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Program optimization given 1,000 datasets

A recent paper reminded me of a consequence of widespread availability of multi-processor systems I had failed to mention in a previous post on compiler writing in the next decade. The wide spread availability of systems containing large numbers of processors opens up opportunities for both end users of compilers and compiler writers.

Some compiler optimizations involve making decisions about what parts of a program will be executed more frequently than other parts; usually speeding up the frequently executed at the expense of slowing down the less frequently executed. The flow of control through a program is often effected by the input it has been given.

Traditionally optimization tuning has been done by feeding a small number of input datasets into a small number of programs, with the lazy using only the SPEC benchmarks and the more conscientious (or perhaps driven by one very important customer) using a few more acquired over time. A few years ago the iterative compiler tuning community started to address this lack of input benchmark datasets by creating 20 datasets for each of their benchmark programs.

Twenty datasets was certainly a step up from a few. Now one group (Evaluating Iterative Optimization Across 1000 Data Sets; written by a team of six people) has used 1,000 different input data sets to evaluate the runtime performance of a program; in fact they test 32 different programs each having their own 1,000 data sets. Oh, one fact they forgot to mention in the abstract was that each of these 32 programs was compiled with 300 different combinations of compiler options before being fed the 1,000 datasets (another post talks about the problem of selecting which optimizations to perform and the order in which to perform them); so each program is executed 300,000 times.

Standing back from this one could ask why optimizers have to be ‘pre-tuned’ using fixed datasets and programs. For any program the best optimization results are obtained by profiling it processing large amounts of real life data and then feeding this profile data back to a recompilation of the original source. The problem with this form of optimization is that most users are not willing to invest the time and effort needed to collect the profile data.

Some people might ask if 1,000 datasets is too many, I would ask if it is enough. Optimization often involves trade-offs and benchmark datasets need to provide enough information to compiler writers that they can reliably tune their products. The authors of the paper are still analyzing their data and I imagine that reducing redundancy in their dataset is one area they are looking at. One topic not covered in their first paper, which I hope they plan to address, is how program power consumption varies across the different datasets.

Where next with the large multi-processor systems compiler writers now have available to them? Well, 32 programs is not really enough to claim reasonable coverage of all program characteristics that compilers are likely to encounter. A benchmark containing 1,000 different programs is the obvious next step. One major hurdle, apart from the people time involved, is finding 1,000 programs that have usable datasets associated with them.

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