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TensorFlow on GPUs

An open-source software library for Machine Intelligence

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TensorFlow is an open source library for machine learning. TensorFlow can train and run deep neural networks. It can also serve as a backend for other techniques requiring automatic differentiation and GPU acceleration.

TensorFlow is callable from Python with the numerically intensive parts of the algorithms implemented in C++ for efficiency. This page focus on running TensorFlow with GPU support.

See also

  • To request GPU resources using --gpus-per-node option of Slurm, see the GPU use on NeSI documentation page.
  • To run TensorFlow on CPUs instead, have a look at our article TensorFlow on CPUs for tips on how to configure TensorFlow and Slurm for optimal performance.

Use NeSI modules

TensorFlow is available on Mahuika as an environment module

module load TensorFlow/2.4.1-gimkl-2020a-Python-3.8.2

Note this will automatically load the right versions of CUDA and cuDNN modules needed to run TensorFlow on GPUs.

You can list the available versions of the module using:

module spider TensorFlow

To install additional Python packages for your project, you can either:

  1. install packages in your home folder,
  2. install packages in a dedicated Python virtual environment for your project.

The first option is easy but will consume space in your home folder and can create conflicts if you have multiple projects with different versions requirements. To install packages this way, you need to usepip install --user. For example, to install the SciKeras package:

pip install --user scikeras

The second option provides a better separation between projects. Additionally, it saves space in your home folder if you create your virtual environments in the project or nobackup folder. The following example illustrates how to create a virtual environment, activate it and install the SciKeras package in it with pip:

$ python3 -m venv --system-site-packages my_venv
$ source my_venv/bin/activate
(my_venv) $ pip install scikeras

where my_venv is the path of the virtual environment folder.

The --system-site-packages option allows the virtual environment to access the TensorFlow package provided by the environment module previously loaded:

$ module load TensorFlow/2.4.1-gimkl-2020a-Python-3.8.2
$ source my_venv/bin/activate
(my_venv) $ python -c "import tensorflow as tf; print(tf.__version__)"

Don't forget to activate the virtual environment before calling your Python scripts in a Slurm submission script, using:

source <path_to_virtual_environment>/bin/activate

Virtual environment isolation

Use export PYTHONNOUSERSITE=1 to ensure that your virtual environment is isolated from packages installed in your home folder ~/.local/lib/python3.8/site-packages/.

Conda environments

As an alternative, you can also create conda environments to install a specific version of Python, TensorFlow and any additional packages required for your project. On Mahuika, use the Miniconda3 module:

module load Miniconda3/4.9.2
conda create -p my_conda_venv python=3.8

Note that here we use the -p option to create the conda environment in a local my_conda_venv folder. Use a subfolder in your project or nobackup folder to save space in your home folder.

Then activate the conda environment and install TensorFlow using conda install or pip install, depending on your preferences:

source $(conda info --base)/etc/profile.d/  # if you didn't use "conda init" to set your .bashrc
conda activate ./my_conda_venv
pip install tensorflow==2.5.0

To use TensorFlow on GPUs, you also need to load cuDNN/CUDA modules with the proper versions. See the official documentation about tested configurations for compatibilities. For example, Tensorflow 2.5.0 requires you to load the cuDNN/ module:

module load cuDNN/  # for Tensorflow 2.5

You can list the available versions of cuDNN (and associated CUDA module) using:

module spider cuDNN

Please contact us at if you need a version not available on the platform.

Māui Ancillary Nodes

  • Load the Anaconda3 module instead of Miniconda3 to manipulate conda environments:
    module load Anaconda3/2020.02-GCC-7.1.0
  • Use module avail to list available versions of modules, e.g.
    module avail cuDNN

Additionnally, depending your version of TensorFlow, you may need to take into consideration the following:

  • install the tensorflow-gpu Python package if your are using TensorFlow 1,
  • make sure to use a supported version of Python when creating the conda environment (e.g. TensorFlow 1.14.0 requires Python 3.3 to 3.7),
  • use conda install (not pip install) if your version of TensorFlow relies on GCC 4.8 (TensorFlow < 1.15).


Make sure to use module purge before loading Miniconda3, to ensure that no other Python module is loaded and could interfere with your conda environment.

module purge
module load Miniconda3/4.9.2
source $(conda info --base)/etc/profile.d/  # if you didn't use "conda init" to set your .bashrc
conda ...  # any conda commands (create, activate, install...)

Singularity containers

You can use containers to run your application on the NeSI platform. We provide support for Singularity containers, that can be run by users without requiring additional privileges. Note that Docker containers can be converted into Singularity containers.

For TensorFlow, we recommend using the official container provided by NVIDIA. More information about using Singularity with GPU enabled containers is available on the NVIDIA GPU Containers support page.

Specific versions for A100

Here are the recommended options to run TensorFlow on the A100 GPUs:

  • If you use TensorFlow 1, use the TF1 container provided by NVIDIA, which comes with a version of TensorFlow 1.15 compiled specifically to support the A100 GPUs (Ampere architecture). Other official Python packages won't support the A100, triggering various crashes and slowdowns.
  • If you use TensorFlow 2, any version from 2.4 and above will provide support for the A100 GPUs.

Example Slurm script

In the following example, we will use the make_image_classifier provided by TensorFlow Hub to illustrate a training workflow. The example task consists in retraining the last layers of an already trained deep neural network in order to make it classify pictures of flowers. This type of task is known as "transfer learning".

  1. Create a virtual environment to install the tensorflow-hub[make_image_classifier] package:

    module purge  # start from a clean environment
    module load TensorFlow/2.4.1-gimkl-2020a-Python-3.8.2
    python3 -m venv --system-site-packages tf_hub_venv
    source tf_hub_venv/bin/activate
    pip install tensorflow-hub[make_image_classifier]~=0.12
  2. Download and uncompress the example dataset containing labelled photos of flowers (daisies, dandelions, roses, sunflowers and tulips):

    wget -O - | tar -xz
  3. Copy the following code in a job submission script named

    #!/bin/bash -e
    #SBATCH --job-name=flowers-example
    #SBATCH --gpus-per-node=1
    #SBATCH --cpus-per-task=2
    #SBATCH --time 00:10:00
    #SBATCH --mem 4G
    # load TensorFlow module and activate the virtual environment
    module purge
    module load TensorFlow/2.4.1-gimkl-2020a-Python-3.8.2
    source tf_hub_venv/bin/activate
    # select a model to train, here MobileNetV2
    # run the training script
    make_image_classifier \
      --image_dir flower_photos \
      --tfhub_module "$MODEL_URL" \
      --image_size 224 \
      --saved_model_dir "model-${SLURM_JOBID}"
  4. Submit the job:


Once the job has finished, the trained model will be saved in a results-JOBID folder, where JOBID is the Slurm job ID number.

All messages printed by TensorFlow during the training, including training and validation accuracies, are captured in the Slurm output file, named slurm-JOBID.out by default.


While your job is running, you can monitor the progress of model training using tail -f on the Slurm output file:

tail -f slurm-JOBID.out  # replace JOBID with an actual number
Press CTRL+C to get the bash prompt back.