Sparsely Faceted Arrays: A Mechanism Supporting Parallel Allocation, Communication, and Garbage Collection

Unknown author (2002-06-01)

Conventional parallel computer architectures do not provide support for non-uniformly distributed objects. In this thesis, I introduce sparsely faceted arrays (SFAs), a new low-level mechanism for naming regions of memory, or facets, on different processors in a distributed, shared memory parallel processing system. Sparsely faceted arrays address the disconnect between the global distributed arrays provided by conventional architectures (e.g. the Cray T3 series), and the requirements of high-level parallel programming methods that wish to use objects that are distributed over only a subset of processing elements. A sparsely faceted array names a virtual globally-distributed array, but actual facets are lazily allocated. By providing simple semantics and making efficient use of memory, SFAs enable efficient implementation of a variety of non-uniformly distributed data structures and related algorithms. I present example applications which use SFAs, and describe and evaluate simple hardware mechanisms for implementing SFAs. Keeping track of which nodes have allocated facets for a particular SFA is an important task that suggests the need for automatic memory management, including garbage collection. To address this need, I first argue that conventional tracing techniques such as mark/sweep and copying GC are inherently unscalable in parallel systems. I then present a parallel memory-management strategy, based on reference-counting, that is capable of garbage collecting sparsely faceted arrays. I also discuss opportunities for hardware support of this garbage collection strategy. I have implemented a high-level hardware/OS simulator featuring hardware support for sparsely faceted arrays and automatic garbage collection. I describe the simulator and outline a few of the numerous details associated with a "real" implementation of SFAs and SFA-aware garbage collection. Simulation results are used throughout this thesis in the evaluation of hardware support mechanisms.