HPCC Cluster Overview

The HPCC Cluster (formerly called biocluster) is a shared research computing system available at UCR. The HPCC website is available here.

What Is a Computer Cluster?

  • A computer cluster is an assembly of CPU units, so called computer nodes that work together to perform many computations in parallel. To achieve this, an internal network (e.g. Infiniband interconnect) connects the nodes to a larger unit, while a head node controls the load and traffic across the entire system.

  • Usually, users log into the head node to submit their computer requests via srun to a queuing system provided by resource management and scheduling software, such as SGE, Slurm or TORQUE/MAUI. The queuing system distributes the processes to the computer nodes in a controlled fashion.

  • Because the head node controls the entire system, users should never run computing jobs on the head node directly!

  • For code testing purposes, one can log into one of the nodes with srun --pty bash -l and run jobs interactively. Alternatively, one can log into the test node owl via ssh.

Hardware Infrastructure

Computer nodes

  • Over 4,500 CPU cores
  • 48 AMD computer nodes, each with 64 CPU cores and 512GB RAM
  • 40 Intel computer nodes, each with 32 CPU cores and 512GB RAM
  • 6 high-memory nodes, each 32 CPU cores and 1024GB RAM
  • 12 GPU nodes, each with 5,000 cuda cores


  • FDR IB @56Gbs


  • Parallel GPFS storage system with 2.1 PB usable space
  • Backup of same architecture and similar amount

User traffic

  • Computing tasks need to be submitted via srun
  • HPCC Cluster headnode only for login, not for computing tasks!
  • Monitor cluster activity: squeue or jobMonitor (qstatMonitor)


Linux Basics

Log into HPCC Cluster

  • Login command on OS X or Linux
ssh -XY user@biocluster.ucr.edu

Type password

  • Windows: provide same information in a terminal application like Putty or MobaXterm.

    • Host name: biocluster.ucr.edu
    • User name: …
    • Password: …

Important Linux Commands

Finding help

man <program_name>

List content of current directory


Print current working directory


Search in files and directories


Word count


Create directory


Delete files and directories


Move and rename files


Copy files from internet to pwd


Viewing files


File Exchange

GUI applications

SCP command-line tool

scp file user@remotehost:/home/user/ # From local to remote 
scp user@remotehost:/home/user/file . # From remote to local 

STD IN/OUT/ERR, Redirect & Wildcards

Wildcard * to specify many files


Redirect ls output to file

ls > file                     

Specify file as input to command

command < myfile              

Append output of command to file

command >> myfile             

Pipe STDOUT of one command to another command

command1 | command2     

Turn off progress info

command > /dev/null 

Pipe output of grep to wc

grep pattern file | wc        

Print STDERR to file

grep pattern nonexistingfile 2 > mystderr 

Homework Assignment (HW2)

See HW2 page here.

Permissions and ownership

List directories and files

ls -al 

The previous command shows something like this for each file/dir: drwxrwxrwx. The meaning of this syntax is as follows:

  • d: directory
  • rwx: read, write and execute permissions, respectively
    • first triplet: user permissions (u)
    • second triplet: group permissions (g)
    • third triplet: world permissions (o)

Example for assigning write and execute permissions to user, group and world

chmod ugo+rx my_file
  • + causes the permissions selected to be added
  • - causes them to be removed
  • = causes them to be the only permissions that the file has.

Syntax for changing user & group ownership

chown <user>:<group> <file or dir> 

Symbolic links are short nicknames to files and directories that save typing of their full paths.

ln -s original_filename new_nickname

Software and module system

  • Over 750 software tools are currently installed on HPCC Cluster
  • Most common research databases used in bioinformatics are available
  • Support of most common programming languages used in research computing
  • A module system is used to facilitate the management of software tools. This includes any number of versions of each software.
  • New software install requests can be sent to support@biocluster.ucr.edu.
  • To use software manged under the module system, users need to learn using some basic commands. The most common commands are listed below.

Print available modules

module avail

Print available modules starting with R

module avail R

Load default module R

module load R

Load specific module R version

module load R/3.2.2

List loaded modules

module list

Unload module R

module unload R

Unload specific module R

module unload R/3.2.3-dev

Big data storage

Each user account on HPCC Cluster comes only with 20GB of disk space. Much more disk space is available in a dedicated bigdata directory. How much space depends on the subscription of each user group. The path of bigdata and bigdata-shared is as follows:

  • /bigdata/labname/username
  • /bigdata/labname/shared

All lab members share the same bigdata pool. The course number gen242 is used as labname for user accounts adminstered under GEN242.

The disk usage of home and bigdata can be monitored on the HPCC Cluster Dashboard.

Queuing system: Slurm

HPCC Cluster uses Slurm as queuing and load balancing system. To control user traffic, any type of compute intensive jobs need to be submitted via the sbatch or srun (see below) to the computer nodes. Much more detailed information on this topic can be found on these sites:

Job submission with sbatch

Print information about queues/partitions available on a cluster.


Compute jobs are submitted sbatch via a submission script (here script_name.sh).

sbatch script_name.sh

The following sample submission script (script_name.sh) executes an R script named my_script.R.

#!/bin/bash -l

#SBATCH --nodes=1
#SBATCH --ntasks=1
#SBATCH --cpus-per-task=1
#SBATCH --mem-per-cpu=1G
#SBATCH --time=1-00:15:00 # 1 day and 15 minutes
#SBATCH --mail-user=useremail@address.com
#SBATCH --mail-type=ALL
#SBATCH --job-name="some_test"
#SBATCH -p batch # Choose queue/parition from: intel, batch, highmem, gpu, short

Rscript my_script.R

Interactive session: logs user into node

srun --pty bash -l

Interactive session with specific resource requests

srun --x11 --partition=short --mem=2gb --cpus-per-task 4 --ntasks 1 --time 1:00:00 --pty bash -l

STDOUT and STDERROR of jobs will be written to files named slurm-<jobid>.out or to custom a file specified under #SBATCH --output in the submission script.

Monitoring jobs with squeue

List all jobs in queue


List jobs of a specific user

squeue -u <user>

Print more detailed information about a job

scontrol show job <JOBID>

Custom command to summarize and visualize cluster activity


Deleting and altering jobs

Delete a single job

scancel -i <JOBID>

Delete all jobs of a user

scancel -u <username> 

Delete all jobs of a certain name

scancel --name <myJobName>

Altering jobs with scontrol update. The below example changes the walltime (<NEW_TIME>) of a specific job (<JOBID>).

scontrol update jobid=<JOBID> TimeLimit=<NEW_TIME>

Resource limits

Resourse limits for users can be viewed as follows.

sacctmgr show account $GROUP format=Account,User,Partition,GrpCPUs,GrpMem,GrpNodes --ass | grep $USER

Similarly, one can view the limits of the group a user belongs to.

sacctmgr show account $GROUP format=Account,User,Partition,GrpCPUs,GrpMem,GrpNodes,GrpTRES%30 --ass | head -3

Text/code editors

The following list includes examples of several widely used code editors.

  • Vi/Vim/Neovim: Non-graphical (terminal-based) editor. Vi is guaranteed to be available on any system. Vim is the improved version of vi.
  • Emacs: Non-graphical or window-based editor. You still need to know keystroke commands to use it. Installed on all Linux distributions and on most other Unix systems.
  • Pico: Simple terminal-based editor available on most versions of Unix. Uses keystroke commands, but they are listed in logical fashion at bottom of screen.
  • Nano: A simple terminal-based editor which is default on modern Debian systems.
  • Atom: Modern text editor developed by GitHub project.

Why does it matter?

To work efficiently on remote systems like a computer cluster, it is essential to learn how to work in a pure command-line interface. GUI environments like RStudio and similar coding environments are not suitable for this. In addition, there is a lot of value of knowing how to work in an environment that is not restricted to a specific programming language. Therefore, this class embraces RStudio where it is useful, but for working on remote systems like HPCC Cluster, it uses Vim and Tmux. Both are useful for many programming languages. Combinded with the vim-r plugin they also provide a powerful command-line working environment for R. The following provides a brief introduction to this environment.

Vim overview

The following opens a file (here myfile) with vim

vim myfile.txt

Once you are in Vim the most important commands are:

  • i: The i key brings you into the insert mode for typing.
  • Esc: The Esc key brings you out of the insert mode.
  • :: The : key starts the command mode at the bottom of the screen.

Use the arrow keys to move your cursor in the text. Using Fn Up/Down key allows to page through the text quicker. In the following command overview, all commands starting with : need to be typed in the command mode. All other commands are typed in the normal mode after pushing the Esc key.

Important modifier keys to control vim

  • :w: save changes to file. If you are in editing mode you have to hit Esc first.
  • :q: quit file that has not been changed
  • :wq: save and quit file
  • :!q: quit file without saving any changes

Useful resources for learning vim

Vim-R-Tmux essentials

Terminal-based Working Environment for R: Vim-R-Tmux

Vim-R-Tmux IDE for R


Tmux is a terminal multiplexer that allows to split terminal windows and to detach/reattach to existing terminal sessions. Combinded with the vim-r plugin it provides a powerful command-line working environment for R where users can send code from a script to the R console or command-line. Both tmux and the vim-r plugin need to be installed on a system. On HPCC Cluster both are configured in each user account. A detailed user manual is available here. The following gives a short introduction into the basic usage:

1. Start tmux session

tmux # starts a new tmux session 
tmux a #  attaches to an existing session 

2. Open R script in vim

This can be any of these file types: *.R, *.Rnw or *.Rmd.

vim myscript.R

3. Open vim-connected R session by pressing the F2 key

This will open an R session in a separate tmux pane. Note, in the provided .tmux.conf file the command key binding has been reassigned from the tmux default Ctrl-b to Ctrl-a, and the shortcut for starting R from vim has been reassigned from \rf to F2 in the .vimrc file. The command key binding Ctrl-a is the most important key sequence in order to move around in tmux. For instance, the key sequence Ctrl-a o will switch between the vim and R panes, and Ctrl-a Ctrl-o will swap the two panes.

4. Send R code vim to the R pane

Single lines of code can be sent from vim to the R console by pressing the space bar. To send several lines at once, one can select them in vim’s visual mode and then hit the space bar. Please note, the default command for sending code lines in the vim-r-plugin is \l. This key binding has been remapped in the provided .vimrc file to the space bar. Most other key bindings (shortcuts) still start with the \ as LocalLeader, e.g. \rh opens the help for a function/object where the curser is located in vim. More details on this are given below.

Important keybindings for vim

  • <F2>: opens vim-connected R session; remapped in .vimrc from default \rf
  • <spacebar>: sends code from vim to R; here remapped in .vimrc from default \l
  • :split or :vsplit: splits viewport (similar to pane split in tmux)
  • Ctrl-w-w: jumps cursor to next viewport
  • Ctrl-w-r: swaps viewports
  • Ctrl-s and Ctrl-x: freezes/unfreezes vim (some systems)

Important keybindings for tmux

Pane-level commands

  • Ctrl-a %: splits pane vertically
  • Ctrl-a ": splits pane horizontally
  • Ctrl-a o: jumps cursor to next pane
  • Ctrl-a Ctrl-o: swaps panes
  • Ctrl-a <space bar>: rotates pane arrangement

Window-level comands

  • Ctrl-a n: switches to next tmux window
  • Ctrl-a Ctrl-a: switches to previous tmux window
  • Ctrl-a c: creates a new tmux window
  • Ctrl-a 1: switches to specific tmux window selected by number

Session-level comands

  • Ctrl-a d: detaches from current session
  • Ctrl-a s: switch between available tmux sesssions
  • $ tmux new -s <name>: starts new session with a specific name
  • $ tmux ls: lists available tmux session(s)
  • $ tmux attach -t <id>: attaches to specific tmux session
  • $ tmux attach: reattaches to session
  • $ tmux kill-session -t <id>: kills a specific tmux session
  • Ctrl-a : kill-session: kills a session from tmux command mode that can be initiated with Ctrl-a :


The new Nvim-R plugin also supports the latest extension of Vim called Neovim. The main advantages of Neovim compared to Vim are its better performance and its built-in terminal emulator facilitating the communication among Neovim and interactive programming environments such as R. Since the Vim and Neovim environments are managed independently, one can run them in parallel on the same system without interfering with each other.

A short manual for Nvim-R-Tmux is available here.