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8.1.4 Multiprocessor Scheduling

On a uniprocessor, scheduling is one dimensional. The only question that must be answered (repeatedly) is: ''Which process should be run next?'' On a multiprocessor, scheduling is two dimensional. The scheduler has to decide which process to run and which CPU to run it on. This extra dimension greatly complicates scheduling on multiprocessors.

Another complicating factor is that in some systems, all the processes are unrelated whereas in others they come in groups. An example of the former situation is a timesharing system in which independent users start up independent processes. The processes are unrelated and each one can be scheduled without regard to the other ones.

An example of the latter situation occurs regularly in program development environments. Large systems often consist of some number of header files containing macros, type definitions, and variable declarations that are used by the actual code files. When a header file is changed, all the code files that include it must be recompiled. The program make is commonly used to manage development. When make is invoked, it starts the compilation of only those code files that must be recompiled on account of changes to the header or code files. Object files that are still valid are not regenerated.

The original version of make did its work sequentially, but newer versions designed for multiprocessors can start up all the compilations at once. If 10 compilations are needed, it does not make sense to schedule 9 of them quickly and leave the last one until much later since the user will not perceive the work as completed until the last one finishes. In this case it makes sense to regard the processes as a group and to take that into account when scheduling them.


Let us first address the case of scheduling independent processes; later we will consider how to schedule related processes. The simplest scheduling algorithm for dealing with unrelated processes (or threads) is to have a single systemwide data structure for ready processes, possibly just a list, but more likely a set of lists for processes at different priorities as depicted in Fig. 8-11(a). Here the 16 CPUs are all currently busy, and a prioritized set of 14 processes are waiting to run. The first CPU to finish its current work (or have its process block) is CPU 4, which then locks the scheduling queues and selects the highest priority process, A, as shown in Fig. 8-11(b). Next, CPU 12 goes idle and chooses process B, as illustrated in Fig. 8-11(c). As long as the processes are completely unrelated, doing scheduling this way is a reasonable choice.

Figure 8-11 Using a single data structure for scheduling a multiprocessor.

Having a single scheduling data structure used by all CPUs timeshares the CPUs, much as they would be in a uniprocessor system. It also provides automatic load balancing because it can never happen that one CPU is idle while others are overloaded. Two disadvantages of this approach are the potential contention for the scheduling data structure as the numbers of CPUs grows and the usual overhead in doing a context switch when a process blocks for I/O.

It is also possible that a context switch happens when a process' quantum expires. On a multiprocessor, that has certain properties not present on a uniprocessor. Suppose that the process holds a spin lock, not unusual on multiprocessors, as discussed above. Other CPUs waiting on the spin lock just waste their time spinning until that process is scheduled again and releases the lock. On a uniprocessor, spin locks are rarely used so if a process is suspended while it holds a mutex, and another process starts and tries to acquire the mutex, it will be immediately blocked, so little time is wasted.

To get around this anomaly, some systems use smart scheduling, in which a process acquiring a spin lock sets a process-wide flag to show that it currently has a spin lock (Zahorjan et al., 1991). When it releases the lock, it clears the flag. The scheduler then does not stop a process holding a spin lock, but instead gives it a little more time to complete its critical region and release the lock.

Another issue that plays a role in scheduling is the fact that while all CPUs are equal, some CPUs are more equal. In particular, when process A has run for a long time on CPU k, CPU k's cache will be full of A's blocks. If A gets to run again soon, it may perform better if it is run on CPU k, because k's cache may still contain some of A's blocks. Having cache blocks preloaded will increase the cache hit rate and thus the process' speed. In addition, the TLB may also contain the right pages, reducing TLB faults.

Some multiprocessors take this effect into account and use what is called affinity scheduling (Vaswani and Zahorjan, 1991). The basic idea here is to make a serious effort to have a process run on the same CPU it ran on last time. One way to create this affinity is to use a two-level scheduling algorithm. When a process is created, it is assigned to a CPU, for example based on which one has the smallest load at that moment. This assignment of processes to CPUs is the top level of the algorithm. As a result, each CPU acquires its own collection of processes.

The actual scheduling of the processes is the bottom level of the algorithm. It is done by each CPU separately, using priorities or some other means. By trying to keep a process on the same CPU, cache affinity is maximized. However, if a CPU has no processes to run, it takes one from another CPU rather than go idle.

Two-level scheduling has three benefits. First, it distributes the load roughly evenly over the available CPUs. Second, advantage is taken of cache affinity where possible. Third, by giving each CPU its own ready list, contention for the ready lists is minimized because attempts to use another CPU's ready list are relatively infrequent.

Space Sharing

The other general approach to multiprocessor scheduling can be used when processes are related to one another in some way. Earlier we mentioned the example of parallel make as one case. It also often occurs that a single process creates multiple threads that work together. For our purposes, a job consisting of multiple related processes or a process consisting of multiple kernel threads are essentially the same thing. We will refer to the schedulable entities as threads here, but the material holds for processes as well. Scheduling multiple threads at the same time across multiple CPUs is called space sharing.

The simplest space sharing algorithm works like this. Assume that an entire group of related threads is created at once. At the time it is created, the scheduler checks to see if there are as many free CPUs as there are threads. If there are, each thread is given its own dedicated (i.e., nonmultiprogrammed) CPU and they all start. If there are not enough CPUs, none of the threads are started until enough CPUs are available. Each thread holds onto its CPU until it terminates, at which time the CPU is put back into the pool of available CPUs. If a thread blocks on I/O, it continues to hold the CPU, which is simply idle until the thread wakes up. When the next batch of threads appears, the same algorithm is applied.

At any instant of time, the set of CPUs is statically partitioned into some number of partitions, each one running the threads of one process. In Fig. 8-12, we have partitions of sizes 4, 6, 8, and 12 CPUs, with 2 CPUs unassigned, for example. As time goes on, the number and size of the partitions will change as processes come and go.

Figure 8-12 A set of 32 CPUs split into four partitions, with two CPUs available.

Periodically, scheduling decisions have to be made. In uniprocessor systems, shortest job first is a well-known algorithm for batch scheduling. The analogous algorithm for a multiprocessor is to choose the process needing the smallest number of CPU cycles, that is the process whose CPU-count X run-time is the smallest of the candidates. However, in practice, this information is rarely available, so the algorithm is hard to carry out. In fact, studies have shown that, in practice, beating first-come, first-served is hard to do (Krueger et al., 1994).

In this simple partitioning model, a process just asks for some number of CPUs and either gets them all or has to wait until they are available. A different approach is for processes to actively manage the degree of parallelism. One way to do manage the parallelism is to have a central server that keeps track of which processes are running and want to run and what their minimum and maximum CPU requirements are (Tucker and Gupta, 1989). Periodically, each CPU polls the central server to ask how many CPUs it may use. It then adjusts the number of processes or threads up or down to match what is available. For example, a Web server can have 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, or any other number of threads running in parallel. If it currently has 10 threads and there is suddenly more demand for CPUs and it is told to drop to 5, when the next 5 threads finish their current work, they are told to exit instead of being given new work. This scheme allows the partition sizes to vary dynamically to match the current workload better than the fixed system of Fig. 8-12.

Gang Scheduling

A clear advantage of space sharing is the elimination of multiprogramming, which eliminates the context switching overhead. However, an equally clear disadvantage is the time wasted when a CPU blocks and has nothing at all to do until it becomes ready again. Consequently, people have looked for algorithms that attempt to schedule in both time and space together, especially for processes that create multiple threads, which usually need to communicate with one another.

To see the kind of problem that can occur when the threads of a process (or processes of a job) are independently scheduled, consider a system with threads A 0 and A 1 belonging to process A and threads B 0 and B 1 belonging to process B. threads A 0 and B 0 are timeshared on CPU 0; threads A 1 and B 1 are timeshared on CPU 1. threads A 0 and A 1 need to communicate often. The communication pattern is that A 0 sends A 1 a message, with A 1 then sending back a reply to A 0, followed by another such sequence. Suppose that luck has it that A 0 and B 1 start first, as shown in Fig. 8-13.

Figure 8-13 Communication between two threads belonging to process A that are running out of phase.

In time slice 0, A 0 sends A 1 a request, but A 1 does not get it until it runs in time slice 1 starting at 100 msec. It sends the reply immediately, but A 0 does not get the reply until it runs again at 200 msec. The net result is one request-reply sequence every 200 msec. Not very good.

The solution to this problem is gang scheduling, which is an outgrowth of co-scheduling (Ousterhout, 1982). Gang scheduling has three parts:

  1. Groups of related threads are scheduled as a unit, a gang.

  2. All members of a gang run simultaneously, on different timeshared CPUs.

  3. All gang members start and end their time slices together.

The trick that makes gang scheduling work is that all CPUs are scheduled synchronously. This means that time is divided into discrete quanta as we had in Fig. 8-13. At the start of each new quantum, all the CPUs are rescheduled, with a new thread being started on each one. At the start of the following quantum, another scheduling event happens. In between, no scheduling is done. If a thread blocks, its CPU stays idle until the end of the quantum.

An example of how gang scheduling works is given in Fig. 8-14. Here we have a multiprocessor with six CPUs being used by five processes, A through E, with a total of 24 ready threads. During time slot 0, threads A 0 through A 6 are scheduled and run. During time slot 1, Threads B 0, B 1, B 2, C 0, C 1, and C 2 are scheduled and run. During time slot 2, D's five threads and E 0 get to run. The remaining six threads belonging to process E run in time slot 3. Then the cycle repeats, with slot 4 being the same as slot 0 and so on.

Figure 8-14 Gang scheduling.

The idea of gang scheduling is to have all the threads of a process run together, so that if one of them sends a request to another one, it will get the message almost immediately and be able to reply almost immediately. In Fig. 8-14, since all the A threads are running together, during one quantum, they may send and receive a very large number of messages in one quantum, thus eliminating the problem of Fig. 8-13.

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