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Large language models (Part 1): Hardware and software aspects
Blog //15-05-2024

Large language models (Part 1): Hardware and software aspects

by OneAdvanced PR, Author

In a time when our digital presence is constantly growing and becoming more complex, there is an urgent requirement for language models capable of understanding, analysing, and producing human-like text. Large Language Models (LLMs) are ground-breaking software in this case, optimising various processes like content creation and customer services. Even though the software aspect of these innovations is important, they would just be lines of code without the proper hardware and cloud infrastructure to back them up.

This detailed blog post explores the hardware and software components of LLMs, the hardware obstacles involved in training such models, and how cloud technology can help in overcoming these obstacles to maximise the capabilities of LLMs.

What is a Large language model?

A Large Language Model (LLM) is type of artificial intelligence created to comprehend, analyse, and produce texts like human language. Using extensive textual data, LLMs are trained through machine learning algorithms to anticipate the following word in a sentence and produce connected and contextually appropriate text.

Yet, their abilities extend far beyond the basic text creation. LLMs have the power to understand delicacies, intricate questions, and even imitate conversational behaviour, proving to be highly useful for a variety of applications such as chatbots, generating content, and providing language translation services.

The backbone of LLMs lies in their structure, specifically build on Transformer models – a process that has significantly advanced the field of Natural Language Processing (NLP). This design allows LLMs to analyse words in connection with every other word within a sentence, rather than individually in a sequence, thereby capturing the context more effectively.

Software: The brain behind large language models

Large language models use sophisticated software components to understand and generate human language accurately. These software architecture is specifically created to handle large datasets, complex computations, and training models. Here is the list of the main software parts that contribute to the operation and effectiveness of LLMs.

Machine learning (ML)

Machine learning algorithms are essential for training LLMs how to interpret and produce text that resembles human language. These algorithms, specifically those based on deep learning, gather extensive collections of text data to uncover hidden language patterns that cannot be perceived by humans. This procedure includes repeated training sessions, during which the model is consistently improved and modified according to feedback, allowing it to generate more precise and contextually appropriate answers as time goes on.

Transformer model

As said above, the transformer model is the backbone of LLMs architecture. Unlike traditional models that process words in sequence, the transformer model analyses words based on their relationship to all other words in a sentence, allowing for more effective capture of context. This results in increased effectiveness and precision in comprehending and producing text that resembles human language. Moreover, the transformer model includes a mechanism known as self-attention that improves the ability of models to correlate various words in a sentence. Furthermore, it helps them to produce responses that are relevant to the situation and logical.

Natural Language Processing (NLP)

Another important aspect is the set of NLP techniques that LLMs use. NLP is a branch of AI that concentrates on how computers and humans communicate using natural language. It covers a wide range of tasks, including syntax and semantics analysis, sentiment analysis, and entity recognition. Through the utilisation of these methods, LLMs can comprehend the significance of words in different scenarios, recognise the sentiment of a text, and precisely pinpoint individuals, groups, and places mentioned in it.

Neural networks

Neural networks are a machine learning algorithm inspired by the structure of the human brain. LLMs employ neural networks to process extensive data, detect patterns and connections, and generate predictions using the insights gained. These networks are made up of layers of interconnected nodes that collaborate to process information, where each layer focuses on a particular task.

LLMs employ neural networks to read and interpret text, allowing the model to produce cohesive responses. Relying on deep learning algorithms, these networks have the ability to gain knowledge from massive datasets and enhance their performance over time.

Datasets

Datasets are the collection of text that may vary in size from millions to billions of words or sentences and are gathered from different sources including books, articles, blogs, social media posts, and online forums. Datasets are employed to train LLMs and help them to understand linguistic patterns, contexts, and nuances. The performance and ability of an LLM to produce text resembling human-like quality is influenced by the quality and variety of the data it is trained on.

Hardware: The brawn behind large language models

Although the focus is usually on the software side of large language models, the hardware that supports these powerful models is equally important for their success. The hardware configuration includes more than just High-Performance Computing (HPC) systems. It also has unique processors such as CPUs, GPUs, and TPUs, as well as memory structures designed to oversee the intensive workloads linked with training and running LLMs.

Traditionally, CPUs (Central Processing Units) were the primary component of computer hardware. However, as the need for advanced language models grew, conventional CPUs were no longer sufficient, prompting a transition to specialised hardware like Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) and Tensor Processing Units (TPUs).

Graphics Processing Units, due to their ability to process tasks simultaneously, are now commonly used for training neural networks. By conducting numerous calculations at the same time, they can greatly decrease the processing time needed for the large volumes of data that LLMs use.

Tensor Processing Units, on the other hand, created specifically for executing machine learning tasks. Their ability to provide increased efficiency and speed while working with neural networks makes them a transformative technology for training LLMs. Google's TPU serves as an excellent example. Customised for use in machine learning tasks, it provides a significant boost in effectiveness and speed when training LLMs. By performing millions of operations every second, this hardware could significantly speed up the training process for intricate models.

In addition to processing power, memory is also an essential hardware component. Fast memory systems with high data transfer rates and minimal delay are essential for ensuring that processors receive information quickly and can keep up with their processing power. This guarantees that the hardware operates at its best performance, which is crucial for developing models that understand and produce text resembling human-like using vast amounts of data.

Overall, the hardware component of LLMs is equally important as their software equivalents. The delicate equilibrium between computational capability and memory designs optimised for handling intricate tasks enables these models to effectively tackle large workloads and provide precise outcomes within a reasonable timeframe. However, great advancements are often accompanied by substantial hurdles.

Hardware challenges in training large language models

Training Large Language Models (LLMs) poses significant hardware obstacles that can impact their effectiveness and the feasibility of their implementation. The main difficulties arise from the large size and complex training methods of LLMs. Understanding these obstacles is essential for creating plans to lessen their effects.

  1. Computational resource requirements: The main difficulty when training LLMs is the high level of computational power they require. LLMs require High-Performance Computing (HPC) systems equipped with GPUs or TPUs for efficient parallel processing, given their billions of parameters. Nonetheless, many organisations may find it financially impractical to access these resources, creating a challenge for those wanting to develop or instruct their own models.
  2. Energy usage: The amount of energy used for training LLMs is astonishing. The computing hardware must run continuously for weeks or even months, consuming 1,287,000 kilowatt-hours of energy – a significant amount of power during the process. This doesn't just affect expenses, but also brings up environmental worries about the 552 tonnes carbon emissions linked to the advancement of AI technologies.
  3. Memory bandwidth and latency: LLMs require fast access to large amounts of data during training, putting significant stress on memory systems due to memory bandwidth and latency. Having memory with high bandwidth and low latency is crucial to avoid bottlenecks that may hinder the training process. However, enhancing or enlarging memory systems to fulfil these requirements frequently turns out to be an expensive effort.
  4. Scalability: With the increasing size and complexity of LLMs, the hardware used for their training must also expand. Yet, improving computational power, memory capacity, and cooling systems in order to match the progress of LLM advancements poses perpetual challenge. Scalability problems can impede advancement and creativity in the field of AI.
  5. Accessibility: Not everyone has access to the specialised hardware required for LLM training. Smaller and mid-sized companies without the financial backing of big corporations or the ability to use advanced cloud computing services may face challenges that could hinder innovation in the AI research field.

Cloud: The key to unlocking the complete potential of LLMs

The importance of cloud computing for training and deploying large language models is more significant now than ever before. By providing flexible, high-speed computing resources without requiring a significant initial investment in physical infrastructure, this technology addresses numerous hardware obstacles mentioned earlier.

Cloud platforms come with advanced GPUs and TPUs, along with optimised memory setups crucial for data-heavy tasks in LLM training. This allows access to technology and facilitates innovation at a faster pace than physical limitations would allow.

Moreover, cloud computing helps to tackle the issues regarding energy usage and environmental consequences. For instance, top cloud service providers like Google and AWS are heavily investing in renewable energy sources and enhancing energy efficiency in their data centers, which helps to compensate for the carbon footprint of LLM training.

Additionally, the inherent ability to scale cloud services allows for resources to be allocated and modified based on project requirements, ensuring optimal utilisation of computational power. Because of this flexibility and efficiency, cloud computing is a crucial partner for the development of AI and LLM technologies.

Embrace technological advancements and foster creativity!

LLMs are revolutionising AI and allowing companies to use language comprehension in ways previously unimaginable. Their potential knows no bounds in diverse applications, spanning from chatbots to automated text generation and beyond. With this being said, the potential for AI advancements is promising, and hence now is the time for companies to fully embrace these technologies and seize the opportunity they provide!

For gaining more insights on this topic, check out the upcoming post in this blog series titled "Large language models (Part 2): Understanding the mechanism", which delves into the significance of LLMs in the corporate world, explains their workings, and presents some interesting applications.

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