulate an algorithm for model generation and their output are transformers. During fitting the pipeline stage, all transformers and estimators are executed and estimators are converted to transformers. The model generated by the pipeline contains only transformers. More about Spark pipelines can be found on Spark’s pipeline overview

    In H2O we created a new type of pipeline stage, which is called OneTimeTransformer. This transformer works similarly to Spark’s estimator in a way that it is only executed during fitting the pipeline stage. It does not however produces a transformer during fitting pipeline stage and the model generated by the pipeline does not contain this OneTimeTransformer.
    An example for one-time transformer is splitting the input data into a validation and training dataset using H2O Frames. We don’t need this one-time transformer to be executed every time we do prediction on the model. We just need this code to be executed when we are fitting the pipeline to the data.

    This pipeline stage is using Spark’s RegexTokenizer to tokenize the messages. We just specify input column and output column for tokenized messages.

    val tokenizer = new RegexTokenizer().
        setInputCol("text").
        setOutputCol("words").
        setMinTokenLength(3).
        setGaps(false).
        setPattern("[a-zA-Z]+")
    

    Remove unnecessary words using Spark’s StopWordsRemover.

    val stopWordsRemover = new StopWordsRemover().
        setInputCol(tokenizer.getOutputCol).
        setOutputCol("filtered").
        setStopWords(Array("the", "a", "", "in", "on", "at", "as", "not", "for")).
        setCaseSensitive(false)
    

    Vectorize the words using Spark’s HashingTF.

    val hashingTF = new HashingTF().
        setNumFeatures(1 << 10).
        setInputCol(tokenizer.getOutputCol).
        setOutputCol("wordToIndex")
    

    Create inverse document frequencies based on hashed words. It creates a numerical representation of how much information a
    given word provides in the whole message.

    val idf = new IDF().
        setMinDocFreq(4).
        setInputCol(hashingTF.getOutputCol).
        setOutputCol("tf_idf")
    

    This pipeline stage is one-time transformer. If setKeep(true) is called in it, it preserves specified columns instead
    of deleting them.

    val colRemover = new ColRemover().
        setKeep(true).
        setColumns(Array[String]("label", "tf_idf"))
    

    Split the dataset and store the splits with the specified keys into H2O’s distributed storage called DKV. This is one-time transformer which is executed only during fitting stage. It determines the frame, which is passed on the output in the following order:

    1. If the train key is specified using setTrainKey method and the key is also specified in the list of keys, then frame with this key is passed on the output
    2. Otherwise, if the default key Р“train.hex” is specified in the list of keys, then frame with this key is passed on the output
    3. Otherwise the first frame specified in the list of keys is passed on the output
    val splitter = new DatasetSplitter().
      setKeys(Array[String]("train.hex", "valid.hex")).
      setRatios(Array[Double](0.8)).
      setTrainKey("train.hex")
    

    Create H2O’s deep learning model.
    If the key specifying the training set is set using setTrainKey, then frame with this key is used as the training frame, otherwise it uses the frame from the previous stage as the training frame

    val dl = new H2ODeepLearning().
      setEpochs(10).
      setL1(0.001).
      setL2(0.0).
      setHidden(Array[Int](200, 200)).
      setValidKey(splitter.getKeys(1)).
      setResponseColumn("label")
    

    Create and fit the pipeline

    Create the pipeline using the stages we defined earlier. As a normal Spark pipeline, it can be formed of Spark’s transformers and estimators, but it also may contain H2O’s one-time transformers.

    val pipeline = new H2OPipeline().
      setStages(Array(tokenizer, stopWordsRemover, hashingTF, idf, colRemover, splitter, dl))
    

    Train the pipeline model by fitting it to a Spark’s DataFrame

    val data = load("smsData.txt")
    val model = pipeline.fit(data)
    

    Now we can optionally save the model to disk and load it again.

    model.write.overwrite().save("/tmp/hamOrSpamPipeline")
    val loadedModel = PipelineModel.load("/tmp/hamOrSpamPipeline")
    

    We can also save this unfitted pipeline to disk and load it again.

    pipeline.write.overwrite().save("/tmp/unfit-hamOrSpamPipeline")
    val loadedPipeline = H2OPipeline.load("/tmp/unfit-hamOrSpamPipeline")
    

    Train the pipeline model again on loaded pipeline just to show deserialized model works as it should.

    val modelOfLoadedPipeline = loadedPipeline.fit(data)
    

    Create helper function for predictions on unlabeled data. This method is using model generated by the pipeline. To make a prediction we call transform method with Spark’s Dataframe as an argument on the generated model. This call executes each transformer specified in the pipeline one after one producing Spark’s DataFrame with predictions.

    def isSpam(smsText: String,
               model: PipelineModel,
               h2oContext: H2OContext,
               hamThreshold: Double = 0.5):Boolean = {
      import h2oContext.implicits._
      val smsTextDF = sc.parallelize(Seq(smsText)).toDF("text") // convert to dataframe with one column named "text"
      val prediction: H2OFrame = model.transform(smsTextDF)
      prediction.vecs()(1).at(0) < hamThreshold
    }
    

    Try it!

    println(isSpam("Michal, h2oworld party tonight in MV?", modelOfLoadedPipeline, h2oContext))
    println(isSpam("We tried to contact you re your reply to our offer of a Video Handset? 750 anytime any networks mins? UNLIMITED TEXT?", loadedModel, h2oContext))
    

    In this article we showed how Spark’s pipelines and H2O algorithms work together seamlessly in Spark environment. We strive to be consistent with Spark API in H2O.ai and make the life of a developer/data scientist easier by hiding H2O internals and exposing the APIs that are natural for Spark users.

    Red herring bites

    At the Bay Area R User Group in February I presented progress in big-join in H2O which is based on the algorithm in R’s data.table package. The presentation had two goals: i) describe one test in great detail so everyone understands what is being tested so they can judge if it is relevant to them or not; and ii) show how it scales with data size and number of nodes.

    These were the final two slides :

    Slide14     Slide15

    I left a blank for 1e10 (10 billion high cardinality rows joined with 10 billion high cardinality rows returning 10 billion high cardinality rows) because it didn’t work at that time. Although each node has 256GB RAM (and 32 cores) the 10 billion row test involves joining two 10 billion row tables (each 200GB) and returning a third table (also ~10 billion rows) of 300GB, total 700GB. I was giving 200GB to each of the 4 H2O nodes (to leave 50GB on each node for the operating system and my forgiving colleagues) which meant the H2O cluster had 800GB RAM. The join algorithm needed more than a mere 100GB to complete the task and hence failed. Given that a common rule of thumb is “3x data size” for working memory, to fail with 0.1x data size as working memory is very reasonable. Internally we refer to H2O as a fast calculator. Like R and Python it is in-memory. Unlike R and Python a single data frame can be bigger than a single node.

    So I scaled up to 10 nodes: 2TB RAM and 320 cores.

    But it still didn’t work. It ran for 30 minutes and then failed with out-of-memory. I felt that 2TB of RAM really should be enough to complete this task: 200GB joined with 200GB returning 300GB. 2TB-700GB = 1.3TB; that amount of working memory should be enough. It pointed to something being wrong somewhere. Indeed with help from colleagues we identified one point where data was being duplicated and shouldn’t have been. This reduced the working memory needed and then it worked.

    But it took 20 minutes.

    This didn’t fit with my gut feel given I knew how the algorithm works (or was supposed to work). It should be nearer to linear scaling. 1 billion rows took under a minute so 10 billion should take 10 minutes. But it was taking twice that: 20 minutes. More to the point I’m not just having a cup of coffee or lunch while it’s running; I’m watching the CPUs and the network traffic between the nodes. The puzzling thing was that the network wasn’t saturated and the CPU’s were often cold. Something was wrong.

    There ensued many proposals and discussions as to what it might be. Focusing on the algorithm and its implementation.

    Until one day I went back to the 1 billion row test and ran it on 4 nodes, but a different set of 4 nodes. I usually run on servers 6-9. There was no reason for picking those servers. The first time I did it I asked which ones I could use and then never changed it. This time I ran on servers 1-4 instead. It was 3 times slower. At first I thought there must be a difference in the libraries on the servers or my code. After ruling out many things I rubbed my eyes and ran it again a few times again and then again on servers 6-9. It was repeatable and confirmed. How on earth could it make a difference which servers I ran on? All 10 servers are identical spec in the same rack connected to the same switch. Here’s a photo :

    rackFront

    I was monitoring CPU and network usage. Nothing else (either human or artificial) was using the cluster. I was the only one. I had this physical cluster to myself. For sure.

    I realized we might have been barking up the wrong tree when we were looking at the algorithm and its implementation. When I scaled up to 10bn rows and 10 nodes, perhaps I didn’t just scale up as intended, but perhaps I included a server that was somehow, faulty?!

    I reran on servers 2-5 and it was 3 times faster than on servers 1-4. The culprit appears to be server 1, then. We have a network tester in H2O that I had already run but ran it again. Our server names correspond to the last digit of their IP addresses: server 1 = .181, server 2 = .182, server 3 = .183, etc. Here was the image :

    NetworkTest

    There doesn’t appear to be much wrong here. I asked colleagues and they advised to more thoroughly check the network speeds as they’d seen problems in the past. I Googled for how to test network speed which quickly returned iperf. I knew the problem might be server 1 so I chose server 3 to be the server and compared speeds from servers 1, 2 and 4 as clients to server 3 as the server. Here’s the result :

    iperf

    So server 1 is more than 10 times slower the others. I trotted over to our server room again and I had a look at the back of server 1.

    rackBack   rackBackOrange

    See that orange light? That’s what was wrong. Either the switch or the network card had auto negotiated itself down to 1G speed when all its friends in the rack are happy at 10G speed. Despite it being up 57 days, it hadn’t auto-negotiated itself back up to 10G speed. Or something like that. We think.

    What’s the solution? Old school: I unplugged the ethernet cable and plugged it back in. The orange light turned green. I went back to my laptop and tested again with iperf. This time iperf reported 10G speed for server 1 consistent with the other servers. The non-physical way to do this is to use ethtool. Next time a problem occurs I’ll try it to save some foot steps to the server room.

    Rerunning the 10 billion row to 10 billion row high cardinality join test now comes in twice as fast: 10 minutes instead of 20 minutes. I’m not really sure why that made such a big difference since the network wasn’t saturated enough for it to be a pure data transfer speed issue. I’ll chalk it up to something to do with that network card or switch and move on. I’ll ensure that iperf reports 10G speed between all nodes going forward.

    In my talk in Chicago this week I connected to these servers and gave a live demo. That video along with all our other presentations that day are available here.

    The event itself was quite packed as seen in the picture below:
    h2o-chicago

    Big Joins, Scalable Data Munging and Data.Table

    Matt Dowle, Hacker, H2O.ai

    I’ll be presenting on the same topic at Data by the Bay on Monday 16 May.

    Fast csv writing for R

    R has traditionally been very slow at reading and writing csv files of, say, 1 million rows or more. Getting data into R is often the first task a user needs to do and if they have a poor experience (either hard to use, or very slow) they are less likely to progress. The data.table package in R solved csv import convenience and speed in 2013 by implementing data.table::fread() in C. The examples at that time were 30 seconds down to 3 seconds to read 50MB and over 1 hour down to 8 minute to read 20GB. In 2015 Hadley Wickham implemented readr::read_csv() in C++.

    But what about writing csv files?

    It is often the case that the end goal of work in R is a report, a visualization or a summary of some form. Not anything large. So we don’t really need to export large data, right? It turns out that the combination of speed, expressiveness and advanced abilities of R (particularly data.table) mean that it can be faster (so I’m told) to export the data from other environments (e.g. a database), manipulate in R, and export back to the database, than it is keeping the data in the database. However, the data export step out of R being the biggest bottleneck preventing that workflow is being increasingly heard from practitioners in the field. The export step may be needed to send clean data or derived features to other teams or systems in the user’s organization.

    Yes: feather, I hear you thinking! Indeed feather is a new fast uncompressed binary format which is also cross-language, by Wes McKinney and Hadley Wickham. As Roger Peng pointed out R has had fast XDR binary format for many years but the innovation of feather is that it is compatible with Python and Julia and other systems will adopt the format too. This is a great thing. Note that it is very important to set compress=FALSE in save() and saveRDS() to achieve comparable times to feather using base R.

    I was thinking about jumping on board with feather when to my surprise 2 weeks ago, the data.table project received a new user contribution from Otto Seiskari: fwrite(). Analogous to fread() it writes a data.frame or data.table to .csv and is implemented in C. I looked at the source and realized a few speed improvements could be made. Over the years I’ve occasionally mulled over different approaches. This contribution gave me the nudge to give those ideas a try.

    The first change I made was to stop using the fprintf() function in C. This takes a file handle and a format specification string and writes a field to the file. If you have 1 million rows and 6 columns that’s 6 million calls to that function. I’ve never looked at its source code but I guessed that because it was being iteratively called 6 million times, some tasks like interpreting the format specification string and checking the file handle is valid were being performed over and over again wastefully. I knew it maintains its own internal buffer automatically to save writing too many very small chunks of data to disk. But I wondered how much time was spent writing data to the disk versus how much time was spent formatting that data. So I added my own in-memory buffer, writing to it directly and moved from fprintf() to the lower level C functions write(). Note: not the C function fwrite() but write(). This writes a buffer of data to a file; it doesn’t have an internal buffer in the way. I did this so I could wrap the write() call with a timing block and see how much time was being spent writing to file versus formatting.

    Here is the result :

    Step1

    Wow: 99% of the time is being spent formatting! The time is not spent writing to disk at all. Not one ounce.

    Can we parallelize it then? On first glance, the data has to be written to the file in a serial fashion: row 1, then row 2, then row 3. Perhaps the data could be divided into N subsets, each subset written out in parallel, then joined together afterwards. Before rushing ahead and doing it that way, let’s think what the problems might be. First the N subsets could be writing at the same time (to different files) but that could saturate the internal bus (I don’t know much about that). Once the N files are obtained, they still have to be joined together into one file. I searched online and asked my colleagues and it appears they is no way to create a file by reference to existing files; you have to concatenate the N files into a new single file (a copy). That step would be serial and would also churn through disk space. It’s possible there would not be enough disk space available to complete the task. Having anticipated these problems, is there a better way I could implement from the get go?

    What did I have one of that I could make N of? Well, I had one buffer: the input to write(). If I make N threads and give each thread its own buffer can it be made to work? This is inherently thread safe since the only memory write would be to a thread’s private buffer. The only tricky aspect is ensuring that each piece is written to the output csv file in the correct order. I’m on good terms with Norman Matloff who has recommended OpenMP to me in the past and kindly gave me a copy of his excellent book Parallel Computing for Data Science. I turned to Google and quickly found that OpenMP has exactly the construct I needed :

    Step2

    OpenMP does a lot of work for the programmer. It directs the team of threads to work on each iteration of the for loop. The code after the #pragma omp order gets executed one-at-a-time and in-the-order-of-the-for-loop, automatically. So if iteration 7 finishes quickly for some reason, that thread will wait for iterations 1-6 to finish before it writes its buffer and receives the next piece to work on.

    I chose the buffer size for each thread to be small (1MB) to fit in each core’s cache. This results in the number of pieces N to be much larger (size of data / 1MB) than the number of threads so that each piece is not too big to get stuck and cause a blockage and not too small either to incur wasteful startup and scheduling overhead. Here is the result on my 4-core MacBook Pro (running bare-metal Ubuntu, of course):

    Step3

    This was one of those rare moments where the speedup factor was the best I hoped for. An ideal 4x improvement: 3.6 seconds down to 0.9 seconds.

    I thought I’d have to add lots of tests for fwrite() but I looked at the test suite and found that Otto had already added 26 tests in his pull request that I’d merged. My changes had broken quite a few of them so I fixed the code to pass his tests. Then I pushed to GitHub for others to test on MacOS and Windows. Within hours feedback came back that the speedup and correctness were confirmed.

    One outstanding itch was that each field was being written to the buffer by the C function sprintf(). Although this is writing to an in-memory buffer directly, I wondered how big the overhead of interpreting the format string and actually calling the library function was. I knew from fread() that specialized code that is tuned to be iterated can make a big difference. So I created specialized writeNumeric and writeInteger functions in C using base R’s C source code (e.g. format.c:scientific()) as a guide to give me some clues.

    Step4

    That’s better. Another 3x speedup: 0.9 seconds down to 0.3. This feels like the lower bound to me. So far we’ve been working with 1 million rows and an output csv file of around 150MB. Quite small by many standards. Let’s scale up 10x to 10 million rows on my laptop with SSD and 100x to 100 million rows on one of our 32 core / 256 GB physical servers. The reproducible code is at the end of this article. On the server we test writing to ram disk (/run/shm) versus writing to hard disk. Ram disk may be appropriate for ephemeral needs; e.g. transferring to a database where there is no requirement to keep the transfer file.

    Results

    To my surprise, writing a csv file using data.table::fwrite() appears to be faster than writing a binary file with feather. Your mileage may of course vary. If you ever need to quickly inspect the data using familiar command line text tools like head, tail, wc, grep and sed then it seems that csv files are still in the running then. Sometimes a csv format can turn out to be quite efficient. Consider the number 1.2 for example. In R that is an 8 byte ‘double’ but in the csv it’s just 3 characters wide, a 62% saving. This may be why the csv size (7.5GB) is slightly smaller than the binary (9.1GB).

    Here’s a small display of the data being tested:

    Step5

    fwrite is available to test now in data.table v1.9.7 in development. Check out our installation notes for how to install the dev version and get OpenMP where necessary. Please try it out and let us know your findings. It works just as well on both data.frame and data.table. Note there are some outstanding items to complete before release to CRAN, collated here.

    fwrite() is a great improvement over write.csv(): 63 seconds down to 2 seconds for the 10 million row test on my laptop. write.csv() converts the input to character format first in-memory. This creates new string objects for each and every unique integer or numeric which takes compute cycles to create and hits the global character cache (a hash table) and uses more RAM. There is an advantage of doing it that way, though. The character conversion is object oriented so many user or package defined classes with their own print methods in R code will just work automatically with no C programming required.

    What’s the connection to H2O? Usually you would import data into H2O using h2o.importFile() called from either the R or Python H2O packages. h2o.importFile() has been parallel and distributed for some years. To test big-join I’m using it to load two 200GB files into a 10 node cluster with 2TB of RAM, for example. I’ll write more about this in a future article. Sometimes however, it’s necessary or convenient to transfer data between H2O and the R client. This step currently uses base R’s write.csv and read.csv. We intend to replace these calls with fwrite/fread. We’ll also look at the H2O Python package and see if we can improve that similarly.

    If you’d like to hear more about big-join in H2O I’ll be presenting at our Open H2O Tour in Chicago on May 3rd, 2016 together with lots of other amazing people including Leland Wilkinson, Jeff Chapman, Erin LeDell, Mark Landry and others. And use the promo code H2OYEAH to get a 50% discount. Also please catch up with me at Data-by-the-Bay where I’ll be presenting on May 16th, 2016.

    This article was also published on R-Bloggers here: http://www.r-bloggers.com/fast-csv-writing-for-r/

    Appendix

    Reproducible code adapted from this Stack Overflow question

    install.packages(“data.table”, type=”source”, repos=”https://Rdatatable.github.io/data.table”)
    For Mac and Windows, see https://github.com/Rdatatable/data.table/wiki/Installation
    require(data.table) # v1.9.7

    devtools::install_github(“wesm/feather/R”)
    require(feather) # v0.0.0.9000

    require(readr) # CRAN v0.2.2

    DTn = function(N) data.table( # or data.frame. Both work just as well.
    str1=sample(sprintf(“%010d”,sample(N,1e5,replace=TRUE)), N, replace=TRUE),
    str2=sample(sprintf(“%09d”,sample(N,1e5,replace=TRUE)), N, replace=TRUE),
    str3=sample(sapply(sample(2:30, 100, TRUE), function(n) paste0(sample(LETTERS, n, TRUE), collapse=””)), N, TRUE),
    str4=sprintf(“%05d”,sample(sample(1e5,50),N,TRUE)),
    num1=sample(round(rnorm(1e6,mean=6.5,sd=15),2), N, replace=TRUE),
    num2=sample(round(rnorm(1e6,mean=6.5,sd=15),10), N, replace=TRUE),
    str5=sample(c(“Y”,”N”),N,TRUE),
    str6=sample(c(“M”,”F”),N,TRUE),
    int1=sample(ceiling(rexp(1e6)), N, replace=TRUE),
    int2=sample(N,N,replace=TRUE)-N/2
    )
    set.seed(21)
    DT = DTn(1e6)
    Either ram disk :
    setwd(“/dev/shm”)
    or HDD/SDD :
    setwd(“~”)
    system.time(fwrite(DT,”fwrite.csv”))
    system.time(write_feather(DT, “feather.bin”))
    system.time(save(DT,file=”save1.Rdata”,compress=F))
    system.time(save(DT,file=”save2.Rdata”,compress=T))
    system.time(write.csv(DT,”write.csv.csv”,row.names=F,quote=F))
    system.time(readr::write_csv(DT,”write_csv.csv”))

    NB: It works just as well on both data.frame and data.table