Specifying job resources

Resources are specified using the -l option. Typically, three resources will be specified:

Additional specifications may be required to accommodate hardware details.


Walltime is specified through the option -l walltime=HH:MM:SS with HH:MM:SS the walltime that you expect to need for the job. (The format DD:HH:MM:SS can also be used when the walltime exceeds 1 day, and MM:SS or simply SS are also viable options for very short jobs).

To specify a run time of 30 hours, 25 minutes and 5 seconds, you’d use the following qsub command:

$ qsub -l walltime=30:25:05 myjob.pbs

Equivalently, you can specify the following PBS directive in your job script:

#PBS -l walltime=30:25:05

If you omit this option, the resource manager use a default value (one hour on most clusters).

Walltime estimation


It is important that you try to estimate the walltime for your job properly.

If your job exceeds the specified walltime, it will be killed, so the walltime should not be underestimated.

On the other hand, the walltime should not be wildly overestimated either since this has several disadvantages.

  • It will make your job harder to schedule, so it will spend more time in the queue.
  • Short jobs may benefit from back fill, i.e., if the scheduler finds a gap (based on the estimated end time of the running jobs) that is long enough to run that job before it has enough resources to start a large higher-priority parallel job (cf. Checking free resources for a short job: showbf).
  • To make sure that the cluster cannot be monopolized by one or a few users, many of our clusters have a stricter limit on the number of long-running jobs than on the number of jobs with a shorter walltime.

The maximum allowed walltime for a job is cluster-dependent. Since these policies can change over time (as do other properties from clusters), we bundle these on one page per cluster in the “VSC hardware” section.

Number of nodes and cores

The following options can be used to specify the number of nodes and cores needed for the job:

-l nodes=<nodenum>:ppn=<cores per node>

This indicates that the job needs <nodenum> nodes with <cores per node> cores per node. Depending on the settings for the particular system, this will be physical cores or hyperthreads on a physical core.


The job script will only run once on the first node of your allocation. To start processes on the other nodes, you’ll need to use tools like pbsdsh or mpirun/mpiexec.

Enforcing the node specification


Specifying -l nodes=<nodenum>:ppn=<cores per node> does not guarantee you that you actually get <nodenum> physical nodes. You may actually get multiple groups of <cores per node> cores on a single node instead.

For example, -l nodes=4:ppn=5 may result in an allocation of 20 cores on a single node.

If you don’t use all cores of a node in your job, the scheduler

  • may decide to pack the tasks of several nodes in your resource request on a single node;
  • may run other jobs you have in the queue on the same node(s);
  • may, depending on the job policies of the cluster, run jobs of other users on the same node.

In the last scenario, if the cluster has a ‘shared’ policy, the scheduler can fill up nodes efficiently with jobs without users having to use tools such as work or atools (worker/atools are still recommended when running a large number of tasks/jobs). The downside of this, however, is that misbehaving jobs of one user may cause a crash or performance degradation of another user’s job.

To ensure that the scheduler respects your resource specification you can use the following two options:

-W x=nmatchpolicy:exactnode
This will result in the scheduler giving you the exact number of nodes you requested for your job. However, other jobs may still run on the same nodes if not all cores are used.
-l naccesspolicy=singlejob
This will make sure that no other job can use the nodes allocated to your job. When requesting half a node or less on Genius and ThinKing, you will also need to add -l qos=shared to enforce this policy.


In most cases it is very wasteful of resources (and also asocial) to claim a whole node for a job that cannot fully utilize the resources on the node.

However, there are some rare cases when your program actually runs so much faster by leaving some resources unused that it actually improves the performance of the cluster. Again, these cases are very rare, so you shouldn’t use this option unless, e.g., you are running the final benchmarks for a paper and want to exclude as many factors as possible that can influence the results.


The following option specifies the RAM requirements of your job:

-l pmem=<memory>

The job needs <memory> RAM memory per core or hyperthread (the unit used by ppn). The units for the pmem value are kb, mb, gb or tb.


-l nodes=2:ppn=8  -l pmem=10gb

In total, each of the 16 processes can use 10 GB RAM.


On the VUB Hydra cluster, the usage of pmem is discouraged. Instead, users are recommended to specify the total amount of RAM requested for the job with -l mem=<total_memory>.


On the KU Leuven/UHasselt Tier-2 cluster, setting pmem to a value higher than the available memory per core will lead the scheduler to reserve the entire node. This impacts the queueing time and the amount of credits that will be charged. Setting pmem higher than the amount of memory available per core can also be used as an alternative way to ensure no other jobs can use the nodes allocated to your job.


It is important to realize that

  • the values for ppn and pmem depend on one another, and
  • these values depend on the amount of RAM available in the compute nodes.

For instance, on a node with 192 GB of RAM, you should ensure that ppn * pmem < 192 GB - 8 GB. The 8 GB is subtracted to leave the operating system and other services running on the system sufficient memory to function properly.

For example, to run on a node with 36 cores and 192 GB RAM,

  • if a thread requires 10 GB, the maximum number of cores you can request is 18, since 18 * 10 GB = 180 GB < 192 GB - 8 GB, so:

    -l nodes=1:ppn=18  -l pmem=10gb
  • if a thread requires only 5 GB, the maximum number of cores you can request is 36, since 36 * 5 GB = 180 GB < 192 GB - 8 GB, so:

    -l nodes=1:ppn=36  -l pmem=10gb

Check the hardware specification of the cluster/nodes you want to run on for the available memory and core count of the nodes.


Users are strongly advised to use this option. If not specified, the system will use a default value, and that may be too small for your job and cause trouble if the scheduler puts multiple jobs on a single node.

Moreover, the resource manager software can check for the actual use of resources, so when this is enabled, they may just terminate your job if it uses more memory than requested.

Virtual memory

A second option is to specify virtual memory:

-l pvmem=<memory>

The job needs <memory> virtual memory per core or hyperthread (the unit used by ppn). This determines the total amount of RAM memory + swap space that can be used on any node.


On many clusters, there is not much swap space available. Moreover, swapping should be avoided as it causes a dramatic performance loss. Hence this option is not very useful in most cases.

Specifying further node properties

Several clusters at the VSC have nodes with different properties, e.g.,

  • a cluster may have nodes of two different CPU generations and your program may be compiled to take advantage of new instructions on the newer generation and hence not run on the older generation;
  • some nodes may have more physical memory or a larger hard disk and support more virtual memory;
  • not all nodes may be connected to the same high speed interconnect (which is mostly an issue on the older clusters).

You can then specify which node type you want by adding further properties to the -l nodes= specification.

For example, assume a cluster with both ivybridge and haswell generation nodes. The haswell CPU supports new and useful floating point instructions, but programs that use these will not run on the older ivybridge nodes.

The cluster will then specify the property ivybridge for the ivybridge nodes and haswell for the haswell nodes. To tell the scheduler that you want to use the haswell nodes, specify:

-l nodes=8:ppn=6:haswell

Since haswell nodes often have 24 cores, you will likely get 2 physical nodes.

The exact list of properties depends on the cluster and is given in the page for your cluster in the hardware specification pages.


Even for a given cluster, this list may evolve over time, e.g., when new nodes are added to the cluster, so check these pages again from time to time!

Combining resource specifications

It is possible to combine multiple -l options in a single one by separating the arguments with a colon (,). E.g., the block:

#PBS -l walltime=2:30:00
#PBS -l nodes=2:ppn=16:sandybridge
#PBS -l pmem=2gb

is equivalent with the line:

#PBS -l walltime=2:30:00,nodes=2:ppn=16:sandybridge,pmem=2gb

The same holds when using -l on the command line for qsub.

Requesting GPUs

It is possible to request one or more GPGPUs for your job on some of the VSC clusters that provide them. For cluster-specific usage instructions, please consult the respective documentation sources: