Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Hardware Transactional Memory: A Systems Perspective
by Rossbach, Christopher John, Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin, 2009, 204; 3434949
Abstract (Summary)

The increasing ubiquity of chip multiprocessor machines has made the need for accessible approaches to parallel programming all the more urgent. The current state of the art, based on threads and locks, requires the programmer to use mutual exclusion to protect shared resources, enforce invariants, and maintain consistency constraints. Despite decades of research effort, this approach remains fraught with difficulty. Lock-based programming is complex and error-prone, largely due to well-known problems such as deadlock, priority inversion, and poor composability. Tradeoffs between performance and complexity for locks remain unnattractive. Coarse-grain locking is simple but introduces artificial sharing, needless serialization, and yields poor performance. Fine-grain locking can address these issues, but at a significant cost in complexity and maintainability.

Transactional memory has emerged as a technology with the potential to address this need for better parallel programming tools. Transactions provide the abstraction of isolated, atomic execution of critical sections. The programmer specifies regions of code which access shared data, and the system is responsible for executing that code in a way that is isolated and atomic. The programmer need not reason about locks and threads. Transactional memory removes many of the pitfalls of locking: transactions are livelock- and deadlock-free and may be composed freely. Hardware transactional memory, which is the focus of this thesis, provides an efficient implementation of the TM abstraction.

This thesis explores several key aspects of supporting hardware transactional memory (HTM): operating systems support and integration, architectural, design, and implementation considerations, and programmer-transparent techniques to improve HTM performance in the presence of contention. Using and supporting HTM in an OS requires innovation in both the OS and the architecture, but enables practical approaches and solutions to some long-standing OS problems. Innovations in transactional cache coherence protocols enable HTM support in the presence of multi-level cache hierarchies, rich HTM semantics such as suspend/resume and multiple transactions per thread context, and can provide the building blocks for support of flexible contention management policies without the need to trap to software handlers. We demonstrate a programmer-transparent hardware technique for using dependences between transactions to commit conflicting transactions, and suggest techniques to allow conflicting transactions to avoid performance-sapping restarts without using heuristics such as backoff. Both mechanisms yield better performance for workloads that have significant write-sharing.

Finally, in the context of the MetaTM HTM model, this thesis contributes a high-fidelity cross-design comparison of representative proposals from the literature: the result is a comprehensive exploration of the HTM design space that compares the behavior of models of MetaTM [70, 75], LogTM [58, 94], and Sun's Rock [22].

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Witchel, Emmett J.
Commitee: Burger, Doug, Dahlin, Michael, Hill, Mark D., Patt, Yale
School: The University of Texas at Austin
Department: Computer Science
School Location: United States -- Texas
Source: DAI-B 72/03, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Computer science
Keywords: Architecture, Chip multiprocessor, Hardware, Operating systems, Parallel programming, Transactional memory
Publication Number: 3434949
ISBN: 978-1-124-42631-0
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