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Futurization Example

When developers write code they typically begin with a simple serial code and build upon it until all of the required functionality is present. The following set of examples were developed to demonstrate this iterative process of evolving a simple serial program to an efficient, fully distributed HPX application. For this demonstration, we implemented a 1D heat distribution problem. This calculation simulates the diffusion of heat across a ring from an initialized state to some user defined point in the future. It does this by breaking each portion of the ring into discrete segments and using the current segment's temperature and the temperature of the surrounding segments to calculate the temperature of the current segment in the next timestep as shown by the figure below.

Figure 2. Heat Diffusion Example Program Flow

Heat Diffusion Example Program Flow


We parallelize this code over the following eight examples:

The first example is straight serial code. In this code we instantiate a vector U which contains two vectors of doubles as seen in the structure stepper.

struct stepper
{
    // Our partition type
    typedef double partition;

    // Our data for one time step
    typedef std::vector<partition> space;

    // Our operator
    static double heat(double left, double middle, double right)
    {
        return middle + (k*dt/(dx*dx)) * (left - 2*middle + right);
    }

    // do all the work on 'nx' data points for 'nt' time steps
    space do_work(std::size_t nx, std::size_t nt)
    {
        // U[t][i] is the state of position i at time t.
        std::vector<space> U(2);
        for (space& s : U)
            s.resize(nx);

        // Initial conditions: f(0, i) = i
        for (std::size_t i = 0; i != nx; ++i)
            U[0][i] = double(i);

        // Actual time step loop
        for (std::size_t t = 0; t != nt; ++t)
        {
            space const& current = U[t % 2];
            space& next = U[(t + 1) % 2];

            next[0] = heat(current[nx-1], current[0], current[1]);

            for (std::size_t i = 1; i != nx-1; ++i)
                next[i] = heat(current[i-1], current[i], current[i+1]);

            next[nx-1] = heat(current[nx-2], current[nx-1], current[0]);
        }

        // Return the solution at time-step 'nt'.
        return U[nt % 2];
    }
};

Each element in the vector of doubles represents a single grid point. To calculate the change in heat distribution, the temperature of each grid point, along with its neighbors, are passed to the function heat. In order to improve readability, references named current and next are created which, depending on the time step, point to the first and second vector of doubles. The first vector of doubles is initialized with a simple heat ramp. After calling the heat function with the data in the "current" vector, the results are placed into the "next" vector.

In example 2 we employ a technique called futurization. Futurization is a method by which we can easily transform a code which is serially executed into a code which creates asynchronous threads. In the simplest case this involves replacing a variable with a future to a variable, a function with a future to a function, and adding a .get() at the point where a value is actually needed. The code below shows how this technique was applied to the struct stepper.

struct stepper
{
    // Our partition type
    typedef hpx::shared_future<double> partition;

    // Our data for one time step
    typedef std::vector<partition> space;

    // Our operator
    static double heat(double left, double middle, double right)
    {
        return middle + (k*dt/(dx*dx)) * (left - 2*middle + right);
    }

    // do all the work on 'nx' data points for 'nt' time steps
    hpx::future<space> do_work(std::size_t nx, std::size_t nt)
    {
        using hpx::dataflow;
        using hpx::util::unwrapped;

        // U[t][i] is the state of position i at time t.
        std::vector<space> U(2);
        for (space& s : U)
            s.resize(nx);

        // Initial conditions: f(0, i) = i
        for (std::size_t i = 0; i != nx; ++i)
            U[0][i] = hpx::make_ready_future(double(i));

        auto Op = unwrapped(&stepper::heat);

        // Actual time step loop
        for (std::size_t t = 0; t != nt; ++t)
        {
            space const& current = U[t % 2];
            space& next = U[(t + 1) % 2];

            // WHEN U[t][i-1], U[t][i], and U[t][i+1] have been computed, THEN we
            // can compute U[t+1][i]
            for (std::size_t i = 0; i != nx; ++i)
            {
                next[i] = dataflow(
                        hpx::launch::async, Op,
                        current[idx(i, -1, nx)], current[i], current[idx(i, +1, nx)]
                    );
            }
        }

        // Now the asynchronous computation is running; the above for-loop does not
        // wait on anything. There is no implicit waiting at the end of each timestep;
        // the computation of each U[t][i] will begin when as soon as its dependencies
        // are ready and hardware is available.

        // Return the solution at time-step 'nt'.
        return hpx::when_all(U[nt % 2]);
    }
};

In example 2, we re-define our partition type as a shared_future and, in main, create the object "result" which is a future to a vector of partitions. We use result to represent the last vector in a string of vectors created for each timestep. In order to move to the next timestep, the values of a partition and its neighbors must be passed to heat once the futures that contain them are ready. In HPX, we have an LCO (Local Control Object) named Dataflow which assists the programmer in expressing this dependency. Dataflow allows us to pass the results of a set of futures to a specified function when the futures are ready. Dataflow takes three types of arguments, one which instructs the dataflow on how to perform the function call (async or sync), the function to call (in this case Op), and futures to the arguments that will be passed to the function. When called, dataflow immediately returns a future to the result of the specified function. This allows users to string dataflows together and construct an execution tree.

After the values of the futures in dataflow are ready, the values must be pulled out of the future container to be passed to the function heat. In order to do this, we use the HPX facility unwrapped, which underneath calls .get() on each of the futures so that the function heat will be passed doubles and not futures to doubles.

By setting up the algorithm this way, the program will be able to execute as quickly as the dependencies of each future are met. Unfortunately, this example runs terribly slow. This increase in execution time is caused by the overheads needed to create a future for each data point. Because the work done within each call to heat is very small, the overhead of creating and scheduling each of the three futures is greater than that of the actual useful work! In order to amortize the overheads of our synchronization techniques, we need to be able to control the amount of work that will be done with each future. We call this amount of work per overhead grain size.

In example 3, we return to our serial code to figure out how to control the grain size of our program. The strategy that we employ is to create "partitions" of data points. The user can define how many partitions are created and how many data points are contained in each partition. This is accomplished by creating the struct partition which contains a member object data_, a vector of doubles which holds the data points assigned to a particular instance of partition.

In example 4, we take advantage of the partition setup by redefining space to be a vector of shared_futures with each future representing a partition. In this manner, each future represents several data points. Because the user can define how many data points are contained in each partition (and therefore how many data points that are represented by one future) a user can now control the grainsize of the simulation. The rest of the code was then futurized in the same manner that was done in example 2. It should be noted how strikingly similar example 4 is to example 2.

Example 4 finally shows good results. This code scales equivalently to the OpenMP version. While these results are promising, there are more opportunities to improve the application's scalability. Currently this code only runs on one locality, but to get the full benefit of HPX we need to be able to distribute the work to other machines in a cluster. We begin to add this functionality in example 5.

In order to run on a distributed system, a large amount of boilerplate code must be added. Fortunately, HPX provides us with the concept of a "component" which saves us from having to write quite as much code. A component is an object which can be remotely accessed using its global address. Components are made of two parts: a server and a client class. While the client class is not required, abstracting the server behind a client allows us to ensure type safety instead of having to pass around pointers to global objects. Example 5 renames example 4's struct partition to partition_data and adds serialization support. Next we add the server side representation of the data in the structure partition_server. Partition_server inherits from hpx::components::simple_component_base which contains a server side component boilerplate. The boilerplate code allows a component's public members to be accessible anywhere on the machine via its Global Identifier (GID). To encapsulate the component, we create a client side helper class. This object allows us to create new instances of our component, and access its members without having to know its GID. In addition, we are using the client class to assist us with managing our asynchrony. For example, our client class partition's member function get_data() returns a future to partition_data get_data(). This struct inherits its boilerplate code from hpx::components::client_base.

In the structure stepper, we have also had to make some changes to accommodate a distributed environment. In order to get the data from a neighboring partition, which could be remote, we must retrieve the data from the neighboring partitions. These retrievals are asynchronous and the function heat_part_data, which amongst other things calls heat, should not be called unless the data from the neighboring partitions have arrived. Therefore it should come as no surprise that we synchronize this operation with another instance of dataflow (found in heat_part). This dataflow is passed futures to the data in the current and surrounding partitions by calling get_data() on each respective partition. When these futures are ready dataflow passes then to the unwrapped function, which extracts the shared_array of doubles and passes them to the lambda. The lambda calls heat_part_data on the locality which the middle partition is on.

Although this example could run in distributed, it only runs on one locality as it always uses hpx::find_here() as the target for the functions to run on.

In example 6, we begin to distribute the partition data on different nodes. This is accomplished in stepper::do_work() by passing the GID of the locality where we wish to create the partition to the the partition constructor.

for (std::size_t i = 0; i != np; ++i)
    U[0][i] = partition(localities[locidx(i, np, nl)], nx, double(i));

We distribute the partitions evenly based on the number of localities used, which is described in the function locidx. Because some of the data needed to update the partition in heat_part could now be on a new locality, we must devise a way of moving data to the locality of the middle partition. We accomplished this by adding a switch in the function get_data() which returns the end element of the buffer data_ if it is from the left partition or the first element of the buffer if the data is from the right partition. In this way only the necessary elements, not the whole buffer, are exchanged between nodes. The reader should be reminded that this exchange of end elements occurs in the function get_data() and therefore is executed asynchronously.

Now that we have the code running in distributed, it is time to make some optimizations. The function heat_part spends most of its time on two tasks: retrieving remote data and working on the data in the middle partition. Because we know that the data for the middle partition is local, we can overlap the work on the middle partition with that of the possibly remote call of get_data(). This algorithmic change which was implemented in example 7 can be seen below:

// The partitioned operator, it invokes the heat operator above on all elements
// of a partition.
static partition heat_part(partition const& left,
    partition const& middle, partition const& right)
{
    using hpx::dataflow;
    using hpx::util::unwrapped;

    hpx::shared_future<partition_data> middle_data =
        middle.get_data(partition_server::middle_partition);

    hpx::future<partition_data> next_middle = middle_data.then(
        unwrapped(
            [middle](partition_data const& m) -> partition_data
            {
                HPX_UNUSED(middle);

                // All local operations are performed once the middle data of
                // the previous time step becomes available.
                std::size_t size = m.size();
                partition_data next(size);
                for (std::size_t i = 1; i != size-1; ++i)
                    next[i] = heat(m[i-1], m[i], m[i+1]);
                return next;
            }
        )
    );

    return dataflow(
        hpx::launch::async,
        unwrapped(
            [left, middle, right](partition_data next, partition_data const& l,
                partition_data const& m, partition_data const& r) -> partition
            {
                HPX_UNUSED(left);
                HPX_UNUSED(right);

                // Calculate the missing boundary elements once the
                // corresponding data has become available.
                std::size_t size = m.size();
                next[0] = heat(l[size-1], m[0], m[1]);
                next[size-1] = heat(m[size-2], m[size-1], r[0]);

                // The new partition_data will be allocated on the same locality
                // as 'middle'.
                return partition(middle.get_id(), next);
            }
        ),
        std::move(next_middle),
        left.get_data(partition_server::left_partition),
        middle_data,
        right.get_data(partition_server::right_partition)
    );
}

Example 8 completes the futurization process and utilizes the full potential of HPX by distributing the program flow to multiple localities, usually defined as nodes in a cluster. It accomplishes this task by running an instance of HPX main on each locality. In order to coordinate the execution of the program the struct stepper is wrapped into a component. In this way, each locality contains an instance of stepper which executes its own instance of the function do_work(). This scheme does create an interesting synchronization problem that must be solved. When the program flow was being coordinated on the head node the, GID of each component was known. However, when we distribute the program flow, each partition has no notion of the GID of its neighbor if the next partition is on another locality. In order to make the GIDs of neighboring partitions visible to each other, we created two buffers to store the GIDs of the remote neighboring partitions on the left and right respectively. These buffers are filled by sending the GID of a newly created edge partitions to the right and left buffers of the neighboring localities.

In order to finish the simulation the solution vectors named "result" are then gathered together on locality 0 and added into a vector of spaces overall_result using the HPX functions gather_id and gather_here.

Example 8 completes this example series which takes the serial code of example 1 and incrementally morphs it into a fully distributed parallel code. This evolution was guided by the simple principles of futurization, the knowledge of grainsize, and utilization of components. Applying these techniques easily facilitates the scalable parallelization of most applications.


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