NUMA-aware placement of communication variables

Dave Dice
Senior Research Scientist

For classic NUMA-aware programming I'm typically most concerned about simple cold, capacity and compulsory misses and whether we can satisfy the miss by locally connected memory or whether we have to pull the line from its home node over the coherent interconnect -- we'd like to minimize channel contention and conserve interconnect bandwidth. That is, for this style of programming we're quite aware of where memory is homed relative to the threads that will be accessing it. Ideally, a page is collocated on the node with the thread that's expected to most frequently access the page, as simple misses on the page can be satisfied without resorting to transferring the line over the interconnect. The default "first touch" NUMA page placement policy tends to work reasonable well in this regard. When a virtual page is first accessed, the operating system will attempt to provision and map that virtual page to a physical page allocated from the node where the accessing thread is running. It's worth noting that the node-level memory interleaving granularity is usually a multiple of the page size, so we can say that a given page P resides on some node N. That is, the memory underlying a page resides on just one node.

But when thinking about accesses to heavily-written communication variables we normally consider what caches the lines underlying such variables might be resident in, and in what states. We want to minimize coherence misses and cache probe activity and interconnect traffic in general. I don't usually give much thought to the location of the home NUMA node underlying such highly shared variables. On a SPARC T5440, for instance, which consists of 4 T2+ processors connected by a central coherence hub, the home node and placement of heavily accessed communication variables has very little impact on performance. The variables are frequently accessed so likely in M-state in some cache, and the location of the home node is of little consequence because a requester can use cache-to-cache transfers to get the line.

Or at least that's what I thought. Recently, though, I was exploring a simple shared memory point-to-point communication model where a client writes a request into a request mailbox and then busy-waits on a response variable. It's a simple example of delegation based on message passing. The server polls the request mailbox, and having fetched a new request value, performs some operation and then writes a reply value into the response variable. As noted above, on a T5440 performance is insensitive to the placement of the communication variables -- the request and response mailbox words. But on a Sun/Oracle X4800 I noticed that was not the case and that NUMA placement of the communication variables was actually quite important.

For background an X4800 system consists of 8 Intel X7560 Xeons . Each package (socket) has 8 cores with 2 contexts per core, so the system is 8x8x2. Each package is also a NUMA node and has locally attached memory. Every package has 3 point-to-point QPI links for cache coherence, and the system is configured with a twisted ladder "mobius" topology. The cache coherence fabric is glueless -- there's not central arbiter or coherence hub. The maximum distance between any two nodes is just 2 hops over the QPI links. For any given node, 3 other nodes are 1 hop distant and the remaining 4 nodes are 2 hops distant.

Using a single request (client) thread and a single response (server) thread, a benchmark harness explored all permutations of NUMA placement for the two threads and the two communication variables, measuring the average round-trip-time and throughput rate between the client and server. In this benchmark the server simply acts as a simple transponder, writing the request value plus 1 back into the reply field, so there's no particular computation phase and we're only measuring communication overheads. In addition to varying the placement of communication variables over pairs of nodes, we also explored variations where both variables were placed on one page (and thus on one node) -- either on the same cache line or different cache lines -- while varying the node where the variables reside along with the placement of the threads. The key observation was that if the client and server threads were on different nodes, then the best placement of variables was to have the request variable (written by the client and read by the server) reside on the same node as the client thread, and to place the response variable (written by the server and read by the client) on the same node as the server. That is, if you have a variable that's to be written by one thread and read by another, it should be homed with the writer thread. For our simple client-server model that means using split request and response communication variables with unidirectional message flow on a given page. This can yield up to twice the throughput of less favorable placement strategies.

Our X4800 uses the QPI 1.0 protocol with source-based snooping. Briefly, when node A needs to probe a cache line it fires off snoop requests to all the nodes in the system. Those recipients then forward their response not to the original requester, but to the home node H of the cache line. H waits for and collects the responses, adjudicates and resolves conflicts and ensures memory-model ordering, and then sends a definitive reply back to the original requester A. If some node B needed to transfer the line to A, it will do so by cache-to-cache transfer and let H know about the disposition of the cache line. A needs to wait for the authoritative response from H. So if a thread on node A wants to write a value to be read by a thread on node B, the latency is dependent on the distances between A, B, and H. We observe the best performance when the written-to variable is co-homed with the writer A. That is, we want H and A to be the same node, as the writer doesn't need the home to respond over the QPI link, as the writer and the home reside on the very same node. With architecturally informed placement of communication variables we eliminate at least one QPI hop from the critical path.

Newer Intel processors use the QPI 1.1 coherence protocol with home-based snooping. As noted above, under source-snooping a requester broadcasts snoop requests to all nodes. Those nodes send their response to the home node of the location, which provides memory ordering, reconciles conflicts, etc., and then posts a definitive reply to the requester. In home-based snooping the snoop probe goes directly to the home node and are not broadcast. The home node can consult snoop filters -- if present -- and send out requests to retrieve the line if necessary. The 3rd party owner of the line, if any, can respond either to the home or the original requester (or even to both) according to the protocol policies. There are myriad variations that have been implemented, and unfortunately vendor terminology doesn't always agree between vendors or with the academic taxonomy papers. The key is that home-snooping enables the use of a snoop filter to reduce interconnect traffic. And while home-snooping might have a longer critical path (latency) than source-based snooping, it also may require fewer messages and less overall bandwidth. It'll be interesting to reprise these experiments on a platform with home-based snooping.

While collecting data I also noticed that there are placement concerns even in the seemingly trivial case when both threads and both variables reside on a single node. Internally, the cores on each X7560 package are connected by an internal ring. (Actually there are multiple contra-rotating rings). And the last-level on-chip cache (LLC) is partitioned in banks or slices, which with each slice being associated with a core on the ring topology. A hardware hash function associates each physical address with a specific home bank. Thus we face distance and topology concerns even for intra-package communications, although the latencies are not nearly the magnitude we see inter-package. I've not seen such communication distance artifacts on the T2+, where the cache banks are connected to the cores via a high-speed crossbar instead of a ring -- communication latencies seem more regular.

Finally, I've seen strong hints that the placement of threads relative to lock metadata accessed by those threads plays an important part in performance for contended locks.

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