Powerful computer clusters are used nowadays to train complex deep neural networks (DNN) on large datasets. Distributed training workloads increasingly become communication bound. For this reason, many lossy compression techniques have been proposed to reduce the volume of transferred data. Unfortunately, it is difficult to argue about the behavior of compression methods, because existing work relies on inconsistent evaluation testbeds and largely ignores the performance impact of practical system configurations.
In this paper, we present a comprehensive survey of the most influential compressed communication methods for DNN training, together with an intuitive classification (i.e., quantization, sparsification, hybrid and low-rank). We also propose a unified framework and API that allows for consistent and easy implementation of compressed communication on popular machine learning toolkits. We instantiate our API on TensorFlow and PyTorch, and implement 16 such methods. Finally, we present a thorough quantitative evaluation with a variety of DNNs (convolutional and recurrent), datasets and system configurations. We show that the DNN architecture affects the relative performance among methods. Interestingly, depending on the underlying communication library and computational cost of compression/decompression, we demonstrate that some methods may be impractical.