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Data-Management Services for Parallel Applications

Project Description


The Zoltan library is a collection of data management services for parallel, unstructured, adaptive, and dynamic applications. It simplifies the load-balancing, data movement, unstructured communication, and memory usage difficulties that arise in dynamic applications such as adaptive finite-element methods, particle methods, and crash simulations. Zoltan's data-structure neutral design also lets a wide range of applications use it without imposing restrictions on application data structures. Its object-based interface provides a simple and inexpensive way for application developers to use the library and researchers to make new capabilities available under a common interface.

Zoltan provides tools that help developers of parallel applications.

These tools are provided in an easy-to-use toolkit that is callable from C, C++, and Fortran90.
Design of Toolkits and Libraries

Using general-purpose libraries allows algorithms to be shared among and compared within many applications. The close dependence of libraries on application data, however, requires careful design to maintain separation between the libraries and application data structures.

One way to provide this separation is to use object-based software design. Instead of requiring the application to build data structures required by the library, the application could pass functions that access the application data structure to the libraries. For example, rather than require an application to build a complicated graph description, the library can require an application to provide a function returning graph vertices and a function returning edge connectivity for a given vertex. Using these functions, the library can build the data structures it needs.

This object-based design has a number of advantages.

  • Changes in the library's data structures need not propagate back to the application. As long as the set of required functions does not change, the application does not need to change to use new versions of the library.
  • Once the set of required functions is implemented, the application can use all the algorithms in the library.
  • The required functions are generally easy for an application to implement, as most applications need to access their data objects and the interactions between objects for their own computations.
  • Memory usage is lower as an application does not have to build an intermediate data structure that is later converted to appropriate data structures for the library.
  • The constructor for library data structures is called only when it is needed, and only the data needed for a particular algorithm is obtained.

There are a few disadvantages to this object-based approach as well.

  • Additional overhead is incurred as the library calls the functions to build its data structures. In experiments, however, this cost has been very low relative to the cost of actual computation in the library.
  • A general-purposes tool can provide only limited support for manipulations of application data structures (e.g., data movement).

For more detailed information, see [Hendrickson and Devine].

Zoltan's Design

We have chosen an object-based, callback function design. An application provides a number of simple callback functions that access the application data structures. Zoltan then calls these functions to obtain data it needs. Geometric algorithms are supported via callback functions returning objects to be balanced and the weights and coordinates of those objects. Graph-based algorithms are supported by callback functions returning objects to be balanced, edges between objects, and object and edge weights. For refinement-tree algorithms, additional callback functions return parent-child relationships.

Support for data migration (the movement of data to establish a new decomposition) is also provided through a similar callback function interface. An application provides callback functions that pack object data into and unpack data from communication buffers provided by Zoltan. Zoltan calls the packing function to load communication buffers, performs the communication necessary to move the data, and calls the unpacking function to unload the communication buffers.

Zoltan Examples

Several examples of Zoltan's use can be found in the Zoltan User's Guide.

Typical Approach to Dynamic Load Balancing

Dynamic load balancing has been used in many applications, ranging from adaptive mesh refinement to particle methods to contact detection algorithms. In most applications using dynamic load balancing, the load-balancing algorithm is implemented directly in the application, with close coupling between the application's and load-balancing algorithm's data structures. This typical approach has two disadvantages.

  • It is possible that the application developer did not select the best algorithm for the application, but the developer is unable to compare the algorithm with others without taking time to implement many algorithms in the application.
  • The close coupling of the algorithm's and application's data structures limits the algorithm's use to a single application. Developers wanting to use the algorithm in a new application have to re-write the algorithm using the new application's data structures.
As a result, research into and use of dynamic load-balancing algorithms are severely impaired.

Why Dynamic Load Balancing is Harder than Static Partitioning

Many high-quality static partitioning tools exist; examples include Chaco, METIS, and SCOTCH. General-purpose dynamic load-balancing tools are less common, however, since they are more difficult to implement. The difficulty arises from fundamental algorithmic and software-engineering differences between static and dynamic partitioning. These differences are summarized in the following table.

Static Partitioning... Dynamic Load Balancing...
Generally used as a pre-processor to an application. Runs side-by-side with an application.
Can be (and usually is) implemented serially. Must be implemented in parallel.
Has only modest concern for execution time. Must run quickly (time to load balance should not exceed time to run in an unbalanced state).
Has only modest concern for memory usage. Must use little memory (should not affect scalability of application).
Can use file-based interfaces (read geometry from a file; write partition info to a file). Must use function-call interfaces.
Has no dependence on an application's data structures. Needs information stored in an application's data structures.
Accounts for part sizes and communication costs. Accounts for part sizes, communication costs, and data movement costs.

Zoltan's Load-Balancing Suite

In our experience, no single partitioning strategy is effective for all parallel computations. Some application require partitions based only on the problem's workloads and geometry; others benefit from explicit consideration of dependencies between data. Some applications require the highest quality partitions possible, regardless of the cost to generate them; others can sacrifice some quality so long as new partitions can be generated quickly. For some applications, the cost to relocate data is prohibitively high, so incremental partitioning algorithms are needed; other applications can tolerate greater remapping costs. Most important, application developers might not know in advance which strategies work best in their applications, so the need a convenient means of comparing algorithms.

We provide two classes of parallel partitioning algorithms in the Zoltan library:

Once the Zoltan callback functions are implemented, an application can switch between partitioning algorithms by changing only the LB_METHOD parameter through a call to Zoltan_Set_Param. Thus, comparing different algorithms within a single application is easy, enabling users to try several algorithms and find the best ones for their applications.

Data Migration Tools

A complicated part of dynamic repartitioning is the need to move data from old processors to new ones. This data migration requires deletions and insertions from the application data structures as well as communication between the processors.

To help an application with data migration, Zoltan requires an application to supply callback functions that pack data into communication buffers and unpack data from communication buffers. Zoltan calls the packing function to load communication buffers with objects to be exported, performs all communication needed to move the data, and calls the unpacking function to load the objects in the data structures on the new processors. This mechanism eliminates the need for the application developer to implement complicated communication for data migration.

Unstructured Communication Library

Unlike static applications, where communication patterns remain fixed throughout the computation, dynamic applications can have complicated, changing communication patterns. For example:

  • After adaptive mesh refinement, new communication patterns must reflect dependencies between newly created elements.
  • Multiphysics simulations, such as crash simulations, might require complicated communication to transfer data between decompositions for different simulation phases.
Zoltan provides an unstructured communication package to simplify communication. The package builds a communication plan, including information about both message sends and receives for a given processor. The plan can be reused throughout the application, or destroyed and rebuilt when communication patterns change. The package also includes simple communication primitives that insulate the user from details of message sends and receives.

Distributed Data Directories

Dynamic applications often need to locate off-processor information. After repartitioning, for example, a processor might need to rebuild ghost cells and lists of data to be communicated. It might know which data it needs, but not where the data are located.

To help locate off-processor data, Zoltan includes a distributed data directory tool that is scalable with respect to both memory usage and computation time. Processors register their owned objects with the directory. Then, through a rendezvous algorithm, other processors can look up the location of data they need.

Memory Management Tools

Dynamic applications rely heavily on the ability to allocate and free memory as needed. Memory leaks and invalid memory accesses are common to developing software. Although many software development tools let users track memory bugs, these tools are often not available on state-of-the-art parallel computers.

Zoltan's memory management package provides simple in-application debugging tools that are beneficial on state-of-the-art computing platforms. The package includes wrappers around malloc and free that record the location of all memory allocation operations. Thus, tracking memory leaks is simplified, as source-code locations of unfreed-memory allocations can be printed. Statistics about memory allocations and frees are also available.