CH4 Overall Design

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Shortcomings of CH3

MPICH has relied on the CH3 device as the primary communication device all through the "MPICH2" series and a part of the "MPICH-3.x" release series. Unfortunately, over time, the device has accumulated a number of hacks to accommodate newer communication models and network architectures, much further than what it was originally designed to do. Some of the shortcomings of the CH3 design are listed here:

  • VC model: CH3 relies on communication in the context of "virtual connections" (VCs), where each peer process has a VC associated with it. This architecture matched networks that relied on a connection-oriented protocol, where VCs were a convenient way to keep track of the connection state and other peer-related information. Over time, VCs have accumulated additional fields, not all of which are useful to the same degree. Some of these can be cleaned up to reduce the size of each VC. Also, there has been some effort to make the allocation of VCs more dynamic to only create VCs to the processes we are communicating with. However, none of these approaches solve the fundamental scalability limitation of the VC structures, which scale with the number of peer processes.
  • Active-message based Communication Model: In the CH3 device, almost all communication is performed in the context of active messages. Each communication type has a "packet type" associated with it, and a packet handler associated with each packet type. Communication relies on attaching the packet handler for each packet (which is fundamentally noncontiguous since the packet header is at a separate location than the user data), and the receiver process invoking a software handler to process the message. In newer MPICH versions, CH3 was modified to support networks that natively support the MPI matching model required for send/recv communication, but it is a (rather clumsy) workaround from the current active-message model. Direct support for newer matching-based networks is not present. A model where networks can directly handle MPI-level send/recv communication, through appropriate matching at the network layer, is required.
  • Function pointers: The CH3 device, over many years, moved to a model of function pointers, where lower layers can override communication functionality from upper layers. However, function pointers are hard for current compilers to inline (even with IPO), making this architecture prone to high instruction counts. A model where inter-layer interfaces are macros or at the very least functions (where good compilers can inline) is required. This loses some of the functionality of, for example, runtime selection of network modules, but such functionality can be reacquired through multiple MPICH builds that are ABI compatible.
  • Shared-memory Functionality: Shared memory is central to the design of the nemesis channel. Communication is always overridden for shared memory communication before being handed off to the network. For "network layers" that support shared memory capability as well, this is an unnecessary branch. For CH3, this is an unnecessary round-trip to the nemesis layer, to get shared memory support (e.g., for RMA shared memory communication). One of the reasons for this design in CH3 is the presence of the multiple channels, and the requirement in CH3 to not assume channel-specific features.
  • Netmod API: CH3:nemesis hides a lot of communication functionality from the network layer and only hands down simple functions (e.g., start message) to the network. This loses semantic functionality forcing the network to follow a predefined communication model, irrespective of what functionality the network hardware provides.

Design Goals for CH4

CH4 needs to be designed around the following goals:

  • Non-scalable data structures should be restricted to non-scalable networks: Data structures such as VCs, that are convenient for connection-oriented networks, should be restricted only to connection-oriented networks. They should not be an integral part of CH4.
  • Full communication semantics provided to networks: The device design should directly hand down full communication data structures to the network layer (e.g., communication rank, communicator, datatype handle), which can internally use network-specific features to implement it. CH4 can provide a fall-back implementation for networks that do not want to implement the full communication functionality, but such an implementation must not be forced up on all networks. This would also move away from the forced active-message model and networks are free to implement communication in any way they see fit.
  • Shared Memory: CH4 should have closely integrated shared memory functionality (for performance). However, such capability should not be forced on to networks. Networks should be free to implement their own shared memory functionality as needed.