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Enhancing Programmability, Portability, and Performance with Rich Cross-Layer Abstractions

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posted on 13.11.2019 by Nandita Vijaykumar
Programmability, performance portability, and resource efficiency have emerged as critical challenges in harnessing complex and diverse architectures today to obtain high performance and energy efficiency. While there is abundant research, and thus significant improvements, at different levels of the stack that address these very challenges, in this thesis, we observe that we are fundamentally
limited by the interfaces and abstractions between the application and the underlying system/hardware—
specifcally, the hardware-software interface. The existing narrow interfaces poses two critical challenges. First, significant effort and expertise are required to write high-performance code to harness the full potential of today’s diverse and sophisticated hardware. Second, as a hardware/system designer, architecting faster and more efficient systems is challenging as the vast majority of the
program’s semantic content gets lost in translation with today’s hardware-software interface. Moving towards the future, these challenges in programmability and efficiency will be even more intractable as we architect increasingly heterogeneous and sophisticated systems. This thesis makes the case for rich low-overhead cross-layer abstractions as a highly effective means to address the above challenges. These abstractions are designed to communicate higher-level program information from the application to the underlying system and hardware in a highly efficient manner, requiring only minor additions to the existing interfaces. In doing so, they enable a rich
space of hardware-software cooperative mechanisms to optimize for performance. We propose 4 different approaches to designing richer abstractions between the application, system software, and hardware architecture in different contexts to significantly improve programmability, portability, and performance in CPUs and GPUs: (i) Expressive Memory: A unifying cross-layer abstraction to
express and communicate higher-level program semantics from the application to the underlying system/architecture to enhance memory optimization; (ii) The Locality Descriptor: A cross-layer abstraction to express and exploit data locality in GPUs; (iii) Zorua: A framework to decouple the programming model from management of on-chip resources and parallelism in GPUs; (iv) Assist Warps: A helper-thread abstraction to dynamically leverage underutilized compute/memory bandwidth in GPUs to perform useful work. In this thesis, we present each concept and describe how communicating higher-level program information from the application can enable more intelligent resource management by the architecture and system software to significantly improve programmability, portability, and performance in CPUs and GPUs.




Degree Type



Electrical and Computer Engineering

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Onur Mutlu Phillip B. Gibbons