Finding, Measuring, and Reducing Inefficiencies in Contemporary Computer Systems

Melanie Rae Kambadur
Columbia University
Columbia University, 2016


   title={Finding, Measuring, and Reducing Inefficiencies in Contemporary Computer Systems},

   author={Kambadur, Melanie},




Computer systems have become increasingly diverse and specialized in recent years. This complexity supports a wide range of new computing uses and users, but is not without cost: it has become difficult to maintain the efficiency of contemporary general purpose computing systems. Computing inefficiencies, which include nonoptimal runtimes, excessive energy use, and limits to scalability, are a serious problem that can result in an inability to apply computing to solve the world’s most important problems. Beyond the complexity and vast diversity of modern computing platforms and applications, a number of factors make improving general purpose efficiency challenging, including the requirement that multiple levels of the computer system stack be examined, that legacy hardware devices and software may stand in the way of achieving efficiency, and the need to balance efficiency with reusability, programmability, security, and other goals. This dissertation presents five case studies, each demonstrating different ways in which the measurement of emerging systems can provide actionable advice to help keep general purpose computing efficient. The first of the five case studies is Parallel Block Vectors, a new profiling method for understanding parallel programs with a fine-grained, code-centric perspective aids in both future hardware design and in optimizing software to map better to existing hardware. Second is a project that defines a new way of measuring application interference on a datacenter’s worth of chip-multiprocessors, leading to improved scheduling where applications can more effectively utilize available hardware resources. Next is a project that uses the GT-Pin tool to define a method for accelerating the simulation of GPGPUs, ultimately allowing for the development of future hardware with fewer inefficiencies. The fourth project is an experimental energy survey that compares and combines the latest energy efficiency solutions at different levels of the stack to properly evaluate the state of the art and to find paths forward for future energy efficiency research. The final project presented is NRG-Loops, a language extension that allows programs to measure and intelligently adapt their own power and energy use.
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