Research Interests


Parallel computer architecture, memory systems, runtime environments, optical interconnects, elastic fidelity computing, design for dark silicon, data-oriented software architectures.



Current Research

(With a little effort this might work itself into reasonable shape. Due to perpetual lack of time, for now, the information below should suffice to whet your appetite. If you want more information on any of these projects, please drop me a note.)


The overreaching research umbrella at the Parallel Architecture Lab at Northwestern (PARAG@N) is energy-efficient computing. At the macro scale, computers consume inordinate amounts of energy, negatively impacting the economics and environmental footprint of computing. At the micro scale, power constraints prevent us from riding Moore's Law. We attack both problems by identifying sources of energy inefficiencies and working at hardware/software techniques for cross-stack energy optimization. Thus, our work extends from circuit and hardware design, through programming languages and OS optimizations, all the way to application software. In a nutshell, our work goes from near-term solutions (minimize data-transfer overheads with adaptive caching and DRAM management), to medium term (eliminate computational overheads with specialized computing on dark silicon), to medium-long term (minimize energy at logic circuits through selective approximate computation), to the long term (push back the bandwidth and power walls by designing 1000+-core virtual macro-chips with nanophotonics, along with the runtime environment that goes with it). An overview of our research at PARAG@N was presented at an invited talk at IBM T.J. Watson Research Center and Google Chicago in March 2012.


More specifically, we work on:


DRAM Thermal Management: In the near term, while more than a third of energy is consumed on memory, and thermal characteristics play an important role on the overall DRAM power consumption and reliability, power/thermal optimizations for DRAM have been largely overlooked. Together with fellow faculty S.O. Memik and G. Memik, we recognize the importance of the problem, and work on minimizing the power and thermal profile of DRAMs using OS-level optimizations. We have already published some of our results on DRAM thermal management at HPCA 2011 and work on subsequent publications.


Elastic Caches: As a significant fraction of the energy is consumed on data transfers/storage, together with SeaFire we work on Elastic Caches. In this project we develop adaptive cache management policies that minimize the overheads of storing and communicating data among the cores. An incarnation of Elastic Caches for near-optimal data placement was published at ISCA 2009 and won an IEEE Micro Top Picks award in 2010, while a newer paper at DATE 2012 presents an instance of Elastic Caches that minimize interconnect power. While Elastic Caches are independent of SeaFire (described below), their combination attains higher benefits than the sum of parts.


SeaFire (Specialized Computing on Dark Silicon): While Elastic Fidelity cuts back on the energy consumption, it does not push the power wall far enough. To gain another order of magnitude, we must minimize the overheads of modern computing. The idea behind the SeaFire project (targeting the medium term) is that instead of building conventional high-overhead multicores that we cannot power, we should repurpose the dark silicon for specialized energy-efficient cores. A running application will power up only the cores most closely matching its computational requirements, while the rest of the chip remains off to conserve energy. Preliminary results on SeaFire have been published at an IEEE Micro article in July 2011, an invited USENIX ;login: article in April 2012, the ACLD workshop in 2010, the keynote at ISPDC in 2010, a TR in 2010, an invited presentation at the NSF Workshop on Sustainable Energy-Efficient Data Management in 2011, and an invited presentation at HPTS in 2011.


Elastic Fidelity: At the circuit level, the shrinking transistor geometries and race for energy-efficient computing result in significant error rates at smaller technologies due to process variation and low voltages (especially with near-threshold computing). Traditionally, these errors are handled at the circuit and architectural layers, as computations expect 100% reliability. Elastic Fidelity computing targets near-to-medium term, and is based on the observation that not all computations and data require 100% fidelity; we can judiciously let errors manifest in the error-resilient data, and handle them higher in the stack. We develop programming language extensions that allow data objects to be instantiated with certain accuracy guarantees, which are recorded by the compiler and communicated to hardware, which then steers computations and data to separate ALU/FPU blocks and cache/memory regions that relax the guardbands and run at lower voltage to coserve energy. This is a relatively new project; we had a poster presentation on Elastic Fidelity at ASPLOS 2011, and Technical Report in Feb 2011.


Galaxy (Optically-Connected Disintegrated Processors): The combined works above offer a respite of a few orders of magnitude, but a fundamental problem remains unaffected: chips are ultimately limited by bandwidth, power delivery and cooling constraints. In the Galaxy project (targeting the long term) we take a step towards pushing back the power, bandwidth, and yield walls. Instead of building monolithic chips, we advocate split them into several smaller chiplets connected with photonic interconnects (fiber optics across chiplets, silicon photonics within chiplets for long distances, electrical interconnects for short). The photonics allow such high bandwidth communication that break the bandwidth wall entirely (8 TBps/mm bandwidth density demonstrated in lab prototypes by IBM), and such low latency that the virtual macro-chip behaves as a single chip. Yet, the power delivery is now split among multiple chiplets solving the problem of power delivery, the chiplets are distributed in space far apart to cool them efficiently with forced air, thereby pushing away the power wall, and they are sized optimally to maximize yield (another hurdle of technology scaling). While competing designs --e.g., the Oracle macrochip-- have to reside to liquid cooling and microfluidics to cool 4KW from a wafer-size device, our design allows us to space chiplets 8-10 cm apart and minimize heat transfer. Our preliminary results indicate that Galaxy scales seamlessly to 4000 cores. It is important to note that all the other research above is still relevant, as Elastic Caches are required to handle data accesses in such large scales, specialized computing on dark silicon can maximize performance and minimize energy consumption on a per-chiplet basis, and Elastic Fidelity and DRAM optimizations shave off significant overheads at the circuit layer and the main memory. A preliminary report on the Galaxy design was presented at WINDS 2010, and at a talk at Google Madison in March 2013.


Computation Affinity: The research steps presented above have gradually taken us from circuit-level optimizations for the near term, to new architectures in the medium and long term, that may allow us to realize 1000+ core virtual macro-chips. However, to make 1000+ core systems practical to more than just a narrow set of highly-optimized applications, we need to revisit the fundamentals of data access and sharing. For this last part of our vision we advocate Computation Affinity, an execution system that partitions the data objects among clusters of cores in the system, allowing the code to migrate from one cluster to the other based on the data it accesses. Computation Affinity is a hybrid of active messages and process-in-memory that minimizes data transfers and conserves enormous amounts of energy. The first incarnation of this idea was DORA, published in VLDB 2010 with database systems as a proof-of-concept. We specifically chose database systems as a proof-of-concept because they are notoriously hard to optimize, as their arbitrarily complex access and sharing patterns resist most forms of architectural optimization. Our current work extends this paradigm to general-purpose programs.





Our research is sponsored by:


Description: ational Science Foundation - Where Discoveries Begin



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... and by generous equipment and/or software donations by


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Past Research – Academia (Carnegie Mellon, University of Rochester)


Research performed as a member of CALCM and Databases @ CMU: The performance of modern multicore processors is shaped by three trends:

1.     The increasing wire delays force processors to become distributed and disperse the cores and the cache across the die area, making cache block placement a determinant of the processor's performance.

2.     The on-chip transistor counts increase exponentially, but this increase does not directly translate into performance improvement; rather, processors must optimally allocate transistors to components (e.g., cores, caches), in a quest to attain maximum performance and remain within physical constraints (e.g., power, area, bandwidth).

3.     Conventional software is still hampered by arbitrarily complex data access and sharing patterns that inhibit most hardware optimizations. To fully realize the potential of modern multicore processors, the software must be redesigned for the new hardware landscape.

To address these requirements, my research proceeds along three synergistic fronts: (a) hardware designs that optimize for fast data accesses and utilize efficiently the transistors on chip, (b) scalable parallel software architectures that mitigate the rising on-chip data latencies, and (c) scalable performance evaluation techniques.

a)    Scalable Hardware: cache designs, transistor-efficient multicore designs and memory systems.

Cache Designs. To optimize for data placement on chip, we developed R-NUCA (Reactive Non-Uniform Cache Access). R-NUCA is a distributed cache architecture that places blocks on chip based on the observation that cache accesses can be classified into distinct classes, where each class lends itself to a different placement policy. Fast lookup is provided by Rotational Interleaving, an indexing scheme that affords the fast lookup of conventional address interleaving while allowing cache block replication and migration. Finally, through intelligent cache block placement, R-NUCA obviates the need for hardware coherence at the last-level cache, greatly simplifying the design and improving scalability. [IEEE Micro Top Pick 2010]

Transistor-Efficient Multicores. To utilize efficiently the abundant transistors on chip, we developed ADviSE (Analytic Design-Space Exploration), a collection of performance, area, bandwidth, power and thermal analytical models for multicore processors. ADviSE suggests design rules across process technologies that optimize for a given metric (e.g., throughput, power efficiency) and allocates transistors judiciously among components, leading to near-optimal designs.

Memory Systems. To tame the off-chip data latency, we developed STeMS (Spatio-Temporal Memory Streaming), a memory system in which data move in correlated streams, rather than in individual cache blocks. STeMS is based on the observation that applications execute repetitive code sequences that result in recurring data access sequences ("streams"), which can be used to predict future requests and prefetch their data.

b)   Scalable Parallel Software. To overcome the limitations of conventional software, we develop Data-Oriented Staging, a software architecture that decomposes otherwise single-threaded requests into parallel tasks and partitions their data logically across the cores. The logical data partitioning (a) transforms data that were shared across requests and slow to access into core-private data with fast local access times, and (b) renders data sharing patterns within a parallel request predictable, enabling prefetch mechanisms to hide data access latencies. To show the feasibility of the design, we developed a prototype staged database system as part of the StagedDB-CMP project. [best demonstration award at ICDE 2006]

c)    Scalable Performance Evaluation Techniques. The growing size and complexity of modern hardware make software simulators prohibitively slow, barring researchers from evaluating their designs on commercial-grade workloads and large-scale systems. To overcome this limitation, we develop FLEXUS, a cycle-accurate full-system simulation infrastructure that reduces simulation turnaround through statistical sampling. FLEXUS has been adopted by several research groups, it has been the primary infrastructure for computer architecture courses, and is currently in its third public release.


Cashmere: a software distributed-shared-memory system over low-latency remote-memory-access networks like DEC's Memory Channel. Cashmere utilizes the hardware coherence within a multiprocessor, provides software coherence across nodes in a cluster and allows memory scaling through remote memory paging.


Carnival: a tool for the characterization and analysis of waiting time and communication patterns of parallel shared-memory applications. Through cause-effect analysis, Carnival detects performance bottlenecks of individual code fragments.



Past Research – Industry (Digital, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard)


Alpha Processors and High-Performance Multiprocessor Systems: While affiliated with Digital Equipment Corp., Compaq Computer Corp., and Hewlett-Packard, I was a member of the design team of high-end enterprise servers. I contributed to the Alpha EV6 (21264), EV7 (21364), and EV8 (21464) generations of microprocessors, and had a fleeting relationship with the Piranha multicore. The rest of my time was spent working on the Marvel (GS-1280), WildFire (GS-320), and Privateer (ES-45) multiprocessor systems. My work focused on memory hierarchy and multiprocessor system design, including adaptive and multi-level cache coherence protocols, migratory data optimizations, novel caching schemes, RAMbus modeling and optimizations, link retraining, flow control, directory caches, routing, and system topology. Also, I worked on the design and development of full-system execution-driven, trace-driven, and statistical simulators, and tools and techniques for performance analysis.