Infoscience

Thesis

On the Performance of Software Transactional Memory

The recent proliferation of multi-core processors has moved concurrent programming into mainstream by forcing increasingly more programmers to write parallel code. Using traditional concurrency techniques, such as locking, is notoriously difficult and has been considered the domain of a few experts for a long time. This discrepancy between the established techniques and typical programmer's skills raises a pressing need for new programming paradigms. A particularly appealing concurrent programming paradigm is transactional memory: it enables programmers to write correct concurrent code in a simple manner, while promising scalable performance. Software implementations of transactional memory (STM) have attracted a lot of attention for their ability to support dynamic transactions of any size and execute on existing hardware. This is in contrast to hardware implementations that typically support only transactions of limited size and are not yet commercially available. Surprisingly, prior work has largely neglected software support for transactions of arbitrary size, despite them being an important target for STM. Consequently, existing STMs have not been optimized for large transactions, which results in poor performance of those STMs, and sometimes even program crashes, when dealing with large transactions. In this thesis, I contribute to changing the current state of affairs by improving performance and scalability of STM, in particular with dynamic transactions of arbitrary size. I propose SwissTM, a novel STM design that efficiently supports large transactions, while not compromising on performance with smaller ones. SwissTM features: (1) mixed conflict detection, that detects write-write conflicts eagerly and read-write conflicts lazily, and (2) a two-phase contention manager, that imposes little overhead on small transactions and effectively manages conflicts between larger ones. SwissTM indeed achieves good performance across a range of workloads: it outperforms several state-of-the-art STMs on a representative large-scale benchmark by at least 55% with eight threads, while matching their performance or outperforming them across a wide range of smaller-scale benchmarks. I also present a detailed empirical analysis of the SwissTM design, individually evaluating each of the chosen design points and their impact on performance. This "dissection" of SwissTM is particularly valuable for STM designers as it helps them understand which parts of the design are well-suited to their own STMs, enabling them to reuse just those parts. Furthermore, I address the question of whether STM can perform well enough to be practical by performing the most extensive comparison of performance of STM-based and sequential, non-thread-safe code to date. This comparison demonstrates the very fact that SwissTM indeed outperforms sequential code, often with just a handful of threads: with four threads it outperforms sequential code in 80% of cases, by up to 4x. Furthermore, the performance scales well when increasing thread counts: with 64 threads it outperforms sequential code by up to 29x. These results suggest that STM is indeed a viable alternative for writing concurrent code today.

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