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TreadMarks: Distributed Shared Memory
on Standard Workstations and Operating Systems

Pete Keleher, Alan L. Cox, Sandhya Dwarkadas and Willy Zwaenepoel

Department of Computer Science
Rice University
Houston, TX 77251-1892


TreadMarks is a distributed shared memory (DSM) system for standard Unix systems such as SunOS and Ultrix. This paper presents a performance evaluation of TreadMarks running on Ultrix using DECstation-5000/240's that are connected by a 100-Mbps switch-based ATM LAN and a 10-Mbps Ethernet. Our objective is to determine the efficiency of a user-level DSM implementation on commercially available workstations and operating systems.

We achieved good speedups on the 8-processor ATM network for Jacobi (7.4), TSP (7.2), Quicksort (6.3), and ILINK (5.7). For a slightly modified version of Water from the SPLASH benchmark suite, we achieved only moderate speedups (4.0) due to the high communication and synchronization rate. Speedups decline on the 10-Mbps Ethernet (5.5 for Jacobi, 6.5 for TSP, 4.2 for Quicksort, 5.1 for ILINK, and 2.1 for Water), reflecting the bandwidth limitations of the Ethernet. These results support the contention that, with suitable networking technology, DSM is a viable technique for parallel computation on clusters of workstations.

To achieve these speedups, TreadMarks goes to great lengths to reduce the amount of communication performed to maintain memory consistency. It uses a lazy implementation of release consistency, and it allows multiple concurrent writers to modify a page, reducing the impact of false sharing. Great care was taken to minimize communication overhead. In particular, on the ATM network, we used a standard low-level protocol, AAL3/4, bypassing the TCP/IP protocol stack. Unix communication overhead, however, remains the main obstacle in the way of better performance for programs like Water. Compared to the Unix communication overhead, memory management cost (both kernel and user level) is small and wire time is negligible.

This research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation under Grants CCR-9116343, CCR-9211004, CDA-9222911, and CDA-9310073, by the Texas Advanced Technology Program under Grant 003604014, and by a NASA Graduate Fellowship.

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