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In practical distributed systems, workers are typically not homogeneous, and due to differences in hardware configurations and network conditions, can have highly varying processing times. We consider smooth nonconvex finite-sum (empirical risk minimization) problems in this setup and introduce a new parallel method, Freya PAGE, designed to handle arbitrarily heterogeneous and asynchronous computations. By being robust to "stragglers" and adaptively ignoring slow computations, Freya PAGE offers significantly improved time complexity guarantees compared to all previous methods, including Asynchronous SGD, Rennala SGD, SPIDER, and PAGE, while requiring weaker assumptions. The algorithm relies on novel generic stochastic gradient collection strategies with theoretical guarantees that can be of interest on their own, and may be used in the design of future optimization methods. Furthermore, we establish a lower bound for smooth nonconvex finite-sum problems in the asynchronous setup, providing a fundamental time complexity limit. This lower bound is tight and demonstrates the optimality of Freya PAGE in the large-scale regime, i.e., when $\sqrt{m} \geq n$, where $n$ is # of workers, and $m$ is # of data samples.

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Effective communication between the server and workers plays a key role in distributed optimization. In this paper, we focus on optimizing the server-to-worker communication, uncovering inefficiencies in prevalent downlink compression approaches. Considering first the pure setup where the uplink communication costs are negligible, we introduce MARINA-P, a novel method for downlink compression, employing a collection of correlated compressors. Theoretical analyses demonstrates that MARINA-P with permutation compressors can achieve a server-to-worker communication complexity improving with the number of workers, thus being provably superior to existing algorithms. We further show that MARINA-P can serve as a starting point for extensions such as methods supporting bidirectional compression. We introduce M3, a method combining MARINA-P with uplink compression and a momentum step, achieving bidirectional compression with provable improvements in total communication complexity as the number of workers increases. Theoretical findings align closely with empirical experiments, underscoring the efficiency of the proposed algorithms.

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We consider nonconvex stochastic optimization problems in the asynchronous centralized distributed setup where the communication times from workers to a server can not be ignored, and the computation and communication times are potentially different for all workers. Using an unbiassed compression technique, we develop a new method-Shadowheart SGD-that provably improves the time complexities of all previous centralized methods. Moreover, we show that the time complexity of Shadowheart SGD is optimal in the family of centralized methods with compressed communication. We also consider the bidirectional setup, where broadcasting from the server to the workers is non-negligible, and develop a corresponding method.

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Due to the high communication overhead when training machine learning models in a distributed environment, modern algorithms invariably rely on lossy communication compression. However, when untreated, the errors caused by compression propagate, and can lead to severely unstable behavior, including exponential divergence. Almost a decade ago, Seide et al [2014] proposed an error feedback (EF) mechanism, which we refer to as EF14, as an immensely effective heuristic for mitigating this issue. However, despite steady algorithmic and theoretical advances in the EF field in the last decade, our understanding is far from complete. In this work we address one of the most pressing issues. In particular, in the canonical nonconvex setting, all known variants of EF rely on very large batch sizes to converge, which can be prohibitive in practice. We propose a surprisingly simple fix which removes this issue both theoretically, and in practice: the application of Polyak's momentum to the latest incarnation of EF due to Richt\'{a}rik et al. [2021] known as EF21. Our algorithm, for which we coin the name EF21-SGDM, improves the communication and sample complexities of previous error feedback algorithms under standard smoothness and bounded variance assumptions, and does not require any further strong assumptions such as bounded gradient dissimilarity. Moreover, we propose a double momentum version of our method that improves the complexities even further. Our proof seems to be novel even when compression is removed from the method, and as such, our proof technique is of independent interest in the study of nonconvex stochastic optimization enriched with Polyak's momentum.

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We revisit the classical problem of finding an approximately stationary point of the average of $n$ smooth and possibly nonconvex functions. The optimal complexity of stochastic first-order methods in terms of the number of gradient evaluations of individual functions is $\mathcal{O}\left(n + n^{1/2}\varepsilon^{-1}\right)$, attained by the optimal SGD methods $\small\sf\color{green}{SPIDER}$(arXiv:1807.01695) and $\small\sf\color{green}{PAGE}$(arXiv:2008.10898), for example, where $\varepsilon$ is the error tolerance. However, i) the big-$\mathcal{O}$ notation hides crucial dependencies on the smoothness constants associated with the functions, and ii) the rates and theory in these methods assume simplistic sampling mechanisms that do not offer any flexibility. In this work we remedy the situation. First, we generalize the $\small\sf\color{green}{PAGE}$ algorithm so that it can provably work with virtually any (unbiased) sampling mechanism. This is particularly useful in federated learning, as it allows us to construct and better understand the impact of various combinations of client and data sampling strategies. Second, our analysis is sharper as we make explicit use of certain novel inequalities that capture the intricate interplay between the smoothness constants and the sampling procedure. Indeed, our analysis is better even for the simple sampling procedure analyzed in the $\small\sf\color{green}{PAGE}$ paper. However, this already improved bound can be further sharpened by a different sampling scheme which we propose. In summary, we provide the most general and most accurate analysis of optimal SGD in the smooth nonconvex regime. Finally, our theoretical findings are supposed with carefully designed experiments.

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We present a new method that includes three key components of distributed optimization and federated learning: variance reduction of stochastic gradients, compressed communication, and partial participation. We prove that the new method has optimal oracle complexity and state-of-the-art communication complexity in the partial participation setting. Moreover, we observe that "1 + 1 + 1 is not 3": by mixing variance reduction of stochastic gradients with compressed communication and partial participation, we do not obtain a fully synergetic effect. We explain the nature of this phenomenon, argue that this is to be expected, and propose possible workarounds.

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We develop and analyze DASHA: a new family of methods for nonconvex distributed optimization problems. When the local functions at the nodes have a finite-sum or an expectation form, our new methods, DASHA-PAGE and DASHA-SYNC-MVR, improve the theoretical oracle and communication complexity of the previous state-of-the-art method MARINA by Gorbunov et al. (2020). In particular, to achieve an epsilon-stationary point, and considering the random sparsifier RandK as an example, our methods compute the optimal number of gradients $\mathcal{O}\left(\frac{\sqrt{m}}{\varepsilon\sqrt{n}}\right)$ and $\mathcal{O}\left(\frac{\sigma}{\varepsilon^{3/2}n}\right)$ in finite-sum and expectation form cases, respectively, while maintaining the SOTA communication complexity $\mathcal{O}\left(\frac{d}{\varepsilon \sqrt{n}}\right)$. Furthermore, unlike MARINA, the new methods DASHA, DASHA-PAGE and DASHA-MVR send compressed vectors only and never synchronize the nodes, which makes them more practical for federated learning. We extend our results to the case when the functions satisfy the Polyak-Lojasiewicz condition. Finally, our theory is corroborated in practice: we see a significant improvement in experiments with nonconvex classification and training of deep learning models.

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We study the MARINA method of Gorbunov et al (2021) -- the current state-of-the-art distributed non-convex optimization method in terms of theoretical communication complexity. Theoretical superiority of this method can be largely attributed to two sources: the use of a carefully engineered biased stochastic gradient estimator, which leads to a reduction in the number of communication rounds, and the reliance on {\em independent} stochastic communication compression operators, which leads to a reduction in the number of transmitted bits within each communication round. In this paper we i) extend the theory of MARINA to support a much wider class of potentially {\em correlated} compressors, extending the reach of the method beyond the classical independent compressors setting, ii) show that a new quantity, for which we coin the name {\em Hessian variance}, allows us to significantly refine the original analysis of MARINA without any additional assumptions, and iii) identify a special class of correlated compressors based on the idea of {\em random permutations}, for which we coin the term Perm$K$, the use of which leads to $O(\sqrt{n})$ (resp. $O(1 + d/\sqrt{n})$) improvement in the theoretical communication complexity of MARINA in the low Hessian variance regime when $d\geq n$ (resp. $d \leq n$), where $n$ is the number of workers and $d$ is the number of parameters describing the model we are learning. We corroborate our theoretical results with carefully engineered synthetic experiments with minimizing the average of nonconvex quadratics, and on autoencoder training with the MNIST dataset.

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