Uploading Data from St. Jude HPC to DNAnexus

This guide describes how to upload data from St. Jude's research computing cluster to DNAnexus. It covers logging in to the HPC, creating an interactive session, loading the DNAnexus upload agent, and uploading files to DNAnexus.

The research cluster is restricted to St. Jude employees, as it is only accessible on St. Jude's intranet. If you are reading this page and work at another institution, please work with your HPC staff on translating the steps to your architecture.

Logging in to the HPC

The SSH (Secure Shell) protocol is used to log in to hpc, the hostname of the entry point into St. Jude's research cluster. SSH provides a secure method to log in to a remote computer.

Regardless of platform, logging in requires a St. Jude username and will prompt you for your password. They are the same username and password used to log in to all St. Jude services.


Windows does not have an SSH client preinstalled. As of Windows 10 1809, OpenSSH is included as a feature that can be installed.

  • Open the Settings app (search "Settings" in the Start menu).
  • Under Apps > Apps & features > Apps & features, click on Optional features.
  • Under the OpenSSH Client entry, click Install.

Open PowerShell and run

ssh <username>@hpc

Alternatively (or on older versions of Windows), install and use the terminal emulator PuTTY.


macOS includes OpenSSH by default. Open Terminal and run

$ ssh <username>@hpc


Most Linux distributions have OpenSSH installed by default. Open a terminal and run

$ ssh <username>@hpc

Creating an interactive session

When logging in to hpc, you are placed on a head node, a controlled gateway configured to allow external access to the cluster. This node is not meant for computation, which should be done on a cluster node instead.

To move to a cluster node, start an interactive session. The cluster's workload is managed by IBM Spectrum LSF, and even though LSF commands can be used to create an interactive session, the High-Performance Computer Facility (HPCF) provides a convenience script named hpcf_interactive for a simpler invocation.

$ hpcf_interactive

This moves you from the head node to a node in the research cluster, and tasks that require CPU time, memory, high bandwidth network access, etc., can be executed.

When an interactive session starts, the prompt will look similar to the following:

Job <99871669> is submitted to queue <interactive>.
<<Waiting for dispatch ...>>
<<Starting on nodecn013>>
[username@nodecn013 ~]$

DNAnexus Upload Agent

DNAnexus provides multiple methods to upload files to their platform. In this section, Upload Agent (UA) is used. It is simple to use and supports resuming interrupted transfers.


You can load the DNAnexus upload agent command line tool, ua, by loading the dx-ua module.

module load dx-ua/1.5.30

Next, you'll need to configure the ua command line tool with access to your St. Jude Cloud account. Rather than exposing your username and password, best practice is to generate an authentication token that lives for a short period of time instead. You can do so by following this guide on how to generate a DNAnexus authentication token.

Replace <auth-token> with your own token in the example below.

$ export DX_SECURITY_CONTEXT='{"auth_token_type": "bearer", "auth_token": "<auth-token>"}'

This must be set once for ever new interactive session started.

Uploading files

Basic usage

With DNAnexus Upload Agent loaded, files can be uploaded by running ua. To get acquainted with the command, you can view the help message for ua.

ua --help

The simplest usage of ua is providing the DNAnexus project to upload to and a source file.

$ ua --do-not-compress --project <project-name-or-id> <src>

For example, with a DNAnexus project named flagstat and a file named sample.1.bam, the command would be

$ ua --do-not-compress --project flagstat sample.1.bam

Why is --do-not-compress always set?

Upload Agent uses an unfortunate default where uncompressed files are automatically gzipped. For example, uploading the text file samplesheet.txt results in the file samplesheet.txt.gz on DNAnexus. This is confusing and unexpected, and file management is more straightforward with the option disabled.

Batched jobs

When working in an interactive session, if the session is closed (e.g., a network disconnection or you quit the terminal), all running commands are killed. To avoid this from happening, a job is submitted in its place, which continues to run even after the session is closed.

To submit a job, use the LSF command bsub, where -P is an arbitrary project name for the job submission. When uploading a large batch of files, HPCF requests the /stjudecloud/uploads job group be used to rate limit upload jobs. This can be done using the -g option when submitting a job.

$ bsub \
    -P dx-upload \
    -g /stjudecloud/uploads \
    -R "rusage[mem=2882]" \
    ua \
    --do-not-compress \
    --project <project-name-or-id> \

Where does the 2882 MiB resource requirement come from?

There is a note in the source code of Upload Agent that gives an estimate of how much memory is used for a transfer:

<read-threads> + 2 * (<compress-threads> + <upload-threads>) * <chunk-size>

Thus, using the default values (see ua --help) and adding 20% as a buffer:

(2 + 2 * (8 + 8) * 75 MiB) * 1.2 = ~2882 MiB

Further examples

The following examples are common usages of Upload Agent. If you use any of these options, please be sure submit them to the HPC job group as shown in batched jobs to ensure the number of uploads is throttled.

Upload multiple files

ua takes multiple source arguments.

$ ua --do-not-compress --project <project-name-or-id> <src...>

For example, for two files sample.1.bam and sample.1.bam.bai, the command is

$ ua --do-not-compress --project flagstat sample.1.bam sample.1.bam.bai

Upload a folder in DNAnexus

By default, all files uploaded via ua get placed at the root of the project, i.e., /. To upload to a particular directory, use the --folder option.

$ ua --do-not-compress --project <project-name-or-id> --folder /data sample.1.bam

The resulting uploaded file will be located at /data/sample.1.bam.

The directory does not have a previously exist in the DNAnexus project and will be created automatically, along with its parents (similar to mkdir -p).

Upload a local directory

When uploading a directory, ua will only use the files at the top level (similar to find data -type f -maxdepth 1). For example, take the following directory structure and ua command.

$ tree data
├── extra
│   ├── sample.2.bam
│   └── sample.2.bam.bai
├── sample.1.bam
└── sample.1.bam.bai

1 directory, 4 files

$ ua --do-not-compress --project <project-name-or-id> data

The resulting files will be /sample.1.bam and /sample.1.bam.bai. Use the --folder option and name it the same as the local source directory to include the directory on DNAnexus.

$ ua --do-not-compress --project <project-name-or-id> --folder /data data

The resulting files will be /data/sample.1.bam and /data/sample1.bam.bai.

To include the subdirectories, use the --recursive option.

$ ua --do-not-compress --project <project-name-or-id> --folder /data --recursive data

Thus, using both --folder and --recursive uploads an entire directory: /data/sample.1.bam, /data/sample.1.bam.bai, /data/extras/sample.2.bam, and /data/extras/sample.2.bam.bai.