Design for Custom Data Source Support

This document describes the design for supporting custom data source in ElasticDL.

RecordIO is a file format that supports dynamic sharding for performing fault-tolerant distributed computing or elastic scheduling of distributed computing jobs. It is currently the only supported data format for ElasticDL.

However, there may be a lot of I/O overhead to convert from existing data sources to RecordIO format and requires additional storage for the converted RecordIO files. In addition, saving the converted RecordIO files to disk will also lead to potential security problems since the file access must be controlled properly if the Kubernetes cluster is shared across different teams and business units. Some distributed file system implementations may not support access control yet. There may also be situations where not all the files saved to disk have been deleted successfully after tasks are finished when the server has been stuck, which leads to un-managed files taken up a huge portion of the disk space.

For example, in order to fetch data from ODPS, we would first need to read the data from ODPS table and then convert it to RecordIO format, which could waste a lot of time. Instead, we could expose necessary pieces in ElasticDL to users so that they can implement their own data reading logic to avoid having to write RecordIO files to disk. This way ElasticDL can perform tasks while reading data into memory asynchronously.

Support Custom Data Source in ElasticDL

There are a couple of places in the the current codebase (as of commit 77cc87a) that are coupled heavily with RecordIO, for example:

  • When we create and dispatch tasks via _make_task_dispatcher(), we rely on scanning directories that contain RecordIO files and reading the index for each file to obtain dictionaries of {file_path: num_records}. We then use this information to create tasks.
  • Worker starts a TaskDataService that generates a instance that contains the actual data. The data is fetched in TaskDataService._gen() by opening a RecordIO reader to read the data offsets that each task we previously created.

In order to support custom data sources in ElasticDL, we propose to make the following changes:

  • Rename shard_file_name in Task protobuf definition to shard_name so a task is independent with file names and shard_name will serve as an identifier for the shard.
  • Implement an abstract interface named AbstractDataReader that users can implement in their model definition file. The interface would look like the following:
from abc import ABC, abstractmethod

class AbstractDataReader(ABC):
    def __init__(self, **kwargs):

    def read_records(self, task):
        """This method will be used in `TaskDataService` to read the records based on
        the information provided for a given task into a Python generator/iterator.

            task: The current `Task` object that provides information on where
                to read the data for this task.

    def create_shards(self):
        """This method creates the dictionary of shards where the keys are the
        shard names and the values are tuples of the starting
        index and the number of records in each shard.

Users can then implement a custom data reader implementation similar to the following:

class CustomDataReader(AbstractDataReader):
    def __init__(self, **kwargs):
        self.reader = ...
        self._kwargs = kwargs

    def read_records(self, task):
        while True:
            record =, start=task.start, offset=task.end)
            if record:
                yield record

    def create_shards(self):
        data_dir = self._kwargs["data_dir"]
        if not data_dir:
            return {}
        f_records = {}
        for f in os.listdir(data_dir):
            p = os.path.join(data_dir, f)
            with closing(recordio.Index(p)) as rio:
                f_records[p] = rio.num_records()
        return f_records
  • Implement a RecordIODataReader that can be used to read RecordIO files, serves as the default data reader for ElasticDL, and preserves the current ElasticDL functionality.
  • Implement a ODPSDataReader that implements the abstract methods in AbstractDataReader and reuses the existing ODPSReader we currently have.
  • Keep the existing CLI arguments --training_data, --validation_data, and --prediction_data that will be used for specifying paths to RecordIO files if no custom data reader is specified.
  • Add CLI argument --custom_data_reader_params to pass parameters to the constructor of user-defined CustomDataReader similar to the existing --model_params used for passing parameters to model constructor.