Fine-tuning Language Models over Slow Networks using Activation Quantization with Guarantees

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 (NeurIPS 2022) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Jue WANG, Binhang Yuan, Luka Rimanic, Yongjun He, Tri Dao, Beidi Chen, Christopher Ré, Ce Zhang


Communication compression is a crucial technique for modern distributed learning systems to alleviate their communication bottlenecks over slower networks. Despite recent intensive studies of gradient compression for data parallel-style training, compressing the activations for models trained with pipeline parallelism is still an open problem. In this paper, we propose AQ-SGD, a novel activation compression algorithm for communication-efficient pipeline parallelism training over slow networks. Different from previous efforts in activation compression, instead of compressing activation values directly, AQ-SGD compresses the changes of the activations. This allows us to show, to the best of our knowledge for the first time, that one can still achieve $O(1/\sqrt{T})$ convergence rate for non-convex objectives under activation compression, without making assumptions on gradient unbiasedness that do not hold for deep learning models with non-linear activation functions. We then show that AQ-SGD can be optimized and implemented efficiently, without additional end-to-end runtime overhead. We evaluated AQ-SGD to fine-tune language models with up to 1.5 billion parameters, compressing activation to 2-4 bits. AQ-SGD provides up to $4.3\times$ end-to-end speed-up in slower networks, without sacrificing model quality. Moreover, we also show that AQ-SGD can be combined with state-of-the-art gradient compression algorithms to enable end-to-end communication compression: All communications between machines, including model gradients, forward activations, and backward gradients are compressed into lower precision. This provides up to $4.9\times$ end-to-end speed-up, without sacrificing model quality.