Z-checker: A framework for assessing lossy compression of scientific data

Dingwen Tao, Sheng Di, Hanqi Guo, Zizhong Chen, Franck Cappello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Because of the vast volume of data being produced by today’s scientific simulations and experiments, lossy data compressor allowing user-controlled loss of accuracy during the compression is a relevant solution for significantly reducing the data size. However, lossy compressor developers and users are missing a tool to explore the features of scientific data sets and understand the data alteration after compression in a systematic and reliable way. To address this gap, we have designed and implemented a generic framework called Z-checker. On the one hand, Z-checker combines a battery of data analysis components for data compression. On the other hand, Z-checker is implemented as an open-source community tool to which users and developers can contribute and add new analysis components based on their additional analysis demands. In this article, we present a survey of existing lossy compressors. Then, we describe the design framework of Z-checker, in which we integrated evaluation metrics proposed in prior work as well as other analysis tools. Specifically, for lossy compressor developers, Z-checker can be used to characterize critical properties (such as entropy, distribution, power spectrum, principal component analysis, and autocorrelation) of any data set to improve compression strategies. For lossy compression users, Z-checker can detect the compression quality (compression ratio and bit rate) and provide various global distortion analysis comparing the original data with the decompressed data (peak signal-to-noise ratio, normalized mean squared error, rate–distortion, rate-compression error, spectral, distribution, and derivatives) and statistical analysis of the compression error (maximum, minimum, and average error; autocorrelation; and distribution of errors). Z-checker can perform the analysis with either coarse granularity (throughout the whole data set) or fine granularity (by user-defined blocks), such that the users and developers can select the best fit, adaptive compressors for different parts of the data set. Z-checker features a visualization interface displaying all analysis results in addition to some basic views of the data sets such as time series. To the best of our knowledge, Z-checker is the first tool designed to assess lossy compression comprehensively for scientific data sets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-303
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of High Performance Computing Applications
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019


  • Framework
  • assessment tool
  • data analytics
  • lossy compression
  • scientific data
  • visualization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • Hardware and Architecture


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