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Escaping Saddle Points in Heterogeneous Federated Learning via Distributed SGD with Communication Compression

Sijin Chen · Zhize Li · Yuejie Chi

MR1 & MR2 - Number 183
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Fri 3 May 8 a.m. PDT — 8:30 a.m. PDT


We consider the problem of finding second-order stationary points in the optimization of heterogeneous federated learning (FL). Previous works in FL mostly focus on first-order convergence guarantees, which do not rule out the scenario of unstable saddle points. Meanwhile, it is a key bottleneck of FL to achieve communication efficiency without compensating the learning accuracy, especially when local data are highly heterogeneous across different clients. Given this, we propose a novel algorithm PowerEF-SGD that only communicates compressed information via a novel error-feedback scheme. To our knowledge, PowerEF-SGD is the first distributed and compressed SGD algorithm that provably escapes saddle points in heterogeneous FL without any data homogeneity assumptions. In particular, PowerEF-SGD improves to second-order stationary points after visiting first-order (possibly saddle) points, using additional gradient queries and communication rounds only of almost the same order required by first-order convergence, and the convergence rate shows a linear-speedup pattern in terms of the number of workers. Our theory improves/recovers previous results, while extending to much more tolerant settings on the local data. Numerical experiments are provided to complement the theory.

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