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Chapter 3. Principles of Parallel Algorithm Design

Algorithm development is a critical component of problem solving using computers. A sequential algorithm is essentially a recipe or a sequence of basic steps for solving a given problem using a serial computer. Similarly, a parallel algorithm is a recipe that tells us how to solve a given problem using multiple processors. However, specifying a parallel algorithm involves more than just specifying the steps. At the very least, a parallel algorithm has the added dimension of concurrency and the algorithm designer must specify sets of steps that can be executed simultaneously. This is essential for obtaining any performance benefit from the use of a parallel computer. In practice, specifying a nontrivial parallel algorithm may include some or all of the following:

  • Identifying portions of the work that can be performed concurrently.

  • Mapping the concurrent pieces of work onto multiple processes running in parallel.

  • Distributing the input, output, and intermediate data associated with the program.

  • Managing accesses to data shared by multiple processors.

  • Synchronizing the processors at various stages of the parallel program execution.

Typically, there are several choices for each of the above steps, but usually, relatively few combinations of choices lead to a parallel algorithm that yields performance commensurate with the computational and storage resources employed to solve the problem. Often, different choices yield the best performance on different parallel architectures or under different parallel programming paradigms.

In this chapter, we methodically discuss the process of designing and implementing parallel algorithms. We shall assume that the onus of providing a complete description of a parallel algorithm or program lies on the programmer or the algorithm designer. Tools and compilers for automatic parallelization at the current state of the art seem to work well only for highly structured programs or portions of programs. Therefore, we do not consider these in this chapter or elsewhere in this book.

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