Chapter: Multicore Application Programming For Windows, Linux, and Oracle Solaris - Hardware, Processes, and Threads

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The Characteristics of Multiprocessor Systems

Although processors with multiple cores are now prevalent, it is also becoming more common to encounter systems with multiple processors.

The Characteristics of Multiprocessor Systems

Although processors with multiple cores are now prevalent, it is also becoming more common to encounter systems with multiple processors. As soon as there are multiple processors in a system, accessing memory becomes more complex. Not only can data be held in memory, but it can also be held in the caches of one of the other processors. For code to execute correctly, there should be only a single up-to-date version of each item of data; this feature is called cache coherence.

 

The common approach to providing cache coherence is called snooping. Each proces-sor broadcasts the address that it wants to either read or write. The other processors watch for these broadcasts. When they see that the address of data they hold can take one of two actions, they can return the data if the other processor wants to read the data and they have the most recent copy. If the other processor wants to store a new value for the data, they can invalidate their copy.

 

However, this is not the only issue that appears when dealing with multiple proces-sors. Other concerns are memory layout and latency.

 

Imagine a system with two processors. The system could be configured with all the memory attached to one processor or the memory evenly shared between the two processors. Figure 1.18 shows these two alternatives.


Each link between processor and memory will increase the latency of any memory access by that processor. So if only one processor has memory attached, then that proces-sor will see low memory latency, and the other processor will see higher memory latency. In the situation where both processors have memory attached, then they will have both local memory that is low cost to access and remote memory that is higher cost to access.

 

For systems where memory is attached to multiple processors, there are two options for reducing the performance impact. One approach is to interleave memory, often at a cache line boundary, so that for most applications, half the memory accesses will see the short memory access, and half will see the long memory access; so, on average, applica-tions will record memory latency that is the average of the two extremes. This approach typifies what is known as a uniform memory architecture (UMA), where all the processors see the same memory latency.

 

The other approach is to accept that different regions of memory will have different access costs for the processors in a system and then to make the operating system aware of this hardware characteristic. With operating system support, this can lead to applica-tions usually seeing the lower memory cost of accessing local memory. A system with this architecture is often referred to as having cache coherent nonuniform memory architecture (ccNUMA).

 

For the operating system to manage ccNUMA memory characteristics effectively, it has to do a number of things. First, it needs to be aware of the locality structure of the system so that for each processor it is able to allocate memory with low access latencies. The second challenge is that once a process has been run on a particular processor, the operating system needs to keep scheduling that process to that processor. If the operating system fails to achieve this second requirement, then all the locally allocated memory will become remote memory when the process gets migrated.

 

Consider an application running on the first processor of a two-processor system. The operating system may have allocated memory to be local to this first processor. Figure 1.19 shows this configuration of an application running on a processor and using local memory. The shading in this figure illustrates the application running on processor 1 and accessing memory directly attached to that processor. Hence, the process sees local memory latency for all memory accesses.


The application will get good performance because the data that it frequently accesses will be held in the memory with the lowest access latency. However, if that application then gets migrated to the second processor, the application will be accessing data that is remotely held and will see a corresponding drop in performance. Figure 1.20 shows an application using remote memory. The shading in the figure shows the application run-ning on processor 2 but accessing data held on memory that is attached to processor 1. Hence, all memory accesses for the application will fetch remote data; the fetches of data will take longer to complete, and the application will run more slowly.



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