CS639 Undergraduate Elective Topics in Computing:
Parallel and Throughput-Optimized Programming

Spring Semester 2021

Course outline

Modern computing platforms offer dramatically increased computational capabilities compared to typical systems in relatively recent generations. Today, a consumer-grade gaming desktop can rival a typical medium-scale cluster from the early 2010’s, while a well-equipped single-chassis server may pack computational power commensurate with supercomputers that would appear in the TOP500 list about 8 years ago. This dramatic increase in computational density, however, comes with significant new challenges for the platform programmer that seeks to extract optimal performance: algorithms that exploit the full potential of modern computers need to be properly designed as to be in sync with parallel programming paradigms, and be more aware than ever of the idiosyncrasies of the underlying computing architecture.

This (new and experimental) course aspires to discuss challenges as well as best practices for the design of high-performance codes, with a depth and scope tailored to be accessible to undergraduates with modest programming experience. Rather than regarding the algorithm being used as an immutable specification (and focusing on the APIs that can help engineer a parallel implementation), we shall test and often alter then algorithmic approach itself in order to create better conditions for a high-efficiency parallel implementation. At the same time, we will attempt to deepen our awareness of the intricate architectural traits of the computing platform to better understand obstacles against and opportunities for optimal efficiency.

This is the second offering of this Topics course (first offered in Spring 2020), and the scope will be consciously kept narrow as to allow for adequate depth and analysis of the topics covered. Specifically, we will emphasize shared-memory, single-chassis multiprocessor systems as our primary target platform (with GPUs garnering some, but limited coverage), and forego highly heterogeneous platforms or distributed systems such as network-connected multi-node clusters. Our application focus and case studies will also be drawn primarily from numerical algorithms, scientific computing and computational engineering (with higher-level applications such as image processing, computational physics or machine learning naturally emerging from those). We will not explicitly emphasize combinatorial workloads (e.g. search and hashing), algorithms that rely heavily on unstructured, random data access, or applications that do not have high-throughput processing as a central design objective.

Programming paradigms, design practices, and platform considerations to be discussed in class may include:

Topics from which case studies and sample workloads will be drawn include the following facets of scientific computing:

General information

Lecture meeting time : Tue/Thu 5:30pm - 6:45pm
Office hours : Virtually via Google Meet (look at Piazza page for details; the sign-up link is here.)

Lecture location and attendance options: The instructor will deliver, broadcast and record the lectures at Educational Sciences Room 204.
You have 3 options that you can freely choose from. (a) If you wish to attend in-person, you are welcome to come at the lecture location listed above. (b) The lectures will be live-streamed, and be viewable via an online link (look at the class Piazza page for details on this; the link will be listed there, and reminders will be posted every day just prior to the lecture start). (c) Recordings of lectures will also be uploaded on Canvas, typically within 24hours of the lecture (most of the times, it should be up within 12hrs). Any of these attendance options is perfecly acceptable.

Instructor : Eftychios Sifakis
Office : Computer Sciences building, Room 6387
Email : sifakis <at> cs <dot> wisc <dot> edu

Prerequisites : Working knowledge of the C programming language is presumed, as well as familiarity with principles of machine organization. CS354 or equivalent is strongly recommended (can be waived with instructor consent). Familiarity with basic linear algebra is desirable, but no formal prerequisite is enforced.

Schedule of lectures

DATE Lecture Information Assignments & Reading Materials

Tuesday, January 26th

Introduction to CS639
Discussion of course structure and logistics

Lecture Notes [PDF on Canvas]

Thursday, January 28th

Discussion of different types of Concurrency
Introduction to multithreading and OpenMP