Parallel Processing
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21-01-2009, 12:23 AM

Parallel Processing refers to the concept of speeding-up the execution of a program by dividing the program into multiple fragments that can execute simultaneously, each on its own processor. A program being executed across n processors might execute n times faster than it would using a single processor.
Traditionally, multiple processors were provided within a specially designed "parallel computer"; along these lines, Linux now supports SMP systems (often sold as "servers") in which multiple processors share a single memory and bus interface within a single computer. It is also possible for a group of computers (for example, a group of PCs each running Linux) to be interconnected by a network to form a parallel-processing cluster. The third alternative for parallel computing using Linux is to use the multimedia instruction extensions (i.e., MMX) to operate in parallel on vectors of integer data. Finally, it is also possible to use a Linux system as a "host" for a specialized attached parallel processing compute engine. All these approaches are discussed in detail in this document.
1) Appropriate Conditions for Parallel Processing
Although use of multiple processors can speed-up many operations, most applications cannot yet benefit from parallel processing. Basically, parallel processing is appropriate only if:
? Your application has enough parallelism to make good use of multiple processors. In part, this is a matter of identifying portions of the program that can execute independently and simultaneously on separate processors, but you will also find that some things that could execute in parallel might actually slow execution if executed in parallel using a particular system. For example, a program that takes four seconds to execute within a single machine might be able to execute in only one second of processor time on each of four machines, but no speedup would be achieved if it took three seconds or more for these machines to coordinate their actions.
? Either the particular application program you are interested in already has been parallelized (rewritten to take advantage of parallel processing) or you are willing to do at least some new coding to take advantage of parallel processing.
? You are interested in researching, or at least becoming familiar with, issues involving parallel processing. Parallel processing using Linux systems isn't necessarily difficult, but it is not familiar to most computer users, and there isn't any book called "Parallel Processing for Dummies"... at least not yet.
The good news is that if all the above are true, you'll find that parallel processing using Linux can yield supercomputer performance for some programs that perform complex computations or operate on large data sets. What's more, it can do that using cheap hardware... which you might already own. As an added bonus, it is also easy to use a parallel Linux system for other things when it is not busy executing a parallel job.

Although parallel processing has been used for many years in many systems, it is still somewhat unfamiliar to most computer users. Thus, before discussing the various alternatives, it is important to become familiar with a few commonly used terms.
1. SIMD:
SIMD (Single Instruction stream, Multiple Data stream) refers to a parallel execution model in which all processors execute the same operation at the same time, but each processor is allowed to operate upon its own data. This model naturally fits the concept of performing the same operation on every element of an array, and is thus often associated with vector or array manipulation. Because all operations are inherently synchronized, interactions among SIMD processors tend to be easily and efficiently implemented.
2. MIMD:
MIMD (Multiple Instruction stream, Multiple Data stream) refers to a parallel execution model in which each processor is essentially acting independently. This model most naturally fits the concept of decomposing a program for parallel execution on a functional basis; for example, one processor might update a database file while another processor generates a graphic display of the new entry. This is a more flexible model than SIMD execution, but it is achieved at the risk of debugging called race conditions, in which a program may intermittently fail due to timing variations reordering the operations of one processor relative to those of another.
3. SPMD:
SPMD (Single Program, Multiple Data) is a restricted version of MIMD in which all processors are running the same program. Unlike SIMD, each processor executing SPMD code may take a different control flow path through the program.
4. Communication Bandwidth:
The bandwidth of a communication system is the maximum amount of data that can be transmitted in a unit of time... once data transmission has begun. Bandwidth for serial connections is often measured in baud or bits/second (b/s), which generally correspond to 1/10 to 1/8 that many Bytes/second (B/s).
5. Communication Latency:
The latency of a communication system is the minimum time taken to transmit one object, including any send and receive software overhead. Latency is very important in parallel processing because it determines the minimum useful grain size, the minimum run time for a segment of code to yield speed-up through parallel execution. Basically, if a segment of code runs for less time than it takes to transmit its result value (i.e., latency), executing that code segment serially on the processor that needed the result value would be faster than parallel execution; serial execution would avoid the communication overhead.
6. Message Passing:
Message passing is a model for interactions between processors within a parallel system. In general, a message is constructed by software on one processor and is sent through an interconnection network to another processor, which then must accept and act upon the message contents. Although the overhead in handling each message (latency) may be high, there are typically few restrictions on how much information each message may contain. Thus, message passing can yield high bandwidth making it a very effective way to transmit a large block of data from one processor to another. However, to minimize the need for expensive message passing operations, data structures within a parallel program must be spread across the processors so that most data referenced by each processor is in its local memory... this task is known as data layout.
7. Shared Memory:
Shared memory is a model for interactions between processors within a parallel system. Systems like the multi-processor Pentium machines running Linux physically share a single memory among their processors, so that a value written to shared memory by one processor can be directly accessed by any processor. Alternatively, logically shared memory can be implemented for systems in which each processor has it own memory by converting each non-local memory reference into an appropriate inter-processor communication. Either implementation of shared memory is generally considered easier to use than message passing. Physically shared memory can have both high bandwidth and low latency, but only when multiple processors do not try to access the bus simultaneously; thus, data layout still can seriously impact performance, and cache effects, etc., can make it difficult to determine what the best layout is.
8. Aggregate Functions:
In both the message passing and shared memory models, a communication is initiated by a single processor; in contrast, aggregate function communication is an inherently parallel communication model in which an entire group of processors act together. The simplest such action is a barrier synchronization, in which each individual processor waits until every processor in the group has arrived at the barrier. By having each processor output a datum as a side-effect of reaching a barrier, it is possible to have the communication hardware return a value to each processor which is an arbitrary function of the values collected from all processors.
9. Collective Communication :
This is another name for aggregate functions, most often used when referring to aggregate functions that are constructed using multiple message-passing operations.

10. SMP:
SMP (Symmetric Multi-Processor) refers to the operating system concept of a group of processors working together as peers, so that any piece of work could be done equally well by any processor. Typically, SMP implies the combination of MIMD and shared memory.
11. SWAR:
SWAR (SIMD Within A Register) is a generic term for the concept of partitioning a register into multiple integer fields and using register-width operations to perform SIMD-parallel computations across those fields. Given a machine with k-bit registers, data paths, and function units, it has long been known that ordinary register operations can function as SIMD parallel operations on as many as n, k/n-bit, field values. Although this type of parallelism can be implemented using ordinary integer registers and instructions, many high-end microprocessors have recently added specialized instructions to enhance the performance of this technique for multimedia-oriented tasks. In addition to the Intel/AMD/Cyrix MMX (MultiMedia eXtensions), there are: Digital Alpha MAX (MultimediA eXtensions), Hewlett-Packard PA-RISC MAX (Multimedia Acceleration eXtensions), MIPS MDMX (Digital Media eXtension, pronounced "Mad Max"), and Sun SPARC V9 VIS (Visual Instruction Set). Aside from the three vendors who have agreed on MMX, all of these instruction set extensions are roughly comparable, but mutually incompatible.
12. Attached Processors:
Attached processors are essentially special-purpose computers that are connected to a host system to accelerate specific types of computation. For example, many video and audio cards for PCs contain attached processors designed, respectively, to accelerate common graphics operations and audio DSP (Digital Signal Processing). There is also a wide range of attached array processors, so called because they are designed to accelerate arithmetic operations on arrays. In fact, many commercial supercomputers are really attached processors with workstation hosts.
13. RAID:
RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) is a simple technology for increasing both the bandwidth and reliability of disk I/O. Although there are many different variations, all have two key concepts in common. First, each data block is striped across a group of n+k disk drives such that each drive only has to read or write 1/n of the data... yielding n times the bandwidth of one drive. Second, redundant data is written so that data can be recovered if a disk drive fails; this is important because otherwise if any one of the n+k drives were to fail, the entire file system could be lost.

In order to better understand the use of the various parallel programming approaches outlined above, it is useful to have an example problem.
The algorithm computes the approximate value of Pi by summing the area under x squared. As a purely sequential C program, the algorithm looks like:
#include <stdlib.h>;
#include <stdio.h>;
main(int argc, char **argv)
register double width, sum;
register int intervals, i;
/* get the number of intervals */
intervals = atoi(argv[1]);
width = 1.0 / intervals;
/* do the computation */
sum = 0;
for (i=0; i<intervals; ++i) {
register double x = (i + 0.5) * width;
sum += 4.0 / (1.0 + x * x);
sum *= width;
printf("Estimation of pi is %f\n", sum);
However, this sequential algorithm easily yields an "embarrassingly parallel" implementation. The area is subdivided into intervals, and any number of processors can each independently sum the intervals assigned to it, with no need for interaction between processors. Once the local sums have been computed, they are added together to create a global sum; this step requires some level of coordination and communication between processors. Finally, this global sum is printed by one processor as the approximate value of Pi.
We have seen the appropriate conditions for Parallel Processing.
If all points are true, then we find that Parallel Processing using LINUX can yield Supercomputer performance for some program that perform complex computations or operate on large data.
Also we discussed few commonly used terms related to the Parallel Processing. In order to better understand the Parallel Processing, we have calculated the value of Pi by summing the area under X squared.
That?s why Parallel Processing has been used for many years in many systems and has great prospects in the field of Supercomputing in future.

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