Working with MATLAB on Discovery

MATLAB is available as a module on Discovery (see Using Module for more information), and it is also an interactive app on Open onDemand (see Introduction to Open OnDemand (OOD) for more information). You can also download MATLAB for use with your personal computer through the Northeastern portal on the MATLAB website. Note that the procedures detailed below are specific to using MATLAB on Discovery and not with using MATLAB on your personal computer.

Installing MATLAB toolboxes

Use the following procedure if you need to install a MATLAB toolbox:

  1. Download the toolbox from its source website.

  2. Connect to Discovery.

  3. Create a directory in your /home directory. We recommend creating a directory called matlab by typing:

    mkdir /home/<username>/matlab  #where <username> is your username
  4. Go to the directory you just created by typing:

    cd /home/<username>/matlab
  5. Unzip the toolbox file by typing:

    unzip <toolboxname>
  6. Load MATLAB by typing:

    module load matlab
  7. Start MATLAB by typing:

  8. Add the toolbox to your PATH by typing:

    addpath('/home/<username>/matlab/<toolbox>') #where <toolbox> is the name of the toolbox you just unzipped
  9. If this is a toolbox you want to use more than once, you should save it to your path by typing:

  10. You can now use the toolbox within MATLAB. When you are done, type quit.

Using MATLAB Parallel Server

The Discovery cluster has MATLAB Parallel Server installed. This section details an example of how you can setup and use the MATLAB Parallel Computing Toolbox. This walkthrough uses MATLAB 2020a launched as an interactive app on the Open onDemand web portal. There are several parts to this walkthrough. We suggest that you read it through completely before starting. The parameters presented represent only one scenario.

This walkthrough will use Open onDemand, the web portal on Discovery, to launch MATLAB. You’ll then create a cluster profile. This allows you to define cluster properties that will be applied to your jobs. Supported functions are batch, parpool, and parcluster. The Parallel Computing Toolbox comes with a cluster profile called local, which you will change in the walkthrough below.


This walkthrough details submitting jobs through Discovery’s Open onDemand web portal. Some parameters will vary if you are using MATLAB from the command line. This walkthrough does not apply to other versions of MATLAB.

Before starting, you should create a folder in your /scratch/<yourusername> directory. This folder is where you’ll save your job data.

  1. Go to your /scratch directory: cd /scratch/<yourusername> where <yourusername> is your NU username
  2. Make a new folder. We suggest calling it matlab-metadata: mkdir matlab-metadata

To start MATLAB and add a Cluster Profile, do the following:

  1. Go to If prompted, sign in with your Discovery username and password.
  2. Click Interactive Apps, and select MATLAB.
  3. Select MATLAB version 2020a, and keep the default time of 1 hour and default memory of 2GB. Click Launch.
  4. If necessary, adjust the Compression and Image Quality, and then click Launch MATLAB.
  5. On the MATLAB Home tab, in the Environment section, select Parallel, then click Create and Manage Clusters. This opens the Cluster Profile Manager window.
  6. On the Cluster Profile Manager window, select Add Cluster Profile, then click Slurm. If prompted, click OK to the notice about needing Parallel Server.
  7. Double click the new profile name in the Cluster Profile column, and type a name such as TestProfile. Press Enter to save the change.
  8. Select Edit in the Manage Profile section. This lets you edit the options on the Properties tab. For this walkthrough, make the following edits:
  1. In the Folder where job data is stored on the client option, type /scratch/<yourusername>/matlab-metadata (this is the directory that you created in the first procedure above).
  2. In the Number of workers available to cluster option, type a number between between 1 and 10. This field is the number of MPI processes you intend to run. This corresponds to the --ntasks Slurm option. The maximum is 128 per job; however, for this task, we recommend keeping it lower and use threading inside the nodes. The number you set here will be the default maximum for the job. You can set it for less than or equal to this number in the MATLAB Command Window when submitting your job.
  3. In the Number of computational threads to use on each worker option, type a number between 1 and 10. This field represents the number of threads that each worker will possess. This corresponds to cpus-per-task in Slurm. Do not exceed the number of available cores on the node.
  1. When you have finished editing your properties, click Done.

10. (Optional) If you want to validate your setup, click the Validation tab (next to the Properties tab). Ensure all of the stages are checked, then click the Validate button at the bottom of the page. This will check the properties of your profile. You might need to wait a minute or two for this to complete.


Do not click the green Validate button. This will attempt validation using the maximum number of workers, which can cause the validation to hang or fail. If you accidentally click the green Validate button, click Stop to end the validation process.

(OPTIONAL) In the Cluster Profile column, right-click on the TestProfile name and select Set as Default. This sets your profile to be the default.

Now that you have set up your profile, you can use the default cluster profile you just created (TestProfile) with the following commands:

#with parpool

#with parcluster
c = parcluster(‘TestProfile’)

Using parcluster example

This section will detail how to submit batch jobs to the cluster to perform scaling calculations for an integer factorization sample problem. It’s a computationally intensive problem, where the complexity of the factorization increases with the magnitude of the number. We’ll use the myParallelAlgorithmFcn.m MATLAB function. This section assumes you have configured a MATLAB Cluster Profile according to the procedure above.

On Discovery, there are benchmarking scripts and examples located in the /shared/centos7/matlab/R2020a/examples/parallel/main folder. To add the path to this folder to the list of available paths, do one of the following:

  • On the MATLAB Home tab, in the Environment section, click Set Path and add the path to the script.
  • Alternatively, provide the full path of the script in the MATLAB command line.

The contents of myParallelAlgorithmFcn is as follows:

function [numWorkers,time] = myParallelAlgorithmFcn ()

complexities =  [2^18 2^20 2^21 2^22];
numWorkers = [1 2 4 6 16 32 64];

time = zeros(numel(numWorkers),numel(complexities));

% To obtain obtain predictable sequences of composite numbers, fix the seed
% of the random number generator.

for c = 1:numel(complexities)

   primeNumbers = primes(complexities(c));
   compositeNumbers =    primeNumbers.*primeNumbers(randperm(numel(primeNumbers)));
   factors = zeros(numel(primeNumbers),2);

   for w = 1:numel(numWorkers)
       parfor (idx = 1:numel(compositeNumbers), numWorkers(w))
          factors(idx,:) = factor(compositeNumbers(idx));
       time(w,c) = toc;

To submit myParallelAlgorithmFcn as a batch job, in the MATLAB Command Window, type:

totalNumberOfWorkers = 65;
cluster = parcluster('TestProfile');
job = batch(cluster,'myParallelAlgorithmFcn',2,'Pool',totalNumberOfWorkers-1,'CurrentFolder','.');

This specifies the totalNumberOfWorkers as 65, where 64 workers will be issued to run parfor in parallel (so the pool is set as 64), and the additional worker will run the main process.

To monitor the job after you submit it, click Parallel, then Monitor Jobs to open the Job Monitor. You can view some job information, such as the state of the job (i.e. running, failed, finished etc.), as well as the ability to fetch outputs if you right-click on the job line.

You can close MATLAB after you submit the job the scheduler. The job monitor tool will keep track of the jobs.

If you want to block MATLAB until the jobs are finished, type Wait(job).

When the jobs complete, you can transfer the outputs of the function using the fetchOutputs command:

outputs = fetchOutputs(job);
numWorkers = outputs{1};
time = outputs{2};

You can plot the performance (speedup) by typing:

speedup = time(1,:)./time;
legend('Problem complexity 1','Problem complexity 2','Problem complexity 3','Problem complexity 4','Location','northwest');
title('Speedup vs complexity');
xlabel('Number of workers');