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A Data-Centric Parallel Programming System


Circuit Simulation

The first of our full program examples describes some of the features used to implement the canonical circuit example covered in many of our publications. The source code for this example can also be found in examples/circuit directory of the Legion repository. The circuit example simulates an arbitrary graph of integrated circuit components. Components are represented by nodes, and wires between components are represented as edges. Our implementation partitions the circuit graph into components that are either private or shared between circuit pieces. Further partitions then refine the private, shared, and ghost nodes for each circuit piece. The following figure illustrates the partitioning scheme for the node logical region tree.

An explicit iterative solver is then used to step through time and solve for the updated voltages and currents on each node and wire. The solver consists of three primary stages:

  1. Calculate New Currents: examine the voltage differential across every wire and compute the new current flowing through the wire using an iterative method.
  2. Distribute Charge: using the newly computed currents, update the charge flowing into each node.
  3. Update Voltages: based on the charge that has flowed into each node, compute the new voltage at each node.

Reduction Privileges

One of the interesting features employed by the circuit simulation is reduction privileges. Reduction privileges allow the user to describe a very specific (but common) computational paradigm to the runtime. In Legion, reduction privileges are used to handle the scenario in which tasks will apply values to a location using a specific reduction operation, instead of needing to arbitrarily mutate locations in a logical region. We will give a mathematically precise definition of a reduction operation momentarily. In the next section we cover some of the optimizations supported by the Legion runtime for reductions.

A reduction operation in Legion is characterized by an apply function which must be a pure function of the form T1 -> T2 -> T1 where T1 is the type of the field being reduced to and T2 is the type of the value being applied as a reduction. One simple example of a reduction is a summation, where both T1 and T2 are double values. A more complex example of a reduction might be inserting a particle into a cell where T1 is the type of the cell and T2 is the type of the particle. In addition to the apply function, reduction operations may also support a second operation called a fold which must be a pure function of the type T2 -> T2 -> T2 where T2 is again the type of the value being reduced. We describe how fold functions are used by the runtime in the next section.
Legion assumes that reduction operations are always associative and commutative in the mathematical sense. This means that regardless of the order in which reductions are issued by tasks the runtime is free to actually perform the apply operations in any order. As we will see in the next section, this enables the runtime to buffer reduction operations locally in a memory visible to a task even though the ultimate destination of the reductions might be in a remote memory.

In the circuit simulation, reduction operations are used in the distribute charge phase to accumulate charge differences from various incoming wires to each of the different nodes. Since some wires into a node may come from different circuit pieces, it is possible that multiple tasks will be applying reductions to the same nodes. This illustrates an important aspect of reductions: Legion reductions permit tasks applying reductions to aliased regions to run in parallel. This is only possible because the Legion runtime understands reductions are a special operation with associative and commutative properties which can be applied lazily.

Reduction operations in Legion must be implemented as a class which contains very specific members. The following code block shows the example accumulate charge reduction operation from the circuit simulation.

class AccumulateCharge {
  typedef float LHS;
  typedef float RHS;
  static const float identity;

  template <bool EXCLUSIVE> static void apply(LHS &lhs, RHS rhs);

  template <bool EXCLUSIVE> static void fold(RHS &rhs1, RHS rhs2);

Every reduction operation must contain typedef declarations for the LHS and RHS types representing the left-hand-side and right-hand-side functions of the reduction operation (e.g. T1 and T2). Furthermore, the reduction operation must specify an static apply method. This function will be invoked by the runtime whenever a value of the type RHS will be applied to a value of LHS. The template parameter allows the runtime to indicate whether or not parallel reductions might also be occurring to the same lhs element simultaneously. This allows the application to employ different operations depending on whether or not it has EXCLUSIVE access to the lhs element. We use template specialization to implement different versions of apply in the circuit simulation as can be seen in the following code example: when we have exclusive access we need only do a basic addition, but without exclusive access we use an atomic compare-and-swap to perform the summation reduction.

template <>
void AccumulateCharge::apply<true>(LHS &lhs, RHS rhs) 
  lhs += rhs;

In addition to the necessary reduction operation declarations, our AccumulateCharge class also supports an optional fold function. A fold function allows the runtime to combine two values of the RHS type into a single value. The fold operation allows the runtime to support an optimized layout of data for reductions which we describe in the next section. Supplying a fold function also necessitates a declaration of an identity element which when folded with any other element returns the other element. In the case of our AccumulateCharge class, the identity element is simply zero.

Similar to tasks, reduction operations must be registered before starting up the Legion runtime. Operations have their own space of IDs which the application can use later for naming the reduction operation to be performed when requesting reduction privileges. Reduction operations are registered with the Legion runtime using the static runtime method register_reduction_op which is templated on the reduction operation class and takes as an argument the ID to associate with the reduction operation.

Reduction Instances

While reduction operations can be directly applied to a normal physical instances, Legion also supports the creation of a special class of physical instances called reduction instances. Reduction instances enable reduction operations to be buffered up locally and then applied in bulk at a later point in time. This is especially useful when the ultimate destination of reduction operations is not visible to the processor performing the reductions. Consider for example mapping our distribute charge computation from the circuit simulation onto a cluster of GPUs. In this case all the reductions will ultimately need to be applied to a physical instance residing in the globally visible GASNet memory. However, this memory is not visible to individual GPU processors. Instead we create reduction instances for the distribute charge tasks running on the GPU. After the tasks finish executing, the reduction buffers are then applied back to the instance containing all the shared nodes residing in GASNet memory. An illustration depicting this scenario within the circuit simulation is shown below.

Legion supports the creation of two different kinds of reduction instances. First, for basic reduction operations with no fold function, Legion can create reduction list instances. When reductions are issued to the physical instance they are buffered in a list which records the reduction operation, the destination pointer, and the value to be reduced. Later when the reduction instance is applied to a normal instance, these reductions are applied in order to the destination instance in bulk.

The second kind of reduction instance is called a reduction fold instance and can only be used when the associated reduction operation supports a fold function. Reduction fold instances initialize a physical instance for the given logical region with each location initialized with the identity value. As reductions are applied to the physical instance they are folded into their destination. In the case of the circuit simulation we create reduction fold instances for each region requirement of every distribute charge task. As charges are applied to individual nodes they are folded into the destination buffer. After the distribute charge tasks are complete, the fold reduction instances are then applied back to the physical instance containing all the shared nodes in GASNet memory.

For operations which support both apply and fold reduction instances, the mapper has the option of selecting which kind of instance to create by using the value of the reduction_list flag in the RegionRequirement for the reduction when mapping a task. Reduction list instances perform best when reductions are sparse in the target logical region and the resulting list of reductions has fewer elements than the target logical region. Alternatively, fold reduction instances perform best for dense reductions where more than one reduction operation will be applied to each location in the logical region. Locally folding reductions saves space and allows reductions to be performed in parallel. In our circuit simulation, since more than one reduction is applied to each node we consider the reduction to be dense and opt for using reduction fold instances.

A Legion Design Pattern

All languages and APIs have common conventions and design patterns that are encouraged and Legion is no different. One common design pattern in Legion is to employ C++ classes to scope Legion tasks. In this design pattern instances of the class will describe launcher objects for launching tasks, while static members functions will be used to give the many variant implementations of the task. In our circuit example, each of the three major tasks leverage this pattern by declaring the CalcNewCurrentsTask, DistributeChargeTask, and UpdateVoltagesTask classes.

The first step in implementing this pattern is to have each of the classes extend the kind of launcher that will be used to launch the variants of the task (in the circuit example, the classes extend the IndexLauncher class since we perform index space launches for the three major classes). The implementation of the constructors for each of these tasks then fill in the RegionRequirement vectors for each task launch. This explicitly co-locates in the description of the logical regions and fields to be used by a task improving code readability.
</br> For the implementation of each task, static member functions are given for each kind of variant. For all three primary tasks in our circuit example, we support both CPU and GPU leaf task implementations. Note that all of these static methods use the same naming and argument schemes. This allows us to use generic templated functions to automatically register, launch, and provide wrapper code for each of the different tasks. The TaskHelper namespace provides template functions for performing these duties for each of the main tasks in the circuit simulation. The dispatch_task function is used to launch tasks. The register_cpu_variants and register_hybrid_variants are used to register either the CPU-only or both CPU and GPU variants of tasks respectively. Implementing all Legion tasks in this way makes it possible to generalize task implementation, thereby reducing the verbosity and the complexity of Legion runtime code.

In-Situ Program Analysis

Due to the amount of data generated by many scientific applications, it is often necessary for applications to analyze this data while in memory. One of the benefits of using Legion is that this in-situ analysis can be done simply by issuing additional tasks which read (and possibly modify) existing logical regions which contain the necessary data. For our circuit example, we have included a very simple example of performing in-situ analysis: checking for NaN (not-a-number) floating point values.

Our analysis is very simple, after each of the index space task launch, we issue a second index space task launch of a checking task to verify that all the fields that were written are free of NaN values. To do this we add a launch_check_fields method to each of our task objects. This method is responsible for launching the checking task for each kind of circuit simulation task. Since we use the common dispatch_task template method for launching all of our tasks, we simply modify this method to see if we are performing the in-situ analysis, and if-so, call the launch_check_fields method on each launcher object. Whether or not we perform the analysis is controlled by the -checks command line flag.

The checking tasks are just like any other task to the Legion runtime and it performs the necessary dependency analysis to ensure that they check the correct data. Since the checking tasks are just like any other task they can be off-loaded onto unused processors. In this case, all of the checking tasks only use READ-ONLY privileges, which guarantees that the tasks are not on the critical path. Note that we only have a CPU variant of the checking task. When running with GPU processors, the processor mapping a checking task will indicate that data needs to be placed in system memory (or zero-copy memory). Legion will automatically issue the necessary copies for creating physical instances on the CPU-side with the correct data.

Overall this illustrates the flexibility of the Legion runtime. In many applications, in-situ analysis must be grafted on later, often adding considerable complexity to the application. In Legion, in-situ analysis simply requires launching additional tasks. Coming soon we plan to add support for in-situ visualization tasks that will leverage GPUs enabled for graphics to perform real-time visualization as the application is executing.

Fast Accessors

While the AccessorType::Generic region accessor is general purpose and works for all physical instances, it is very slow. Most Legion applications are performance sensitive and therefore need fast access to the data contained within physical instances (by fast we mean as fast as C pointer dereferences). To achieve this, we provide specialized accessors for specific data layouts. These accessors are templated so that significant amounts of constant folding occurs at compile-time, resulting in memory accesses that are effectively C pointer dereferences.

In advance we acknowledge that there are two downsides to this approach. First, the use of C++ templates adds significantly to the verbosity of leaf task code. Second, programmers must anticipate all variants of specialization that are to occur (dictated by the mapper) and therefore must statically guarantee the instantiation of all possible variants of tasks at compile-time. This is clearly not ideal.

A solution to this problem is in progress. We are currently in the process of incorporating the Terra programming system into Legion. Terra is a companion to Lua that enables Lua to be used as a meta-programming language for generating Terra code which can be JIT-compiled to fast x86 and PTX code. Ultimately, Legion applications will register a Lua meta-programming generator for tasks. The generator will be invoked by the Legion runtime for each new combination of processor target and physical instance layout to JIT a new task implementation. Consequently only those combinations of processor-type and accessor kinds that are needed will be generated. The latency of the JIT process will be hidden like all other long-latency operations in Legion via deferred execution. However, for the moment we are stuck with C++ templates.

In our circuit example, we show an example of using specialized accessors in the CalcNewCurrentsTask which is the most computationally expensive task. We add a dense_calc_new_currents method to the class which will attempt to specialize all of our region accessors into accessors for struct-of-arrays physical instances. Note that it is possible that this specialization fails in which case the dense_calc_new_currents method returns false and we fall back to the slow version of the task using generic accessors.

The accessor for struct-of-arrays physical instances is AccessorType::SOA. This type is templated on the size of the field being accessed in bytes. The template value can also be instantiated with 0, but this will cause the accessor to fall back to using a dynamically computed field size which will not be as fast C pointer dereferences (but will always be correct). For each of our accessors, we first call the can_convert method on the generic accessor to confirm that we can convert to new accessor type. If any of them fails, then we return false. If they all succeed, then we can invoke convert method to get specialized SOA accessors.

In addition to SOA accessors, there are several other specialized accessors:

  • AOS - array-of-struct accessors
  • HybridSOA - for handling layouts that interleave multiple elements for different fields (still in progress, inspired by the ISPC compiler
  • ReductionFold - for reduction instances with an explicit fold operation
  • ReductionList - for reduction instances without an explicit fold operation

Once we have converted all our accessors to SOA we can then perform our kernel. Specialized accessors like SOA have additional methods ptr and ref which enable applications to get direct C pointers and C++ references to elements. Using the ptr method we get pointers for the specific elements. Since we know the elements for a field are laid out contiguously in memory, we can use SSE vectorized loads and stores to move data. It is is then a straight-forward transformation to vectorize our kernel (note auto-vectorization is much easier to do at runtime and will also be supported by Lua-Terra for JIT-ing code for different vector instruction sets). It is just as easy to write code for AVX or FMA instruction extensions.

At this point, the observant reader will notice that we have done nothing to actually specify that our physical instances should be laid out in struct-of-arrays order. To accomplish this we extend the DefaultMapper with a custom CircuitMapper. In the map_task method, we modify the mapping requests for each RegionRequirement to specify that the blocking_factor should be set to the max_blocking_factor allowed. This will tell the runtime that a struct-of-arrays layout should be used. If we had specified 1 for the blocking factor, that would correspond to an AOS layout, and any value in between would be a HybridSOA layout.

GPU Execution

The circuit example also illustrates how to execute tasks on the GPU (see any of the gpu_base_impl methods on the three major circuit tasks). In Legion GPU tasks actually begin running on a CPU thread. Legion guarantees that this CPU thread is already bound to a CUDA device context that is attached to the target GPU which was specified by the mapper when the task was mapped. The physical regions for the task are also already located in whatever GPU memory the mapper requested (framebuffer or zero-copy) and are visible within the device context. Therefore, the user simply needs to launch the corresponding GPU kernel. Users are still responsible for selecting the number of threadblocks and threads per threadblock when launching their kernels.

Unlike normal CUDA applications, Legion CUDA tasks do not need to synchronize with the GPU when they are done. Instead, the Legion runtime automatically intercepts all the kernels launched during a task and defers their execution onto an internal CUDA stream; all kernels launched in the same task will be run in order (no guarantees are made about kernels from different tasks). Legion will not consider the task complete until all of the CUDA kernels launched during the task have finished. This allows the task to return without needing to synchronize with the GPU. Legion tracks kernels by providing its own implementation of the CUDA runtime API declared in cuda_runtime.h (note the Legion runtime does not need to link against the CUDA runtime library -lcudart). Legion transparently captures all CUDA runtime API calls and translates them into the appropriate CUDA driver API calls while recording the necessary information to track when tasks have been completed. This approach allows Legion applications to be written using standard CUDA syntax and to have the CUDA compiler nvcc automatically target the Legion runtime.

By providing its own implementation of the CUDA runtime API Legion controls the set of API calls that can be done inside of Legion GPU tasks. In general, Legion GPU tasks should only need to perform kernel launches with the standard <<<...>>> launch syntax. However, we do support several CUDA runtime API calls for special cases. Any attempt to use an API call that we do not support will result in a link error. It is imperative that all Legion GPU tasks use the CUDA runtime API; use of the CUDA driver API will circumvent the ability of the Legion runtime to track GPU kernels launched in tasks and will result in undefined behavior.

In all of the GPU variants for each of the three primary circuit simulation tasks, we create region accessors just as before. We again create SOA accessors for our physical instances (we assert if we fail to convert right now). SOA accessors guarantee that all global loads and stores in the GPU kernels will be coalesced. The one exception is in the distribute_charge task. The shared and ghost charge regions are actually reduction-fold instances so we create ReductionFold accessors for these two regions. Since we know ReductionFold regions only have a single field, we know that reductions to these regions will also be coalesced. To perform the reductions we use the GPUAccumulateCharge class. This class serves the same functionality as the AccumulateCharge task on the CPU side, but instead uses CUDA atomicAdd intrinsics to perform the reductions.

The GPU update_voltages task illustrates a pending productivity issue in Legion. The update_voltages kernel currently needs to look up the location of the node pointer to see if it is in the private or the shared set of nodes. This can lead to control divergence within the execution of the GPU kernel (it is not a serious concern for circuit as update_voltages is not performance critical). Ideally, it would be nice to be able to overlay the data for these two logical regions on the same physical instance since they share are common ancestor logical region. We have several other use cases that could also benefit for this optimization. If you develop an application with similar characteristics please alert us. The more demand there is for it, the more quickly we will implement it.