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3.5 Methods for Containing Interaction Overheads

As noted earlier, reducing the interaction overhead among concurrent tasks is important for an efficient parallel program. The overhead that a parallel program incurs due to interaction among its processes depends on many factors, such as the volume of data exchanged during interactions, the frequency of interaction, the spatial and temporal pattern of interactions, etc.

In this section, we will discuss some general techniques that can be used to reduce the interaction overheads incurred by parallel programs. These techniques manipulate one or more of the three factors above in order to reduce the interaction overhead. Some of these are applicable while devising the decomposition and mapping schemes for the algorithms and some are applicable while programming the algorithm in a given paradigm. All techniques may not be applicable in all parallel programming paradigms and some of them may require support from the underlying hardware.

3.5.1 Maximizing Data Locality

In most nontrivial parallel programs, the tasks executed by different processes require access to some common data. For example, in sparse matrix-vector multiplication y = Ab, in which tasks correspond to computing individual elements of vector y (Figure 3.6), all elements of the input vector b need to be accessed by multiple tasks. In addition to sharing the original input data, interaction may result if processes require data generated by other processes. The interaction overheads can be reduced by using techniques that promote the use of local data or data that have been recently fetched. Data locality enhancing techniques encompass a wide range of schemes that try to minimize the volume of nonlocal data that are accessed, maximize the reuse of recently accessed data, and minimize the frequency of accesses. In many cases, these schemes are similar in nature to the data reuse optimizations often performed in modern cache based microprocessors.

Minimize Volume of Data-Exchange A fundamental technique for reducing the interaction overhead is to minimize the overall volume of shared data that needs to be accessed by concurrent processes. This is akin to maximizing the temporal data locality, i.e., making as many of the consecutive references to the same data as possible. Clearly, performing as much of the computation as possible using locally available data obviates the need for bringing in more data into local memory or cache for a process to perform its tasks. As discussed previously, one way of achieving this is by using appropriate decomposition and mapping schemes. For example, in the case of matrix multiplication, we saw that by using a two-dimensional mapping of the computations to the processes we were able to reduce the amount of shared data (i.e., matrices A and B) that needs to be accessed by each task to graphics/03fig33.gif as opposed to n2/p + n2 required by a one-dimensional mapping (Figure 3.26). In general, using higher dimensional distribution often helps in reducing the volume of nonlocal data that needs to be accessed.

Another way of decreasing the amount of shared data that are accessed by multiple processes is to use local data to store intermediate results, and perform the shared data access to only place the final results of the computation. For example, consider computing the dot product of two vectors of length n in parallel such that each of the p tasks multiplies n/p pairs of elements. Rather than adding each individual product of a pair of numbers to the final result, each task can first create a partial dot product of its assigned portion of the vectors of length n/p in its own local location, and only access the final shared location once to add this partial result. This will reduce the number of accesses to the shared location where the result is stored to p from n.

Minimize Frequency of Interactions Minimizing interaction frequency is important in reducing the interaction overheads in parallel programs because there is a relatively high startup cost associated with each interaction on many architectures. Interaction frequency can be reduced by restructuring the algorithm such that shared data are accessed and used in large pieces. Thus, by amortizing the startup cost over large accesses, we can reduce the overall interaction overhead, even if such restructuring does not necessarily reduce the overall volume of shared data that need to be accessed. This is akin to increasing the spatial locality of data access, i.e., ensuring the proximity of consecutively accessed data locations. On a shared-address-space architecture, each time a word is accessed, an entire cache line containing many words is fetched. If the program is structured to have spatial locality, then fewer cache lines are accessed. On a message-passing system, spatial locality leads to fewer message-transfers over the network because each message can transfer larger amounts of useful data. The number of messages can sometimes be reduced further on a message-passing system by combining messages between the same source-destination pair into larger messages if the interaction pattern permits and if the data for multiple messages are available at the same time, albeit in separate data structures.

Sparse matrix-vector multiplication is a problem whose parallel formulation can use this technique to reduce interaction overhead. In typical applications, repeated sparse matrix-vector multiplication is performed with matrices of the same nonzero pattern but different numerical nonzero values. While solving this problem in parallel, a process interacts with others to access elements of the input vector that it may need for its local computation. Through a one-time scanning of the nonzero pattern of the rows of the sparse matrix that a process is responsible for, it can determine exactly which elements of the input vector it needs and from which processes. Then, before starting each multiplication, a process can first collect all the nonlocal entries of the input vector that it requires, and then perform an interaction-free multiplication. This strategy is far superior than trying to access a nonlocal element of the input vector as and when required in the computation.

3.5.2 Minimizing Contention and Hot Spots

Our discussion so far has been largely focused on reducing interaction overheads by directly or indirectly reducing the frequency and volume of data transfers. However, the data-access and inter-task interaction patterns can often lead to contention that can increase the overall interaction overhead. In general, contention occurs when multiple tasks try to access the same resources concurrently. Multiple simultaneous transmissions of data over the same interconnection link, multiple simultaneous accesses to the same memory block, or multiple processes sending messages to the same process at the same time, can all lead to contention. This is because only one of the multiple operations can proceed at a time and the others are queued and proceed sequentially.

Consider the problem of multiplying two matrices C = AB, using the two-dimensional partitioning shown in Figure 3.26(b). Let p be the number of tasks with a one-to-one mapping of tasks onto processes. Let each task be responsible for computing a unique Ci,j, for graphics/03fig34.gif. The straightforward way of performing this computation is for Ci,j to be computed according to the following formula (written in matrix-block notation):

Equation 3.1


Looking at the memory access patterns of the above equation, we see that at any one of the graphics/01icon35.gif steps, graphics/01icon35.gif tasks will be accessing the same block of A and B. In particular, all the tasks that work on the same row of C will be accessing the same block of A. For example, all graphics/01icon35.gif processes computing graphics/03fig36.gif will attempt to read A0,0 at once. Similarly, all the tasks working on the same column of C will be accessing the same block of B. The need to concurrently access these blocks of matrices A and B will create contention on both NUMA shared-address-space and message-passing parallel architectures.

One way of reducing contention is to redesign the parallel algorithm to access data in contention-free patterns. For the matrix multiplication algorithm, this contention can be eliminated by modifying the order in which the block multiplications are performed in Equation 3.1. A contention-free way of performing these block-multiplications is to compute Ci,j by using the formula

Equation 3.2


where '%' denotes the modulo operation. By using this formula, all the tasks P*,j that work on the same row of C will be accessing block graphics/03fig38.gif, which is different for each task. Similarly, all the tasks Pi,* that work on the same column of C will be accessing block graphics/03fig39.gif, which is also different for each task. Thus, by simply rearranging the order in which the block-multiplications are performed, we can completely eliminate the contention. For example, among the processes computing the first block row of C, the process computing C0,j will access A0,j from the first block row of A instead of A0,0.

Centralized schemes for dynamic mapping (Section 3.4.2) are a frequent source of contention for shared data structures or communication channels leading to the master process. The contention may be reduced by choosing a distributed mapping scheme over a centralized one, even though the former may be harder to implement.

3.5.3 Overlapping Computations with Interactions

The amount of time that processes spend waiting for shared data to arrive or to receive additional work after an interaction has been initiated can be reduced, often substantially, by doing some useful computations during this waiting time. There are a number of techniques that can be used to overlap computations with interactions.

A simple way of overlapping is to initiate an interaction early enough so that it is completed before it is needed for computation. To achieve this, we must be able to identify computations that can be performed before the interaction and do not depend on it. Then the parallel program must be structured to initiate the interaction at an earlier point in the execution than it is needed in the original algorithm. Typically, this is possible if the interaction pattern is spatially and temporally static (and therefore, predictable) or if multiple tasks that are ready for execution are available on the same process so that if one blocks to wait for an interaction to complete, the process can work on another task. The reader should note that by increasing the number of parallel tasks to promote computation-interaction overlap, we are reducing the granularity of the tasks, which in general tends to increase overheads. Therefore, this technique must be used judiciously.

In certain dynamic mapping schemes, as soon as a process runs out of work, it requests and gets additional work from another process. It then waits for the request to be serviced. If the process can anticipate that it is going to run out of work and initiate a work transfer interaction in advance, then it may continue towards finishing the tasks at hand while the request for more work is being serviced. Depending on the problem, estimating the amount of remaining work may be easy or hard.

In most cases, overlapping computations with interaction requires support from the programming paradigm, the operating system, and the hardware. The programming paradigm must provide a mechanism to allow interactions and computations to proceed concurrently. This mechanism should be supported by the underlying hardware. Disjoint address-space paradigms and architectures usually provide this support via non-blocking message passing primitives. The programming paradigm provides functions for sending and receiving messages that return control to the user's program before they have actually completed. Thus, the program can use these primitives to initiate the interactions, and then proceed with the computations. If the hardware permits computation to proceed concurrently with message transfers, then the interaction overhead can be reduced significantly.

On a shared-address-space architecture, the overlapping of computations and interaction is often assisted by prefetching hardware. In this case, an access to shared data is nothing more than a regular load or store instruction. The prefetch hardware can anticipate the memory addresses that will need to be accessed in the immediate future, and can initiate the access in advance of when they are needed. In the absence of prefetching hardware, the same effect can be achieved by a compiler that detects the access pattern and places pseudo-references to certain key memory locations before these locations are actually utilized by the computation. The degree of success of this scheme is dependent upon the available structure in the program that can be inferred by the prefetch hardware and by the degree of independence with which the prefetch hardware can function while computation is in progress.

3.5.4 Replicating Data or Computations

Replication of data or computations is another technique that may be useful in reducing interaction overheads.

In some parallel algorithms, multiple processes may require frequent read-only access to shared data structure, such as a hash-table, in an irregular pattern. Unless the additional memory requirements are prohibitive, it may be best in a situation like this to replicate a copy of the shared data structure on each process so that after the initial interaction during replication, all subsequent accesses to this data structure are free of any interaction overhead.

In the shared-address-space paradigm, replication of frequently accessed read-only data is often affected by the caches without explicit programmer intervention. Explicit data replication is particularly suited for architectures and programming paradigms in which read-only access to shared data is significantly more expensive or harder to express than local data accesses. Therefore, the message-passing programming paradigm benefits the most from data replication, which may reduce interaction overhead and also significantly simplify the writing of the parallel program.

Data replication, however, does not come without its own cost. Data replication increases the memory requirements of a parallel program. The aggregate amount of memory required to store the replicated data increases linearly with the number of concurrent processes. This may limit the size of the problem that can be solved on a given parallel computer. For this reason, data replication must be used selectively to replicate relatively small amounts of data.

In addition to input data, the processes in a parallel program often share intermediate results. In some situations, it may be more cost-effective for a process to compute these intermediate results than to get them from another process that generates them. In such situations, interaction overhead can be traded for replicated computation. For example, while performing the Fast Fourier Transform (see Section 13.2.3 for more details), on an N-point series, N distinct powers of w or "twiddle factors" are computed and used at various points in the computation. In a parallel implementation of FFT, different processes require overlapping subsets of these N twiddle factors. In a message-passing paradigm, it is best for each process to locally compute all the twiddle factors it needs. Although the parallel algorithm may perform many more twiddle factor computations than the serial algorithm, it may still be faster than sharing the twiddle factors.

3.5.5 Using Optimized Collective Interaction Operations

As discussed in Section 3.3.2, often the interaction patterns among concurrent activities are static and regular. A class of such static and regular interaction patterns are those that are performed by groups of tasks, and they are used to achieve regular data accesses or to perform certain type of computations on distributed data. A number of key such collective interaction operations have been identified that appear frequently in many parallel algorithms. Broadcasting some data to all the processes or adding up numbers, each belonging to a different process, are examples of such collective operations. The collective data-sharing operations can be classified into three categories. The first category contains operations that are used by the tasks to access data, the second category of operations are used to perform some communication-intensive computations, and finally, the third category is used for synchronization.

Highly optimized implementations of these collective operations have been developed that minimize the overheads due to data transfer as well as contention. Chapter 4 describes algorithms for implementing some of the commonly used collective interaction operations. Optimized implementations of these operations are available in library form from the vendors of most parallel computers, e.g., MPI (message passing interface). As a result, the algorithm designer does not need to think about how these operations are implemented and needs to focus only on the functionality achieved by these operations. However, as discussed in Section 3.5.6, sometimes the interaction pattern may make it worthwhile for the parallel programmer to implement one's own collective communication procedure.

3.5.6 Overlapping Interactions with Other Interactions

If the data-transfer capacity of the underlying hardware permits, then overlapping interactions between multiple pairs of processes can reduce the effective volume of communication. As an example of overlapping interactions, consider the commonly used collective communication operation of one-to-all broadcast in a message-passing paradigm with four processes P0, P1, P2, and P3. A commonly used algorithm to broadcast some data from P0 to all other processes works as follows. In the first step, P0 sends the data to P2. In the second step, P0 sends the data to P1, and concurrently, P2 sends the same data that it had received from P0 to P3. The entire operation is thus complete in two steps because the two interactions of the second step require only one time step. This operation is illustrated in Figure 3.41(a). On the other hand, a naive broadcast algorithm would send the data from P0 to P1 to P2 to P3, thereby consuming three steps as illustrated in Figure 3.41(b).

Figure 3.41. Illustration of overlapping interactions in broadcasting data from one to four processes.


Interestingly, however, there are situations when the naive broadcast algorithm shown in Figure 3.41(b) may be adapted to actually increase the amount of overlap. Assume that a parallel algorithm needs to broadcast four data structures one after the other. The entire interaction would require eight steps using the first two-step broadcast algorithm. However, using the naive algorithm accomplishes the interaction in only six steps as shown in Figure 3.41(c). In the first step, P0 sends the first message to P1. In the second step P0 sends the second message to P1 while P1 simultaneously sends the first message to P2. In the third step, P0 sends the third message to P1, P1 sends the second message to P2, and P2 sends the first message to P3. Proceeding similarly in a pipelined fashion, the last of the four messages is sent out of P0 after four steps and reaches P3 in six. Since this method is rather expensive for a single broadcast operation, it is unlikely to be included in a collective communication library. However, the programmer must infer from the interaction pattern of the algorithm that in this scenario, it is better to make an exception to the suggestion of Section 3.5.5 and write your own collective communication function.

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