Tensor relational algebra for distributed machine learning system design

Binhang Yuan, Dimitrije Jankov, Jia Zou, Yuxin Tang, Daniel Bourgeois, Chris Jermaine

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


We consider the question: what is the abstraction that should be implemented by the computational engine of a machine learning system? Current machine learning systems typically push whole tensors through a series of compute kernels such as matrix multiplications or activation functions, where each kernel runs on an AI accelerator (ASIC) such as a GPU. This implementation abstraction provides little built-in support for ML systems to scale past a single machine, or for handling large models with matrices or tensors that do not easily fit into the RAM of an ASIC. In this paper, we present an alternative implementation abstraction called the tensor relational algebra (TRA). The TRA is a set-based algebra based on the relational algebra. Expressions in the TRA operate over binary tensor relations, where keys are multi-dimensional arrays and values are tensors. The TRA is easily executed with high efficiency in a parallel or distributed environment, and amenable to automatic optimization. Our empirical study shows that the optimized TRA-based back-end can significantly outperform alternatives for running ML workflows in distributed clusters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1338-1350
Number of pages13
JournalProceedings of the VLDB Endowment
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2021
Event47th International Conference on Very Large Data Bases, VLDB 2021 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Aug 16 2021Aug 20 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Computer Science(all)


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