Parallel Image Processing using the Accelerator: The Basics
The Accelerator is designed for fast and reproducible data processing. Typical application data is composed of text strings and numbers, but the Accelerator can work as efficiently with any kind of binary data, such as images or sound files. In this post we will have a look at batch processing of large quantities of images. The focus will be on
parallel processing, i.e. how to make most use of the computer hardware to save execution time, and
reproducibility, i.e. how to associate results (output) to specific input data and source code.
We will use a simple example to show how to make best use of the Accelerator’s capabilities. More advanced examples, such as neural network inference, will be discussed in an upcoming post.
Parallel Image Processing Example
A simple example is that of creating image thumbnails (i.e. downscaled copies) of a large set of (larger) images. The figure below depicts conversion from a 4k video frame down to a size that is more reasonable for a neural network to operate on
Throughout this post, we’ll assume that the number of parallel processes is three (3) to keep things simple. In an actual setup, this number is equal or close to the number of available CPU cores on the computer, which may be significantly higher.
We will approach the example from two directions,
- by keeping things simple and writing a minimal parallel program to solve the task, and
- by using more Accelerator features to create a solution that is more flexible and extendable.
The second approach will scale much better with an increased complexity of problems to solve. But let us start with the simple straight-forward solution.
Straightforward Parallel Program
The downscaling program receives a list of images to process as input, and outputs a set of thumbnail image files. To make most use of the available hardware, the program will run in parallel on several CPU cores. Each parallel process will work on a unique slice of the input image file list. For each filename in the list, the process will read the corresponding input image, downscale, and write the output thumbnail image, see the figure below.
Here is the complete source code for the program
from PIL import Image options=dict(files=, size=(100, 100)) def analysis(sliceno, params): # work on a single slice of all filenames files = options.files[sliceno::params.slices] for fn in files: im = Image.open(fn) im.thumbnail(options.size) im.save(fn + '.thumbnail', 'JPEG')
analysis() will be forked and executed in
params.slices parallel processes. Each process receives a unique
number between zero and the number of slices in the
variable. Input options are the list of image files and the shape of
the output thumbnail image.
In order to execute the program, we need to write a small build script containing the build rules
def main(urd): urd.build('thumbnailer', options=dict(files=['file0.jpg', ...], size=(640, 338)))
This program will create approximately 140 4k-to-640x338-thumbnails per second on a modern laptop with four cores.
Using More of the Accelerator’s Features
The program in the previous section provides a simple but efficient solution to the thumbnails task. In this section, we’ll introduce Accelerator features that helps structuring the program and work on a higher abstraction level with fast execution times. Mainly, we’ll
use the Accelerator’s build system so that pre-computed results are reused and a minimum of processing is required when things (source code, parameters, or input data) change;
keep track of intermediate results between programs automatically;
associate any number of additional information to each image; and
reduce the number of intermediate files, and thereby seek time.
The first thing we do is to separate the solution into three different programs. We do this to make use of the Accelerator’s dataset storage format and to minimise the amount of re-builds when we modify the code or the input parameters. Here is a build script reflecting the partitioning of the code
def main(urd): files = sorted(glob.glob(os.path.join(path, 'file*.jpg'))) jid_imp = urd.build('import_images', options=dict(files=files)) jid_tmb = urd.build('thumbnailer', options=dict(size=(256,256), datasets=dict(source=jid_imp))) jid_exp = urd.build('export_images', options=dict(column='thumb', datasets=dict(source=jid_tmb)))
The most interesting program is the one in the middle,
that actually computes the thumbnails. The programs before and after
are just converting to and from the Accelerator’s internal format.
The more complicated a processing task, the more this partitioning
makes sense, but we keep to the thumbnails example in this post to
keep things simple.
What about the
sorted() call? This is to ensure that we do not
execute any of the programs unless the input data has been modified.
Sorting the input data makes it deterministic, independent of how
glob or the file system works. The
import_images, and all jobs
depending on its output, will only execute once for a given input. It
is only when inputs, parameters or source code change that programs
will be executed. This is a key Accelerator feature.
Before we have a closer look at the
thumbnailer, let’s have a quick
look at the import program
The Import Program
The import program is much like the first thumbnailing program presented earlier, but instead of writing output images to files, it writes to an Accelerator dataset. The dataset is used to store both the images and some meta information. In this case the meta information consists of filenames and sizes. If we had been interested in, say, exposure statistics, we could add some or all of the EXIF-data in addition to filename and size to the dataset. The import program is shown in the figure below
Each process handles a slice of the list of input files and stores them in a corresponding dataset slice. Columns are stored in independent files so that we can access columns independent of each other. Now we move on to the more interesting part.
The Image Processing part: Thumbnailing
With images and metadata available in a dataset, we can work on a higher, yet efficient, abstraction level and focus on the actual image processing flow. For example, we can send the images to a set of different image analysis algorithms, generate debug output image sets for each of them, and merge all computations into a single result. But in this post we will keep our focus on the thumbnail task.
The figure below illustrates how the
thumbnailer program works
Each one of the parallel processes reads one slice of the
column, creates a thumbnail, and then writes to a new column named
thumb. Note that
- the new column is appended to the existing “source” dataset, and
- there is no need to read any of the
filenamedata from disk.
After execution, the dataset has four columns. Three of the columns were created by the import program and existed before, and one column is new and created by the thumbnail program. By appending new columns to old ones, everything we have computed and know about each image is being kept together. Appending new columns to existing datasets is almost for free, since it is just a matter of linking columns to datasets. (And reading relevant columns only is obvious for performance reasons.)
Diversion: Computing a Histogram of Image Shapes
It is tempting to show how easy it is to start doing data analysis now that we have the imported image dataset. The code below will compute a histogram of all image shapes
from collections import Counter datasets = ('source',) def synthesis(): return Counter(tuple(x) for x in datasets.source.iterate(None, 'shape'))
and we run it by adding this line to the build script
... u.build('shapehist', datasets=dict(source=jid_imp))
jid_imp is a reference to the import job that was run
shapehist program will thus always run on the
correct data. Furthermore,
shapehist makes use of the available
shape column in the dataset (which was generated as a by-product in
the import program). It does not need to read the images all over
again to compute the shapes, which has an enormous performance
tuple(x) for x in ...-stuff is to make the stored
Exporting Images in a Dataset back to Files
Finally, we need a way to generate image files from a dataset. Such a program may be visualised like this
The program reads one line at a time from the
columns, and writes the image data into files with corresponding
The current release of the Accelerator does not include explicit
support for images. The main reason being that the Accelerator comes
with a minimum of dependencies, and this is considered to be a
feature. (It is possible that a dedicated image add-on package will
be added in the future, though.) There are a number of supported data
types, though, and storing images is just a layer on top of the
bytes type. A data value typed as
bytes could contain any binary
data and be up to 2GB in size. Unfortunately, there does not seem to
be a Pillow method to generate binary data from an image, so we use
from io import BytesIO def pil2bytes(im, format='BMP'): # Note 1: On some systems, temp-files may be faster than BytesIO objects. # Note 2: Image compression algorithm is trade-off between CPU and disk. with BytesIO() as output: im.save(output, format=format) contents = output.getvalue() return contents
The choice of image codec is a trade-off between speed and storage. BMP is a lossless format with fast encoding and decoding but with relatively large files.
The program starts with a single process executing the
function that sets up a new dataset writer object with three columns.
from os.path import basename from dataset import DatasetWriter from PIL import Image options = dict(files=) def prepare(): dw = DatasetWriter() dw.add('image', 'bytes') dw.add('shape', 'json') dw.add('filename', 'unicode') return dw
The raw (compressed) image is stored as
bytes and the filename as
unicode. Image shape data is a tuple
(width, height), and is
therefore stored as
json in the dataset. The dataset writer object
is return in order to be passed to the functions executing next.
The running process is forked into a number of parallel processes
analysis() function shown below. The writer object
prepare() is input and referenced by the name
prepare_res. The input
sliceno holds unique number for the
params is a dict containing various variables, among
slices, which holds the total number of parallel processes.
def analysis(prepare_res, sliceno, params): dw = prepare_res files = options.files[sliceno::params.slices] for fn in files: im = Image.open(fn) with open(fn, 'rb') as fh: data = fh.read() dw.write(data, im.size, basename(fn))
analysis()-process selects a unique slice of the input filename
list, read the files one a a time, and writes to the dataset. Here,
we just copy the input file into the dataset and use PIL to get the
Below is the complete
from io import BytesIO from . import pilhelpers from dataset import DatasetWriter from PIL import Image depend_extra = (pilhelpers,) datasets=('parent',) options=dict(size=(100, 100)) def prepare(): dw = DatasetWriter(parent=datasets.parent) dw.add('thumb', 'bytes') return dw def analysis(prepare_res, sliceno): dw = prepare_res for im in datasets.parent.iterate(sliceno, 'image'): im = Image.open(BytesIO(im)) im.thumbnail(options.size) dw.write(pilhelpers.pil2bytes(im))
The dataset writer is fed with a
parent argument, instructing it to
append columns to an existing dataset instead of creating a new one.
analysis() functions are forked and execute in parallel on all
slices, each iterating over one slice of the input dataset. The
BytesIO() thing is used to convert a binary blob from the dataset
into a “file” which can be opened by PIL, and the
is the one mentioned above that converts a PIL object into raw binary
The following program is complete and minimal. Files are written to disk in the internal format, i.e. BMP, and the filename extension is left unchanged. Files get written into the current job directory.
options=dict(column='thumb') datasets = ('source',) def analysis(sliceno): for im, fn in datasets.source.iterate(sliceno, (options.column, 'filename',)): with open(fn, 'wb') as fh: fh.write(im)
This post illustrates how the Accelerator can parallel process binary image files. Although the minimalistic design principles behind the Accelerator has left it without explicit image processing support, it can be added with just a few lines of code.
The Accelerator brings deterministic processing and re-use of jobs in order to minimise confusion and processing time, which is a big advantage when processing for example large sets of image files.
The Accelerator’s Homepage (exax.org)
The Accelerator on Github/eBay
Installation Manual with Performance Test