Parallel Work Inflation, Memory Effects, and their Empirical Analysis


In this paper, we propose an empirical method for evaluating the performance of parallel code. Our method is based on a simple idea that is surprisingly effective in helping to identify causes of poor performance, such as high parallelization overheads, lack of adequate parallelism, and memory effects. Our method relies on only the measurement of the run time of a baseline sequential program, the run time of the parallel program, the single-processor run time of the parallel program, and the total amount of time processors spend idle, waiting for work.

In our proposed approach, we establish an equality between the observed speedups relative to the baseline and three terms that we call parallel work, idle time, and work-inflation, where all terms except work inflation can be measured empirically with precision. We then use the equality to calculate the difficult-to-measure work-inflation term, which includes increased communication costs and memory effects due to parallel execution. By isolating the main factors of poor performance, our method enables the programmer to assign blame to certain properties of the code, such as parallel grain size, amount of parallelism, and memory usage.

We present a mathematical model, inspired by the work-span model, that enables us to justify the interpretation of our measurements. We also introduce a method to help the programmer to visualize both the relative impact of the various causes of poor performance and the scaling trends in the causes of poor performance. Our method fits in a sweet spot in between state-of-the-art profiling and visualization tools. We illustrate our method by several empirical studies and we describe a few experiments that emphasize the care that is required to accurately interpret speedup plots.


Umut A. Acar, Arthur Charguéraud, and Mike Rainey
Report, September 2017