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Seminar “Parallel Computing“ Summer term 2008

Seminar paper
Parallel Computing (703525)

Optimisation: Operating System Scheduling on multi-core


architectures

Lehrveranstaltungsleiter: T. Fahringer

Name Matrikelnummer
Thomas Zangerl

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Seminar “Parallel Computing“ Summer term 2008

Abstract

As multi-core architectures begin to emerge in every area of computing, operating system


scheduling that takes the peculiarities of such architectures into account will become
mandatory. Due to architectural differences to traditional multi-processors, such as shared
caches, memory controllers and smaller cache sizes available per computational unit, it does
not suffice to simply schedule tasks on multi-core processors in the same way as on SMP
systems.
Furthermore, current research motivates architectural changes in CPU design, such as multi-
core processors with asymmetric core-performance and so called many-core architectures that
integrate up to 100 cores in one package. Such architectures will exhibit a fundamentally
different behaviour with regard to shared resource utilization and performance of non-
parallelizable code compared to current CPUs. It will be the responsibility of the operating
system to spare the programmer as much platform-specific knowledge as possible and
optimize overall performance by employing intelligent and configurable scheduling
mechanisms.

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Abstract......................................................................................................................................2
1. Introduction............................................................................................................................4
1.1 Why use multi-core processors at all?..............................................................................4
1.2 What’s so different about multi-core scheduling?............................................................5
2. OS process scheduling state of the art...................................................................................7
2.1 Linux scheduler................................................................................................................7
2.1.1 The Completely Fair Scheduler ................................................................................7
2.1.2 Scheduling domains...................................................................................................7
2.2 Windows scheduler..........................................................................................................9
2.3 Solaris scheduler.............................................................................................................10
3. Ongoing research on the topic.............................................................................................11
3.1 Cache-Fairness................................................................................................................11
3.2 Balancing core assignment..............................................................................................12
3.3 Performance asymmetry.................................................................................................13
3.4 Scheduling on many-core architectures..........................................................................15
4. Conclusion...........................................................................................................................18
5. References............................................................................................................................20

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Seminar “Parallel Computing“ Summer term 2008

1. Introduction

1.1Why use multi-core processors at all?


In the last few years, multi-core CPUs have become a standard component in nearly all sorts
of computers – not only servers and high-end workstations but also desktop and laptop PCs
for consumers and even game consoles nowadays usually come with CPUs with more than
one core.
This development is not surprising; already in 1965 Gordon Moore predicted that the number
of transistors that can be cost-effectively built onto integrated circuits were going to double
every year ([1]). In 1975, Moore corrected that assumption to a period of two years; nowadays
this period is frequently assumed to be 18 months).

Moore's projection has more or less been accurate up to today and consumers have gotten
used to the constant speedup of computer hardware – it is expected by buyers that a new
computer shows a significant speedup to a two years older model (even though an increase in
transistor density does not always lead to an equal in increase in computing speed). For chip
manufacturers, it has become increasingly difficult however to keep up with Moore's law. In
order to implement the exponential increase of integrated circuits, the transistor structures
have to become steadily smaller. On the one hand, the extra transistors were used for the
integration of more and more specialized instruction sets on CISC chips. On the other hand,
smaller transistor sizes led to higher clock rates of the CPUs, because due to physical factors,
the gates in the transistors could perform faster state switches.

However, since electronic activity always produces heat as an unwanted by-product, the more
transistors are packed together in a small CPU die area, the higher the resulting heat
dissipation per unit area becomes ([2]). With the higher switching frequency, the electronic
activity was performed in smaller intervals, and hence more and more heat-dissipation
emerged. The cooling of the processor components became more and more a crucial factor in
design considerations and it became clear, that the increasing clock frequency could no longer
serve as the primary reason for processor speedup.

Hence, there had to be a shift in paradigm in order to still make applications run faster; on the
one hand the amazing abundance of transistors on processor chips was used to increase the
cache sizes. This alone, however, would not result in an adequate performance gain, since it
only helps memory intensive applications to a certain degree. In order to effectively
counteract the heat problem while making use of the small structures and high number of
transistors on a chip, the notion of multi-core processors for consumer PCs was introduced.

Since the CMOS technology met its limits for the further increase of CPU clock frequency
and the number of transistors that could be integrated on a single die allowed for it, the idea
emerged, that multiple processing cores could be placed in a single processor die.
In 2006, Intel released the Core™ microprocessor, a die package with two processor cores
with their own level 1 caches and a shared level 2 cache ([3]).
Also in 2006, AMD, the second major CPU manufacturer for the consumer market, released
the Athlon™ X2, a processor with quite similar architecture to the Core platform, but
additionally featuring the concept of also sharing a CPU-integrated memory-controller among
the cores ([[4]).

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Seminar “Parallel Computing“ Summer term 2008

Both architectures have been improved and sold with a range of consumer desktop and laptop
computers - but also servers and workstations - up to today; therefore the presence of multi-
core processors in a large number of today's PCs can be assumed.

1.2What’s so different about multi-core scheduling?


One could assume that the scheduling process on such multi-core processors wouldn’t differ
much from conventional scheduling – intuitively the run-queue would just have to be replaced
by n run-queues, where n is the number of cores and processes would simply be scheduled to
the currently shortest run-queue (with some additional process-priority treatment, maybe).

While that might seem reasonable, there are some properties of current multi-core
architectures that speak strongly against such a naïve approach. First, in many multi core
architectures, each core manages its own level 1 cache (Figure 1). By just naïvely
rescheduling interrupted processes to a shorter queue which belongs to another core (task
migration), parts of the processes cache working set may become unnecessarily lost and the
overall performance may slow down. This effect becomes even worse if the underlying
architecture is not a multi-core but a NUMA system where memory access can become very
costly if the process is scheduled on the “wrong” node.

Figure 1: Typical multi-core architecture

A second important point is that the performance of different cores in a multi-core system
may be asymmetric regarding the performance of the different cores ([5]). This effect can
emerge due to several reasons:

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• Design considerations. Many slow cores can be used for increasing the throughput in
parallel computation while a few faster cores contribute to the efficient processing of
costly tasks which can not be parallelized. ([6]).
Even algorithms that are parallelizable contain parts that have to be executed
sequentially, which will benefit from the higher speed of the fastest core. Hence
performance-asymmetry has been shown to be a very efficient approach in multi-core
architectures ([7]).
• Transistor failures. Some parts of the CPU may get damaged over time and become
automatically disabled by the CPU. Since such components may fail in certain cores
independently from the other cores, performance asymmetry may arise in symmetric
cores over time ([5]).
• Power-saving policies. Different cores may switch to different P- or C-power-states at
different times in order to save power. At different P-states, equal cores show a
different clock-frequency. If an OS scheduler manages to take this into account for
processes not in need of all system resources, the system can remain more energy-
efficient over the execution time while giving away only little or no performance at
all. ([8]).

Hence, performance asymmetry, the fact that various CPU components can be shared among
cores, and non-uniform access to computation resources such as memory, mandate the design
of efficient multi-core scheduling mechanisms or scheduling frameworks at the operating
system level.

Multi-core processors have gone mainstream and while there may be the demand that they are
efficiently used in terms of performance, the currently fashionable term Green-IT also
motivates the energy-efficient use of the CPU cores.
Section 2 will explore how far current operating systems have evolved in support of the new
architectures.

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2. OS process scheduling state of the art

2.1 Linux scheduler


2.1.1The Completely Fair Scheduler

The Linux scheduler in versions prior to 2.6.23 performed its tasks in complexity O(1) by
basically just using per-CPU run-queues and priority arrays ([9]). Kernel version 2.6.23,
which was released on October 9 2007, introduced the so-called completely fair scheduler
(CFS). The change in scheduler was mainly motivated by the failure of the old scheduler to
correctly predict whether applications are interactive (I/O-bound) or CPU-intensive ([10]).

Therefore the new scheduler has completely abandoned the notion of different kinds of
processes and treats them all equally. The data-structure of a red-black tree is used to align the
tasks according to their “right” to use the processor resources for a predefined interval until
context-switch. The process positioned at the leftmost node in the data structure is entitled
most to use the processor resources at the time it occupies that position in the tree. The
position of a process in the tree is only dependent on the wait-time of the process in the run-
queue (including the time the process is actually waiting for events) and the process priority
([11]). This concept is fairly simple, but works with all kinds of processes, especially
interactive ones, since they get a boost just by getting account for their I/O-waiting time.

However, the total scheduling complexity is increased to O(log n) where n is the number of
processes in the run-queue, since at every context-switch, the process has to be reinserted into
the red-black tree.

The scheduling algorithm itself has not been designed in special consideration of multi-core
architectures. When Ingo Molnar, the designer of the scheduler, was asked, what the
implications on HT/SMP/NUMA architectures would be, he answered, that there would
inevitably be some effect, and if it is negative, he will fix it. He admits that the fairness-
approach can result in increased cache-coldness for processes in some situations. ([12]).

However, the red-black trees of CFS are managed per runqueue ([13]), which assists in
cooperation with the Linux load-balancer.

2.1.2Scheduling domains

Linux load-balancing takes care of different cache models and computing architectures but at
the moment not necessarily of performance asymmetry. The underlying model of the Linux
load balancer is the concept of scheduling domains, which was introduced in Kernel version
2.6.7 due to the unsatisfying performance of Linux scheduling on SMP and NUMA systems
in prior versions ([14]).

Basically, scheduling domains are hierarchical sets of computation units on which scheduling
is possible; the scheduling domain architecture is constructed based on the actual hardware
resources of a computing element ([9]). Scheduling domains contain lists with scheduling
groups that share common properties.

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For example, the way scheduling should be done on two logical processors of a HT-systems
and two physical processors of a SMP system is different; the HT “cores” share a common
cache and memory hierarchy, therefore task migration is not a problem, if one of the logical
cores becomes idle. However, in a SMP or multi-core system, in which the cache or parts of
the cache is administrated by each core separately, migrating tasks with a large working set
may become problematic.
This applies even more to NUMA machine, where different CPU may be closer or more
remote to the memory the process is using. Therefore all this architectures have to be treated
differently.

The scheduling domain concept introduces scheduling domains, a logical union of computing
resources that share common properties, with whom it is reasonable to treat them equally and
CPU groups within these domains. Those groups contain hardware-addressable computing
resources that are part of the domain on which the balancer can try to even the domain load
out.

Scheduling domains are hierarchically nested – there is a top-level domain containing all
other domains of the physical system the Linux is running on. Depending on the actual
architecture, the sub-domains represent NUMA node groups, physical CPU groups, multi-
core groups or SMT groups in a respective hierarchical nesting. This structure is built
automatically based on the actual topology of the system and for reasons of efficiency each
CPU keeps a copy of every domain it belongs to. For example, a logical SMT processor that
at the same time is a core in a physical multi-core processor on a NUMA node with multiple
(SMP) processors would totally administer 4 sched_domain structures, one for each level of
parallel computing it is involved in ([15]).

Figure 2: Example hierarchy in the Linux scheduling domains

Load-balancing takes place at scheduling domain level, between the different groups. Each
domain level is sensitive with respect to the constraints set by its properties regarding load
balancing. For example, load balancing happens very often between logical simultaneous

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multithreading cores, but very rarely on the NUMA level, where remote memory access is
costly.
The scheduling domain for multi-core processors was added with Kernel version 2.6.17 ([16])
and especially considers the shared last level cache that multi-core architectures frequently
possess. Hence, on a SMP machine with two multi-core packages, two tasks will be scheduled
on different packages, if both packages are currently idle, in order to make use of the overall
larger cache.

In recent Linux-kernels, the multi-core processor scheduling domain also offers support for
energy-efficient scheduling, which can be used if e.g. the powersave governor is set in the
cpufreq tool. Saving energy can be achieved by changing the P- and the C-states of the cores
in the different packages. However, P-states are transitions are made by adjusting the voltage
and the frequency of a core and since there is only one voltage regulator per socket on the
mainboard, the P-state is dependent on the busiest core. So, as long as any core in a package is
busy, the P-state will be relatively low, which corresponds to a high frequency and voltage.
While the P-states remain relatively fixed, the C-states can be manipulated. Adjusting the C-
states means turning off parts of the registers, blocking interrupts to the processor, etc. ([17])
and can be done on each core independently. However, the shared cache features its own C-
state regulator and will always stay in the lowest C-state that any of the cores has.
Therefore, energy-efficiency is often limited to adjusting the C-state of a non-busy core while
leaving other C-states and the packages’ P-state low.

Linux scheduling within the multi-core domain with the powersave-governor turned on will
attempt to schedule multiple tasks on one physical package as long as it is feasible. This way,
other multi-core packages will be allowed to transition into higher P- and C-states. The author
of [9] claims, that generally the performance impact will be relatively low and that the
performance loss/power saving trade-off will be rewarding, if the energy-efficient scheduling
approach is used.

2.2 Windows scheduler


In Windows, scheduling is conducted on threads. The scheduler is priority-based with
priorities ranging from 0 to 31. Timeslices are allocated to threads in a round-robin fashion;
these timeslices are assigned to highest priority threads first and only if know thread of a
given priority is ready to run at a certain time, lower priority threads may receive the
timeslice. However, if higher-priority threads become ready to run, the lower priority threads
are preempted.

In addition to the base priority of a thread, Windows dynamically changes the priorities of
low-prioritized threads in order to ensure “felt” responsiveness of the operating system. For
example, the thread associated with the foreground window on the Windows desktop receives
a priority boost. After such a boost, the thread-priority gradually decays back to the base
priority ([21]).

Scheduling on SMP-systems is basically the same, except that Windows keeps the notion of a
thread’s processor affinity and an ideal processor for a thread. The ideal processor is the
processor with for example the highest cache-locality for a certain thread. However, if the
ideal processor is not idle at the time of lookup, the thread may just run on another processor.
In [21] and other sources, no explicit information is given on scheduling mechanisms
especially specific to multi-core architectures, though.

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2.3Solaris scheduler
In the Solaris scheduler terminology, processes are called kernel- or user-mode threads
dependant on the space in which they run. User threads don’t only exist in the user space –
whenever a user thread is created, a so-called lightweight process is set up that connects the
user thread to a kernel thread. These kernel threads are object to scheduling.
Solaris 10 offers a number of scheduling classes, which may co-exist on one system. The
scheduling classes provide an adaptive model for the specific types of applications which are
intended to run on top of the operating system. ([18]) mentions Solaris 10 scheduling classes
for:

• Standard (timeshare) threads, whose priority may be adapted by the scheduler.


• Interactive applications (the currently active window in the graphical user interface).
• Fair sharing of system resources (instead of priority-based sharing)
• Fixed-priority threads. The priority of threads scheduled with this scheduler does not
vary over the scheduling time.
• System (kernel) threads.
• Real-time threads, with a fixed priority and time share. Threads in this scheduling
class may preempt system threads.

The scheduling classes for timeshare, fixed-priority and fair sharing are not recommended for
simultaneous use on a system, while other combinations of scheduling classes on a set of
CPUs are possible.

The timeshare and interactive schedulers are quite similar to the old Linux scheduler (before
CFS) in their attempt of trying to identify I/O bound processes and providing them with a
priority boost. Threads have a fixed time quantum they may use once they get the context and
receive a new priority based on whether they fully consume their time quantum and on their
waiting time for the context. Fair share scheduling uses a fixed time quantum (share) allocated
to processes ([19]) as a base for scheduling. Different processes (actually collection of
processes, or, in Solaris 10 terminology, projects) compete for quanta on a computing
resource and their position in that competition depends on how large the value they have been
assigned is in relation to the total quanta number on the computing resource.

Solaris explicitly deals with the scenario, that parts of the processor’s resources may be
shared, as it is likely with typical multi-core processors. There is a kernel abstraction called
“processor group” (pg_t), that is built according to the actual system topology and represents
logical CPUs that share some physical properties (like caches or a common socket). These
groupings can be investigated by the dispatcher e.g. in order to maintain logical CPU affinity
for the purpose of cache-hotness where it is reasonable. Quite similar to the concept of
Linux’s scheduling domains, Solaris 10 tries to simultaneously achieve load balancing on
multiple levels (for example if there are physical CPUs with multiple cores and SMT) ([20]).

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3. Ongoing research on the topic


Research on multi-core scheduling deals with a number of different topics, many of which are
orthogonal (e.g. maximizing fairness and throughput). The purpose of this section is to
present an interesting selection of different approaches to multi-core scheduling. Sections 3.1
and 3.2 summarize proposals to improve fairness and load-balancing on current multi-core
architectures while sections 3.3 and 3.4 concentrate on approaches for scheduling on
promising new computing architectures, such as multi-core processors with asymmetric
performance and many-core CPUs.

3.1Cache-Fairness
Several studies (e.g. [22], [23]) suggest that operating system schedulers insufficiently deal
with threads that allocate large parts of the shared level 2 cache and thus slow-up threads
running on the other core that uses the same cache.
The situation is unsatisfactory due to several reasons: First, it can lead to unpredictable
execution times and throughput and second, scheduling priorities may loose their
effectiveness because of threads running on cores with aggressive “co-runners” (i.e. threads
running on another core in the same package).
Figure 3 shows such a scenario: Thread B uses the larger part of the shared cache and thus
maybe negatively influences the cycles per instruction that thread A achieves during its CPU
time share.

L2-cache-misses are more costly than L1-cache-misses, because the latency to the memory is
bigger than to the next cache-level. However, it is mostly the L2-cache that is shared among
different cores.
The authors of [22] try to mitigate the above mentioned effects by introducing a cache-
fairness aware scheduler for the Solaris 10 operating system.

Figure 3: Unfair cache utilization by thread B

In their scheduling algorithm, the threads on a system are grouped into a best effort class and
a cache-fair class. Best effort threads are penalized for the sake of performance stability of
cache-fair threads, if necessary, but not vide-versa. However, it is taken care, that this does
not result in inadequate discrimination of best effort threads.
Fairness is enforced by allocating longer time shares to cache-fair threads that suffer from
cache-intensive co-runners at the expense of these co-runners, if they are best effort threads.
Figure 4 illustrates that process.

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Figure 4: Restoring fairness by adjusting timeshares

In order to compute the quantum that the thread is entitled to, the algorithm uses an analytical
model to estimate a few reference values that would hold, if the thread had run under fair
circumstances, namely the fair L2 cache miss rate, the fair CPI rate and the fair number of
instructions (during a quantum). All those values are based on the assumption of fair
circumstances, so the difference to the actual values is computed and a quantum extension is
calculated which should serve as “compensation”.

Those calculations are done once for new cache-fair class threads – their L2 cache miss rates
and other data is measured with different co-runners. Subsequently, the dispatcher
periodically selects best-effort threads from whom he takes parts of their quanta and assigns
them as “compensation” to the cache-fair threads. New cache-fair threads are not explicitly
scheduled with different co-runners in the analysis phase, but whenever new combinations of
cache-fair threads with co-runners occur, analytical input is mined from the CPU’s hardware
counters.

The authors of [22] state that according to their measurements, the penalties on best-effort
threads are low, while the algorithm actually enforces priority better than standard scheduling
and improves fairness. These claims are supported by experimental data gathered using the
SPEC CPU2000 suite on an UltraSPARC T1 processor. The experiments measure the time it
takes a thread to complete a specific benchmark while a cache-intensive second thread is
executed in the same package. The execution times under these circumstances are compared
with the times of threads running with co-runners with low-cache requirements. This
comparison shows differences of up to 37% in execution time between the two scenarios on a
system with a standard scheduler, while using the cache-fair scheduler, the variability
decreases to 7%.
At the same time, however, measurements of the execution times of threads in the best-effort
scheduling class reveal a slowdown of up to 8% for some threads (while some even
experience a speed-up).

3.2Balancing core assignment


Fedorova et al. ([27]) argue, that during operating system scheduling, several aspects have to
be considered besides optimal performance. It is shown that scheduling tasks on the cores in
an imbalanced way results in jittery performance (i.e. unpredictability of a tasks completion
time) and, as a consequence, insufficient priority enforcement.
It could be part of the operating system scheduler to ensure that the jobs are evenly assigned
to cores. In the approach described in [27] this is done by using a self-tuning scheduling
algorithm based on a per-core benefit function. This benefit function is based on three input
components:

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1) The normalized core preference of a thread, which is based on the instructions per
cycle that a thread j can achieve on a certain core i ( IPC j ,i ), normalized by max(
IPC j ,k ) (where k is an arbitrary CPU/core)
2) The cache-affinity, a value which is 1 if the thread j was scheduled on core i within a
tuneable time period and 0 otherwise
3) The average cache investment of a thread on a core which is determined by inspecting
the hardware cache miss counter from time to time

This benefit function can then be used to determine whether it would be feasible to migrate
threads from core i to core j. For each core, a benefit function Bi , 0 is computed that represents
the case of no thread migrations taking place. For each thread k on a core, and updated benefit
value for the hypothetical scenario of the migration of the thread onto another core Bi ,k − , is
computed. Of course, the benefit will increase, since fewer threads are executed on the core.
But the thread that would have been taken away in the hypothetical scenario would have to be
migrated to another core, which would influence the benefit value of the target core.
Therefore, also the updated benefit value of any other system core j to which the thread in
question would be migrated to, has to be computed and is called B j ,k + .
The hypothetical migration of thread k from core i to core j becomes reality if
Bi ,k − + B j ,k + > Bi , 0 + B j ,0 + a * DCAB + b * DRTF . DCAB represents a system-wide balance-
constraint, while DRTF ensures a per-job response-time-fairness (i.e. the slowdown that results
for the thread in question from the thread-migration does not exceed some maximum value).

These two constants, together with the criterions included in the benefit function itself (most
notably cache-affinity) should help to ensure that the self-tuning fulfils the three goals of
optimal performance, core-assignment balance and response-time-fairness.

However, the authors have not yet actually implemented the scheduling modification in Linux
and hence the statements on its effectiveness remain somehow theoretical.

3.3Performance asymmetry
It has been advocated that building multi-core chips with asymmetric performance of the
different cores can have advantages for the overall processing speed of a CPU. For example, it
can prove beneficial if one fast core can be used to speed up parts that can hardly be
parallelized while multiple slower cores come to play when parallel code parts are executed.
By keeping the cores for parallel execution slower than the core(s) for serial execution, die-
area and cost can be saved ([24]) while power consumption may be reduced.
[25] closely analyzes the impact of performance asymmetry on the average speedup of an
application with increase of cores. The paper concludes, that “[a]symmetric multicore chips
can offer maximum speedups that are much greater than symmetric multicore chips (and
never worse)”. Hence, performance asymmetry at the processor core level seems to be a
promising approach for future multi-core architectures.
[26] suggests that asymmetric multiprocessing CPUs do exceptionally well for moderately
parallelized applications, but don’t scale much worse with highly parallel programs. (see
Figure 5)

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Figure 5: Comparison of speedup with SMP and AMP using highly parallel programs (left), moderately
parallel programs (middle) and highly sequential programs (right)1

Apart from explicit design, performance asymmetry can also occur in initially symmetric
multi-core processors by either power-saving mechanisms (increasing the C-state) or failure
of transistors that leads to disabling of parts of the core’s components.

Problems arise by the fact that the programmer usually assumes symmetric performance of
the processor cores and designs her programs accordingly. Therefore, the operating system
scheduler should support processor performance asymmetry, which is currently not the case
for most schedulers. However, it would be imaginable to see this as a Linux scheduling
domain in the future.

[5] describes AMPS, an approach on how a performance-asymmetry aware scheduler for


Linux could look like. Basically the scheduler consists of three components: An asymmetry-
specific load balancing, a faster-core first scheduler and a migration mechanism specifically
for NUMA machines that will not be covered in detail here. The scheduling mechanism tries
to achieve a better performance, fairness (with respect to the thread priorities) and
repeatability of performance results.
In order to conduct load-balancing, the core performance is assessed in a first step. AMPS
measures core performance at boot time, using benchmarks, and sets the performance
quantifier for the slowest core to 1 and for faster cores, to a number higher than 1. Then the
scaled load of a core is the run-queue length of a core divided by its performance quantifier.
If this scaled load is within a maximum and a minimum threshold, then the system is
considered to be load-balanced, otherwise threads will be migrated. By the scaling factor,
faster cores will receive more workload than slower ones.

Besides the load-balancing, cores with lower scaled load are preferred in thread placement.
Whenever new threads are scheduled, the new scaled load that would apply if the thread was
scheduled to one specific core is computed. Then the thread is scheduled to the core with the
least new scaled load; in case of a tie, faster cores are preferred. Additionally, the load-
balancer may migrate threads even if the source core of migration can become idle by doing
it. AMPS only migrates threads, if the new scaled load of the destination core does not exceed

1
Image source: http://www.intel.com/technology/magazine/research/power-efficiency-0206.htm

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the scaled load on the source-core. This way, the benefits of available fast cores can be fully
exploited while not overburdening them.
It can be expected, that frequent core migration results in performance loss by cache misses
(e.g. in the level cache). However, experimental results in [5] reveal no excessive
performance loss by the fact that task migration among cores occurs more often than in
standard schedulers.

Figure 6: Speedup of the AMPS scheduler compared to Linux scheduler on AMP with two fast and six
slow cores2

Instead, performance on SMP systems measurably improves (see Figure 6, standard scheduler
speed would be 1, median speedup is 1.16); while fairness and repeatability is preserved
better than with standard Linux (there is less deviation in the execution times of different
processes).

3.4Scheduling on many-core architectures


Current research points at the potential of future CPU architectures that consist of a multitude
of different cores (tens to hundreds) in order to prolong the time the industry can keep up with
Moore’s prediction. Such CPU architectures are going to require novel approaches in thread
scheduling, since the available shared memory per core is potentially smaller, while main
memory access time increases and single-threaded performance decreases. Even more so than
with current CMP chips, schedulers that treat such large scale CMP architectures just like
SMP systems, are going to fail with respect to performance.

[28] identifies three major challenges in scheduling on many-core architectures, namely the
comparatively small cache sizes which render memory access costly, the fact that non-
specialized programmers will have to program code for them and the wide range of
application scenarios that have to be considered for such chips. The latter two challenges
result from the projected general-purpose use of future many-core architectures.

In order to deal with these challenges, an OS-independent experimental runtime-environment


called McRT is presented in [28]. The runtime environment was built from scratch and is
2
Picture taken from [5]

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independent of operating system kernels – hence the performed operations occur at user-level.
The connection to the underlying operating system is established using so called host
adapters while programming environments like pthreads or OpenMP can invoke the
scheduling environment via client adaptors. For programmability it provides high level
transactions (instead of locks) and the heterogeneity is alleviated by giving the user the choice
among different runtime policies (which influence the scheduling behaviour).

The overall target of the scheduler is to maximize resource utilization and provide the user
with flexible scheduler configurability. Basically the scheduler is configured using three
parameters P, Q and T which respectively denote the number of (logical) processors, task
queues and threading abstractions. P and Q change the scheduling behaviour from strict
affinity to work stealing. T can be used to specify different behaviour for different threads.
This way, the concept of scheduler domains can be realized.

It is notable, that the scheduling system does not use pre-emption; instead threads are
expected to yield at certain times. This design choice has been motivated by the authors’
belief that pre-emption stems from the need of time-sharing expensive and fast resources
which will become obsolete with many-core architectures. The runtime actively supports
constructs such as barriers, which are often needed in parallel programming. Barriers are
designed to avoid busy waiting – for example, a thread yields once it has reached the barrier
but won’t be re-scheduled until all other threads have reached the barrier.
With a pre-emptive scheduling mechanism, the thread would receive the context from time to
time just to check whether other threads have reached the barrier – with the integrated barrier
support based on a co-operative scheduling approach used in McRT, this won’t happen.

The client-side adaptor, e.g. for OpenMP, promises to directly translate many OpenMP
constructs to the McRT API.

[28] also contains a large section on experimental results from benchmarks of typical desktop
and scientific applications, such as the XviD MPEG4 encoder, singular value decomposition
(SVD) and neural networks (SOM). The results were gathered on a cycle-accurate many-core
simulator with 32 Kbyte L1 cache shared among 4 simultaneous multithreaded cores which
form one physical core. 32 such physical cores share 2 Mbyte L2 cache and 4 Mbyte off-chip
L3 cache. The simulator provides a cost-free MWait instruction that allows a thread to tell the
processor that it is blocked and the resource it is waiting for. Only if the resource becomes
available the CPU will execute the thread. Hence, threads that are waiting barriers and locks
don’t consume system resources. It is important to consider that such a mechanism does not
exist on current physical processors, when viewing the experimental speedup results for
McRT

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Figure 7: Speedup of XviD encoding in the McRT framework


(compared to single core performance)3

The experiments reveal that XviD encoding scales very well on McRT (Figure 7, 1080p and
768p denote different video resolutions; the curve labelled “linear” models the ideal speedup).

However, the encoding process was explicitly tweaked for the many-core scenario – under the
condition, that only very little fast memory exists per logical core, parallelization wasn’t
conducted at frame level – instead single frames were partitioned into parts of frames which
were encoded in parallel using OpenMP.

The scalability of SVD and SOM is quite similar to that of XviD; more figures and
evaluations of different scheduling strategies can be found in [28].

3
Picture is from [28]

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4. Conclusion
The probability is high, that processor architectures will undergo extensive changes in order
to keep up with Moore’s law in the future. AMPs and many-core CPUs are just two proposals
for innovative new architectures that may help in prolonging the time horizon within which
Moore’s law can stay valid. Operating system schedulers are going to have to adapt to the
changing underlying architectures.

The scheduler domains of Linux and Solaris add some urgently needed OS-flexibility –
because computing architectures that exhibit different behaviours with regard to memory
access or single-threaded performance can be quite easily integrated into the load-balancing
hierarchy; however, it must be argued that in the future probably more will have to be done in
the scheduling algorithms themselves. But scheduler domains at least provide the required
flexibility at the level of threads.

Sadly, it has to be said, that current Windows schedulers won’t scale with the number of cores
or performance asymmetry at any rate. Basically, the Windows scheduler treats multi-core
architecture like SMP systems and hence can not give proper care to the peculiarities of such
CPUs, like the shared L2 cache (and possibly, the varying or simply bad single-threaded
performance that is going to be a characteristic of emerging future architectures). Ty Carlson,
director of technical strategy at Microsoft, even mentioned at a panel discussion that current
Windows releases (including Vista) were “designed to run on 1,2, maybe 4 processors”4 but
wouldn’t scale beyond. He seems to be perfectly right, when he says that future versions of
Windows would have to be fundamentally redesigned.

Current research shows the road such a redesign could follow. The approach described in
section 3.3 seems to perform pretty well for multi-core processors with asymmetric
performance. The advantage is that the load balancing algorithm can be (and was)
implemented as a modification to current operating system kernels and hence, can be made
available quickly, once asymmetric architectures gain widespread adaption. Experimental
evaluation of the scheduling algorithm reveals promising results, also with regard to fairness.

Section 3.4 presents the way, in which futuristic schedulers on upcoming many-core
architectures could operate. The runtime environment McRT makes use of interesting
techniques and the authors of the paper manage to intelligibly explain why pre-emptive
scheduling is going to be obsolete on many-core architectures. However, their implementation
is realized in user-space and burdens the programmer/user with a multitude of configuration
options and programming decisions that are required in order for the framework to guarantee
optimal performance.
[29] introduces an easier-to-use thread scheduling mechanism based on the efforts of McRT,
experimental assessments which could testify on its performance, although planned, haven’t
been conducted yet. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the further development of
scheduling approaches for many-core architectures, since they might gain fundamentally in
importance in the future.

Achieving fairness and repeatability on today’s available multi-core architectures are the
major design goals of the scheduling techniques detailed in sections 3.1 and 3.2. The first
approach is justified by a number of experimental results that show that priorities are actually
enforced much better than with conventional schedulers; however it remains to be seen,
4
See: http://www.news.com/8301-10784_3-9722524-7.html

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whether the complexity of the scheduling approach and the amount of overhead potentially
introduced by it, justify that improvement. Maybe it would be advantageous to consider
implementing such mechanisms already at the hardware level, if possible.

The algorithm mentioned in section 3.2 hasn’t been implemented yet, so it is an open question
whether such a rather complicated load-balancing algorithm would be feasible in practice.
From the description one can figure, that it takes a lot of computations and thread migrations
in order to ensure the load-balance and it would be interesting to see the overhead from the
computations and the cache-misses imposed by the mechanism on the system. Without any
experimental data, those figures are hard to assess.

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5. References
[1] G. E. Moore: „Cramming more components onto integrated circuits“, Electronics,
Volume 38, Number 8, 1965.

[2] „Why Parallel Processing“:


http://www.tc.cornell.edu/Services/Education/Topics/Parallel/Concepts/
2.+Why+Parallel+Processing.htm

[3] O. Wechsler: „Inside Intel® Core™ Microarchitecture“, Intel Technology Whitepaper,

http://download.intel.com/technology/architecture/new_architecture_06.pdf

[4] „Key Architectural Features AMD Athlon™ X2 Dual-Core Processors“,


http://www.amd.com/us-
en/Processors/ProductInformation/0,,30_118_9485_13041%5E13043,00.html

[5] Li et al.: „Efficient Operating System Scheduling for Performance-Asymmetric Multi-


Core Architectures“, In: International conference on high performance computing,
networking, storage, and analysis, 2007.

[6] Balakrishnan et al.: „The Impact of Performance Asymmetry in Emerging Multicore


Architectures”, In Proceedings of the 32nd Annual International Symposium on Com-
puter Architecture, pages 506–517, June 2005.

[7] M. Annavaram, E. Grochowski, and J. Shen: “Mitigating Amdahl’s law through EPI
throttling”. In Proceedings of the 32nd Annual International Symposium on Computer
Architecture, pages 298–309, June 2005.

[8] V. Pallipadi, S.B. Siddha: “Processor Power Management features and Process
Scheduler: Do we need to tie them together?” In: LinuxConf Europe 2007

[9] S.B. Siddha: “Multi-core and Linux Kernel”, http://oss.intel.com/pdf/mclinux.pdf

[10] http://kernelnewbies.org/Linux_2_6_23

[11] http://lwn.net/Articles/230574/

[12] J. Andrews: “Linux: The Completely Fair Scheduler“, http://kerneltrap.org/node/8059

[13] A. Kumar: “Multiprocessing with the Completely Fair Scheduler”,


http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/linux/library/l-cfs/index.html

[14] Kernel 2.6.7 Changelog:


http://www.kernel.org/pub/linux/kernel/v2.6/ChangeLog-2.6.7

[15] Scheduling domains:


http://lwn.net/Articles/80911

[16] Kernel 2.6.17 Changelog:


http://www.kernel.org/pub/linux/kernel/v2.6/ChangeLog-2.6.17

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[17] T. Kidd: “C-states, C-states and even more C-states”,


http://softwareblogs.intel.com/2008/03/27/update-c-states-c-states-and-even-more-c-states/

[18] Solaris 10 Process Scheduling:


http://www.princeton.edu/~unix/Solaris/troubleshoot/schedule.html

[19] Solaris manpage FSS(7):


http://docs.sun.com/app/docs/doc/816-5177/fss-7?l=de&a=view&q=FSS

[20] Eric Saxe: “CMT and Solaris Performance”,


http://blogs.sun.com/esaxe/entry/cmt_performance_enhancements_in_solaris

[21] MSDN section on Windows scheduling:


http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms685096%28VS.85%29.aspx

[22] A. Fedorova, M. Seltzer and M. D. Smith: “Cache-Fair Thread Scheduling for Multicore
Processors”, Technical Report TR-17-06, Harvard University, Oct. 2006

[23] S. Kim, D. Chandra and Y. Solihin: “Fair Cache Sharing and Partitioning in a Chip
Multiprocessor Architecture”, In Proceedings of the International Conference on
Parallel Architectures and Compilation Techniques, 2004

[24] D. Menasce and V. Almeida: “Cost-Performance Analysis of Heterogeneity in


Supercomputer Architectures”, In: Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on
Supercomputing, June 1990.

[25] M. D. Hill and M. R. Marty: “Amdahl’s Law in the Multicore Era”, In: IEEE
Computer, 2008

[26] B. Crepps: “Improving Multi-Core Architecture Power Efficiency through EPI


Throttling and Asymmetric Multiprocessing”, Intel Technology Magazine,
http://www.intel.com/technology/magazine/research/power-efficiency-0206.htm

[27] A. Fedorova, D. Vengerov and D. Doucette: “Operating System Scheduling on


Heterogeneous Core Systems”, to appear in Proceedings of the First Workshop on
Operating System Support for Heterogeneous Multicore Architectures, 2007.

[28] B. Saha et al.: “Enabling Scalability and Performance in a Large Scale CMP
Environment”, Proceedings of the 2nd ACM SIGOPS/EuroSys European Conference
on Computer Systems, 2007.

[29] M. Rajagopalan, B. T. Lewis and T. A. Anderson: “Thread Scheduling for Multi-Core


Platforms”, in: Proceedings of the Eleventh Workshop on Hot Topics in Operating
Systems, 2007.

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