Gem #98: High Performance Multi-core Programming - Part 2

by Pat Rogers —AdaCore

Let’s get started…

Chameneos-Redux is part of the Computer Language Shootout, a suite of benchmarks that compares the implementations of various programming languages across different kinds of applications and platforms. The program is required to perform a specified number of rendezvous between mythical "chameneos" creatures, where each creature is represented by a distinct thread. Each rendezvous is symmetric, in that the participating creatures can be either the caller or the called member in any given encounter. The multi-core benchmark results for all implementations of Chameneos-Redux are available here: Chameneos-Redux.

In the previous Gem in this series, we made the point that design trumps tuning: when it comes to performance, no amount of tweaking can compensate for an inherently slow design. In this Gem we explore another important aspect of the design: minimizing resource conflicts via processor assignments for threads. This issue arises because the Chameneos-Redux benchmark requires two distinct "games," in which a number of threads perform the required number of rendezvous. (One game has a different number of threads, but both must execute the same number of rendezvous.) When multiple processors are available the program runs the two games concurrently, so it would be possible for the two sets of threads to run on the same cores.

To prevent the threads of one game from interfering with the threads of another game running concurrently, we permanently assign threads to processors rather than let the operating system assign them dynamically. Specifically, we allow a thread to execute on any of the cores within a single assigned processor. All of the leading Chameneos-Redux implementations use the same approach to prevent this sharing.

Assigning threads to processors is specified in terms of "slots" instead of directly in terms of processors. A slot is an integer value corresponding to a processor number, but since there are likely more threads than processors, when the slot number exceeds the number of processors present in the machine, the slot number "wraps around" back to the beginning processor. As a result, there is effectively no limit to the number of slots available. This does not prevent threads from sharing (cores on) processors, it simply makes assignment convenient. If there are too many threads, sharing will be unavoidable.

Slot assignment is achieved using pragma Task_Info within the task type declaration representing the chameneos creatures' threads. The argument to the pragma is an access value designating a value of type Thread_Attributes, which on the benchmark operating system is a record type containing a single affinity bit-mask component. The affinity mask indicates the cores on which tasks may execute. We define a function Affinity that returns a value of that type. The following code fragment illustrates use of the pragma and the function:

 task type Thread (This : access Creature;  Slot : Natural) is
   pragma Task_Info (new Thread_Attributes'(CPU_Affinity => Affinity (Slot)));
 end Thread;

The argument to the Affinity function is a task type discriminant indicating the slot to use. A slot logically contains an affinity mask that indicates the cores in the corresponding processor, and it is this mask that is returned by the function.

Slot zero is used to hold a bit-mask indicating all the cores known to the system. We import function Sched_Getaffinity to get this value. For example, imagine the function returns a mask with the first eight bits enabled, indicating that a total of eight cores are available. Slot zero will then hold a bit mask with eight bits set. Assuming two cores per processor, and assuming that every two contiguous bits represent cores on the same processor, the following illustrates the resulting masks per slot:

              Bit #
   Slot #   0123456789...
       0    1111111100
       1    1100000000
       2    0011000000
       3    0000110000
       4    0000001100
       5    1100000000
       6    0011000000

Observe that at slot 5 the two cores on the first processor are again involved. You can see the details of the implementation by examining the Chameneos.Processors package.

Getting back to the game, the main program determines whether the target is a multi-core machine and assigns slots for the two required games, and thus the threads in the games, accordingly:

   if Processor_Count < 4 then  -- run the games sequentially
      Game1.Start (Game1_Creature_Colors, N, Slot => 0);
      Game2.Start (Game2_Creature_Colors, N, Slot => 0);
   else -- run the games in parallel
      Game1.Start (Game1_Creature_Colors, N, Slot => 1);
      Game2.Start (Game2_Creature_Colors, N, Slot => 2);
   end if;

In this manner the two games do not share processors, so they do not conflict with each other.

In the next Gem in this series we will explore another aspect of the implementation relative to the cache, specifically a user-defined storage allocator that allocates dynamic memory on cache-aligned boundaries.

About the Author

Pat Rogers has been a computing professional since 1975, primarily working on microprocessor-based real-time applications in Ada, C, C++ and other languages, including high-fidelity flight simulators and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems controlling hazardous materials. Having first learned Ada in 1980, he was director of the Ada9X Laboratory for the U.S. Air Force’s Joint Advanced Strike Technology Program, Principle Investigator in distributed systems and fault tolerance research projects using Ada for the U.S. Air Force and Army, and Associate Director for Research at the NASA Software Engineering Research Center. He has B.S. and M.S. degrees in computer systems design and computer science from the University of Houston and a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of York, England. As a member of the Senior Technical Staff at AdaCore, he specializes in supporting real-time/embedded systems developers, creates and provides training courses, and is project leader and a developer of the GNATbench Eclipse plug-in for Ada. He also has a 3rd Dan black belt in Tae Kwon Do and is founder of the AdaCore club “The Wicked Uncles”.