Training Recipe for N:M Structured Sparsity with Decaying Pruning Mask

Sheng-Chun Kao, Amir Yazdanbakhsh, Suvinay Subramanian, Shivani Agrawal, Utku Evci, Tushar Krishna

Sparsity has become one of the promising methods to compress and accelerate Deep Neural Networks (DNNs). Among different categories of sparsity, structured sparsity has gained more attention due to its efficient execution on modern accelerators. Particularly, N:M sparsity is attractive because there are already hardware accelerator architectures that can leverage certain forms of N:M structured sparsity to yield higher compute-efficiency. In this work, we focus on N:M sparsity and extensively study and evaluate various training recipes for N:M sparsity in terms of the trade-off between model accuracy and compute cost (FLOPs). Building upon this study, we propose two new decay-based pruning methods, namely "pruning mask decay" and "sparse structure decay". Our evaluations indicate that these proposed methods consistently deliver state-of-the-art (SOTA) model accuracy, comparable to unstructured sparsity, on a Transformer-based model for a translation task. The increase in the accuracy of the sparse model using the new training recipes comes at the cost of marginal increase in the total training compute (FLOPs).

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