MATLAB
RCC provides the Matlab programming environment on all Midway compute resources. Most Matlab toolboxes are also available (see: https://itservices.uchicago.edu/page/matlabtahtoolboxes). When running compute or memoryintensive Matlab jobs on Midway, it is important to run on compute nodes, and not on the login nodes.
Note
Compute and memoryintensive jobs running on the login nodes are subject to termination without warning by RCC system administrators as this impacts the performance of the login nodes and ability for other users to work.
Getting Started
To gain access to Matlab, a Matlab module must be loaded with the command:
module load matlab
A full list of the available Matlab versions can be obtained by issuing the command:
module avail matlab
Using Matlab’s Textual Interface
On Midway, Matlab can be launched at the terminal with the commands:
module load matlab
matlab
This will launch Matlab’s textual interface. We recommend running Matlab on a compute node as opposed to a login node.
Using Matlab’s GUI Interface
To use Matlab’s GUI interface on Midway, we reccomend connecting to Midway via ThinLinc.
Note that once connected via ThinLinc, you will be accessing a Midway login node. In order to run Matlab with its GUI interface on a compute node, obtain a terminal in the ThinLinc desktop and issue the sinteractive command. This will deliver you to a compute node. From there, you can launch Matlab with the command:
module load matlab
matlab
and have access to the GUI interface.
Running Matlab Jobs with SLURM
To submit Matlab jobs to Midway’s resource scheduler, SLURM, the Matlab commands to be executed must be containined in a single .m script.
matlab_simple.m
is a basic Matlab script that computes and prints a 10x10 magic square
matlab_simple.sbatch
is a submission script that submits Matlab program to the default queue
To run this example, download both files to a directory on Midway. Then, enter the following command to submit the program matlab_simple.m to the scheduler:
sbatch matlab_simple.sbatch
Output from this example can be found in the file named matlab.out which will be created in the same directory.
Matlab Parallel
To run MATLAB effectively using parallel computing techniques requires a few basic concepts which can be optimized and expanded upon. The MATLAB Parallel Computing Toolbox User’s Guide is the official documentation and should be referred to for further details, examples and explanations. Here, we provide some Midwayspecific considerations that RCC users should be aware of.
RCC reccomends MATLAB 2014b for parallel matlab computing as it relaxes the restriction on number of workers available through the PCT.
NOTE: At this time, RCC does not support the Matlab Distributed Compute Server (MDCS). As such, parallel Matlab jobs are limited to a single node with the “local” pool through use of the Parallel Compute Toolbox (PCT).
Basic PCT Operation
The most basic level of parallelization in Matlab is achieved through use of a parfor
loop in place of a for
loop. The iterations of a parfor
loop are distributed to the workers in the active matlabpool and computed concurrently. For this reason, care must be taken to ensure that each iteration of the parfor loop is independent of every other.
The overall procedure for leveraging parfor in your Matlab script is as follows:

Create a local matlabpool

Call
parfor
in place offor
in your Matlab scripts and functions
A simple Matlab script that uses parfor can be downloaded here: matlab_parfor.m
and is shown below.
% start the matlabpool with maximum available workers
% control how many workers by setting ntasks in your sbatch script
pc = parcluster('local')
parpool(pc, str2num(getenv('SLURM_CPUS_ON_NODE')))
% run a parfor loop, distributing the iterations to the SLURM_CPUS_ON_NODE workers
parfor i = 1:100
ones(10,10)
end
Submitting a PCT Matlab Job to SLURM
Compute intensive jobs that will consume nontrivial amounts of CPU and/or memory resources should not be run on Midway’s login nodes. Instead, the job should be submitted to the scheduler and run on a compute node. A sample submission script for the above example Matlab sample is provided here: matlab_parfor.sbatch
and is shown below.
#!/bin/bash
#SBATCH jobname=whatever
#SBATCH output=matlab_parfor.out
#SBATCH error=matlab_parfor.err
#SBATCH partition=sandyb
#SBATCH time=00:10:00
#SBATCH nodes=1
#SBATCH ntasks=16
module load matlab/2014b
matlab nodisplay < matlab_parfor.m
Running Multiple PCT Matlab Jobs
Specific care must be taken when running multiple PCT jobs on Midway. When you submit multiple jobs that are all using PCT for parallelization, the multiple matlabpools that get created have the ability to interfere with one another which can lead to errors and early termination of your scripts.
The Matlab PCT requires a temporary “Job Storage Location” where is stores information about the Matlab pool that is in use. This is simply a directory on the filesystem that Matlab writes various files to in order to coordinate the parallelization of the matlabpool. By default, this information is stored in /home/YourUsername/.matlab/ (the default “Job Storage Location”). When submitting multiple jobs to SLURM that will all use the PCT, all of the jobs will attempt to use this default location for storing job information thereby creating a race condition where one job modifies the files that were put in place by another. Clearly, this situation must be avoided.
The solution is to have each of your jobs that will use the PCT set a unique location for storing job information. To do this, a temporary directory must be created before launching matlab in your submission script and then the matlabpool must be created to explicitly use this unique temporary directory. An example sbatch script matlab_multi.sbatch
to do this is shown below:
#!/bin/bash
#SBATCH jobname=whatever
#SBATCH output=matlab_parfor.out
#SBATCH error=matlab_parfor.err
#SBATCH partition=sandyb
#SBATCH time=00:10:00
#SBATCH nodes=1
#SBATCH ntasks=16
module load matlab/2014b
# Create a temporary directory on scratch
mkdir p $SCRATCH/$SLURM_JOB_ID
# Kick off matlab
matlab nodisplay < multi_parfor.m
# Cleanup local work directory
rm rf $SCRATCH/$SLURM_JOB_ID
And the corresponding Matlab script multi_parfor.m
shown here:
% create a local cluster object
pc = parcluster('local')
% explicitly set the JobStorageLocation to the temp directory that was created in your sbatch script
pc.JobStorageLocation = strcat(getenv('SCRATCH'),'/', getenv('SLURM_JOB_ID'))
% start the matlabpool with maximum available workers
% control how many workers by setting ntasks in your sbatch script
parpool(pc, str2num(getenv('SLURM_CPUS_ON_NODE')))
% run a parallel for loop
parfor i = 1:100
ones(10,10)
end