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Using GPGPUs with Kubernetes

Stephan Fabel

on 10 December 2018

This article was last updated 4 years ago.

This post walks through the use of GPGPUs with Kubernetes and DevicePlugins. We’ll use MicroK8s for a developer workstation example and charmed K8s for a cluster since that’s a consistent multi-cloud Kubernetes approach. The various cloud CAAS offerings like GKE are also enabling GPGPU facilities so you may want to try those too.

We’ll use Ubuntu as the OS because the underlying enablement for GPGPUs ‘Just Works’ in all the clouds and with all the local hardware, and making docker images on Ubuntu ensures that the CUDA libraries line up with the drivers properly.

In order for this all to work, the correct (and matching) driver needs to be installed on the worker node to make the device accessible from the OS; and typically it also requires some userland libraries in order to work. With NVIDIA GPUs this enablement further depends on using the right Docker runtime (nvidia-docker2) which requires additional host-level configuration and post-deployment installation.

All of that is automated on Ubuntu with MicroK8s and the charmed Kubernetes charms, across all the public clouds where GPUs are available. It’s also currently activated in GKE, other cloud CAAS offerings will follow.

Workstation GPGPU containers with Microk8s

Microk8s is a snap of upstream Kubernetes that is designed for development purposes. It’s not a cluster but it gives you a small zero-ops kubernetes environment that is compatible with all the major multi-cloud K8s offerings. For our purposes the important thing is that it includes GPGPU enablement in the box.

To install MicroK8s:

$ snap install microk8s --classic

This will give you the latest stable version of MicroK8s which tracks upstream releases closely.

You can select a particular version using ‘snap channels’, see ‘snap info microk8s’ for the available tracks. By selecting a particular track you can lock yourself to a particular version of Kubernetes. By default you will be on the ‘latest’ track, and get upgrades when upstream Kubernetes releases a new stable version. Select a particular track with --channel=track/stability from the available channels. ‘Stable’ maps to ‘latest/stable’.

$ snap info microk8s
  stable:         v1.13.0  (340) 204MB classic
  candidate:      v1.13.0  (340) 204MB classic
  beta:           v1.13.0  (340) 204MB classic
  edge:           v1.13.0  (340) 204MB classic
  1.13/stable:    v1.13.0  (340) 204MB classic
  1.13/candidate: v1.13.0  (340) 204MB classic
  1.13/beta:      v1.13.0  (340) 204MB classic
  1.13/edge:      v1.13.0  (341) 204MB classic
  1.12/stable:    v1.12.3  (336) 226MB classic
  1.12/candidate: v1.12.3  (336) 226MB classic
  1.12/beta:      v1.12.3  (336) 226MB classic
  1.12/edge:      v1.12.3  (336) 226MB classic
  1.11/stable:    v1.11.5  (322) 219MB classic
  1.11/candidate: v1.11.5  (322) 219MB classic
  1.11/beta:      v1.11.5  (322) 219MB classic
  1.11/edge:      v1.11.5  (322) 219MB classic
  1.10/stable:    v1.10.11 (321) 175MB classic
  1.10/candidate: v1.10.11 (321) 175MB classic
  1.10/beta:      v1.10.11 (321) 175MB classic
  1.10/edge:      v1.10.11 (321) 175MB classic

Assuming you have an Nvidia GPU with a current driver installed, you can activate Kubernetes support for it with the “enable” subcommand:

$ microk8s.enable gpu

You can confirm that the GPU is available to Microk8s with this command:

$ microk8s.status
microk8s is running
gpu: enabled
storage: disabled
registry: disabled
ingress: disabled
dns: disabled
metrics-server: disabled
istio: disabled
dashboard: disabled

Running GPGPU-accelerated containers on Kubernetes

Now that you have GPGPU capacity available to Kubernetes you can deploy containers there that get access to the special hardware they need.

Your container needs to have the right userspace pieces, so again we suggest that you build the OCI images on Ubuntu with the CUDA libraries provided; those will be most portable across all the different cloud CAAS offerings as well as offerings from Canonical, VMware, Pivotal, Cisco and others that also use Ubuntu for K8s.

Your workloads can now use something like this to select appropriate worker nodes (example taken from here):

Listing 1:  nvidia-pod-example.yaml

apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
  name: cuda-vector-add
  restartPolicy: OnFailure
    - name: cuda-vector-add
      image: ""
 1 # requesting 1 GPU

Kubernetes cluster deployment with GPGPUs

A compelling feature of the Charmed Distribution of Kubernetes (CDK) is that it will automatically enable GPGPU resources which are present on the worker node for use by K8s pods.

GPU resources are enabled through the use of Device Plugins which are deployed as DaemonSets. This ensures that each GPU-enabled worker node is allowed access to the GPU and sets the right paths to the driver plugins on the host.

With the DaemonSet deployed, the Kubernetes scheduler can leverage the NodeSelector to filter worker node candidates advertising the feature when scheduling workloads.

Charms fully automate the deployment of Kubernetes in a way that is model-driven and thus flexible for use on different kinds of cloud or cluster. We use charms successfully for HPC deployments of Kubernetes, for example, making the deployment of AI/ML pipelines on top of Kubernetes easier. GPU enablement is important for those sorts of workloads.

However, before deploying Kubeflow or similar frameworks, the Kubernetes layer needs to be fully automated and GPUs activated.

The charms of Kubernetes do all the work. As worker nodes get commissioned into the model, the Kubernetes charms auto-detect the presence of NVIDIA hardware, install the right driver and host libraries, replace the container runtime with the NVIDIA supported one, deploy the DaemonSet for the DevicePlugin and labels the nodes automatically.

The K8s cluster is best deployed with conjure-up which will walk you through the entire process. You can use conjure-up on a public cloud with GPU-enabled instance types, or on MAAS for bare metal clusters with servers that contain GPUs. In both cases, the deployment process is exactly the same.

For example, you can use p2.xlarge instances on AWS. In order to make that happen, we need to pass a constraint into the conjure-up command line so that we force the usage of the GPU enabled instance types when deploying workers.

Listing 2: cdk-gpu-worker.yaml

    charm: "cs:~containers/kubernetes-worker"
    num_units: 1
      channel: 1.13/stable
    expose: true
    constraints: "instance-type=p2.xlarge root-disk=32768"

Pass this to conjure-up:

$ conjure-up canonical-kubernetes --bundle-add cdk-gpu-worker.yaml

This will launch the conjure-up wizard interface and allow you to select additional add-ons to be deployed, for example, Kubeflow can be selected here. On the controller selection screen, you can either deploy a dedicated Juju controller (one more VM) or you can take advantage of JAAS, which provides Juju-as-a-service on the major public clouds.

Once the installation is kicked off, you see a status screen as shown below:

The status can also be shown using the Juju command directly. If you use JAAS, locate the model name using:

$ juju models -c jaas
Controller: jaas

Model                         Cloud/Region   Status     Machines  Cores  Access  Last connection
conjure-canonical-kubern-9dc  aws/us-east-1  available         0      0  admin   never connected

Then, inspect the status of the model:

$ juju status -m jaas:conjure-canonical-kubern-9dc
Model                         Controller  Cloud/Region   Version  SLA          Timestamp
conjure-canonical-kubern-9dc  jaas        aws/us-east-1  2.4.5    unsupported  16:13:37-08:00

App                    Version  Status       Scale  Charm                  Store       Rev  OS      Notes
aws-integrator         1.15.71  active           1  aws-integrator         jujucharms    7  ubuntu  
easyrsa                3.0.1    maintenance      1  easyrsa                jujucharms  117  ubuntu  
etcd                            maintenance      3  etcd                   jujucharms  209  ubuntu  
flannel                         waiting          0  flannel                jujucharms  146  ubuntu  
kubeapi-load-balancer           maintenance      1  kubeapi-load-balancer  jujucharms  162  ubuntu  exposed
kubernetes-master               maintenance      2  kubernetes-master      jujucharms  219  ubuntu  
kubernetes-worker               waiting        0/1  kubernetes-worker      jujucharms  239  ubuntu  exposed

Unit                      Workload     Agent       Machine  Public address  Ports  Message
aws-integrator/0*         active       idle        0           ready
easyrsa/0*                maintenance  executing   1         (install) installing charm
etcd/0*                   maintenance  executing   2         (install) installing charm
etcd/1                    maintenance  executing   3         (install) installing charm
etcd/2                    maintenance  executing   4          (install) installing charm
kubeapi-load-balancer/0*  maintenance  executing   5          (install) installing charm
kubernetes-master/0       maintenance  executing   6         (install) installing charm
kubernetes-master/1*      maintenance  executing   7         (install) installing charm
kubernetes-worker/0       waiting      allocating  8           waiting for machine

Machine  State    DNS             Inst id              Series  AZ          Message
0        started    i-083ce279733998d59  bionic  us-east-1a  running
1        started  i-04828688ddfdb0c6c  bionic  us-east-1b  running
2        started  i-03d910e892e7c09f6  bionic  us-east-1a  running
3        started  i-00adeecd668174ee0  bionic  us-east-1b  running
4        started   i-032875fd24a1c1e78  bionic  us-east-1c  running
5        started   i-0008405049b9bed6d  bionic  us-east-1d  running
6        started  i-003abf7f3612a2f18  bionic  us-east-1b  running
7        started  i-0abe01060e8179618  bionic  us-east-1a  running
8        pending    i-0d493a35776b9217d  bionic  us-east-1e  running

Once the installation has finished all GPGPU resources are properly configured and available to the Kubernetes operator. You can check this with:

$ kubectl get no -o wide -L cuda,gpu


Leveraging GPGPU resources in your Kubernetes cluster is automatic and easy to do when using the Charmed Distribution of Kubernetes or Microk8s.

What do you think? We’d love to hear about your use cases and how CDK and Microk8s helped with your GPGPU-sensitive workloads.

Get in touch

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