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From: Sylvain Jeaugey (sylvain.jeaugey_at_[hidden])
Date: 2010-01-08 09:25:39

On Thu, 7 Jan 2010, Eugene Loh wrote:

> Could someone tell me how these settings are used in OMPI or give any
> guidance on how they should or should not be used?
This is a very good question :-) As this whole e-mail, though it's hard
(in my opinion) to give it a Good (TM) answer.

> This means that if you loop over the elements of multiple large arrays
> (which is common in HPC), you can generate a lot of cache conflicts,
> depending on the cache associativity.
On the other hand, high buffer alignment sometimes gives better
performance (e.g. Infiniband QDR bandwidth).

> There are multiple reasons one might want to modify the behavior of the
> memory allocator, including high cost of mmap calls, wanting to register
> memory for faster communications, and now this cache-conflict issue. The
> usual solution is
> setenv MALLOC_MMAP_MAX_ 0
> or the equivalent mallopt() calls.
But yes, this set of settings is the number one tweak on HPC code that I'm
aware of.

> This issue becomes an MPI issue for at least three reasons:
> *) MPI may care about these settings due to memory registration and pinning.
> (I invite you to explain to me what I mean. I'm talking over my head here.)
Avoiding mmap is good since it prevents from calling munmap (a function we
need to hack to prevent data corruption).

> *) (Related to the previous bullet), MPI performance comparisons may reflect
> these effects. Specifically, in comparing performance of OMPI, Intel MPI,
> Scali/Platform MPI, and MVAPICH2, some tests (such as HPCC and SPECmpi) have
> shown large performance differences between the various MPIs when, it seems,
> none were actually spending much time in MPI. Rather, some MPI
> implementations were turning off large-malloc mmaps and getting good
> performance (and sadly OMPI looked bad in comparison).
I don't think this bullet is related to the previous one. The first one is
a good reason, this one is typically the Bad reason. Bad, but
unfortunately true : competitors' MPI libraries are faster because ...
they do much more than MPI (accelerate malloc being the main difference).
Which I think is Bad, because all these settings should be let in
developper's hands. You'll always find an application where these settings
will waste memory and prevent an application from running.

> *) These settings seem to be desirable for HPC codes since they don't do
> much allocation/deallocation and they do tend to have loop nests that wade
> through multiple large arrays at once. For best "out of the box"
> performance, a software stack should turn these settings on for HPC. Codes
> don't typically identify themselves as "HPC", but some indicators include
> Fortran, OpenMP, and MPI.
In practice, I agree. Most HPC codes benefit from it. But I also ran into
codes where the memory waste was a problem.

> I don't know the full scope of the problem, but I've run into this with at
> least HPCC STREAM (which shouldn't depend on MPI at all, but OMPI looks much
> slower than Scali/Platform on some tests) and SPECmpi (primarily one or two
> codes, though it depends also on problem size).
I had also those codes in mind. That's also why I don't like those MPI
"benchmarks", since they benchmark much more than MPI. They hence
encourage MPI provider to incorporate into their libraries things that
have (more or less) nothing to do with MPI.

But again, yes, from the (basic) user point of view, library X seems
faster than library Y. When there is nothing left to improve on MPI, start
optimizing the rest .. maybe we should reimplement a faster libc inside
MPI :-)