Research Project Description

General Strategies for Dynamic Reconfiguration
Dr. Liz White

In recent years there has been a great deal of attention in the software engineering community on the development of techniques and tools that provide support for the design and implementation of applications to be distributed across networks of workstations. Some of this focus has been on support for initial development and configuration of applications. Other research has focused on techniques to support these types of applications at run-time. One novel aspect of this type of environment is that the number of available resources tends to grow and shrink over time and this aspect has caused increased interest in dynamic reconfiguration techniques that allow applications to adapt at runtime to their changing environment.

Dynamic reconfiguration techniques are interesting for other reasons as well. Very few distributed applications are static in their structure clients enter and leave the system, additional computational resources are needed at different loads on the software or at different times in the processing, and different mechanisms of interaction may be more appropriate depending on the current computational load. The ability to change the structure of applications at runtime by adding and removing components and bindings and by changing the characteristics of the relationships has wide use. My work in this area, funded by a NSF CAREER award, has focused both on software support for dynamic reconfiguration and on frameworks and static software analysis techniques for determining the validity of component-level adaptations in the context of dynamic reconfiguration.

  1. Software Support for Dynamic Reconfiguration [1][2][3][4]

    Iterative grid-based parallel applications consist of some number of identical processes, each executing on its own processor and responsible for performing a computation over some portion of the grid. The processes are interconnected so that each can exchange information with processes operating on adjacent portions of the grid. For this style of application to be efficient, there needs to be a single processor for each process. There is a great deal of interest in running these types of applications on non-dedicated workstation clusters; however, this is difficult because the set of available workstations fluctuates over time. Dynamic reconfiguration offers a potential solution because we move processes and can change the level of parallelism to mirror the size of the set of available processors.

    There are many issues that need to be addressed to allow this type of adaptive behavior. When the level of parallelism changes, the way the partitioning of the grid must be recomputed for the new number of processors and then the data needs to be moved to mirror this partition. The configuration needs to be modified as well so that each process can communicate with the process that is operating on adjacent portions of the grid. Any new processes need to be started, given data and initialized. Old processes that are leaving are removed once their data has been given to another process.

    While the details of how data is partitioned and repartitioned is necessarily application specific, some aspects of the tasks are similar across different applications. With Sanjeev Setia, I have been working on the development of a toolkit, DyRecT, for iterative grid-based parallel applications intended to run on non-dedicated workstation clusters. The primary goal of this toolkit is to provide dynamic reconfiguration support for this type of application without requiring programmers to change the model used to implement the original (non dynamic) application. This toolkit provides default behaviors that work for a large class of applications and a low-level set of routines that allow the details to be implemented directly if the default behavior is not adequate.

    One of the issues we are currently addressing development of a high-level mechanism for transparently integrating the required synchronization in synchronous applications. Another interesting issue, discussed in section 3.2 is how to allow this type of application to reconfigure when inside function or procedure calls. Allowing reconfiguration outside the main program means that we may have to deal with capturing and restoring activation record stack both to update variables associated with the change and to create runtime stacks for processes that are being added to the system. This software has been under construction since late 1997 and is near completion. A number of Ph.D. and Masters students have been involved with this implementation effort.

  2. Analysis of Component Adaptation [5][6]

    One aspect of dynamic reconfiguration that has received little attention is the participation that is required of the individual components when a dynamic reconfiguration change is needed. Component participation can include divulging information to the runtime system, using information from the system to change internal state, to change the algorithms use, or to initialize state if a new process. The details for a given component and reconfiguration are necessarily application and change specific.

    We differentiate dynamic reconfiguration, a change to the application structure, from adaptation, a change done to a component to accommodate the needed reconfiguration. These adaptation changes are orthogonal to the computations done as part of the application; however, if done incorrectly can mean that the application no longer works once a reconfiguration is done. A simple example is a component of a parallel application that is adaptive using techniques described in the previous section. When the level of parallelism changes at runtime, the individual components are going to operate on a different size data set. In addition to updating the internal grid of a component , program variables that are tied to the size of the data set must be changed to reflect this new size. If this change is done incompletely, a application will no longer work after a dynamic reconfiguration.

    The goal of this research is to use static program analysis techniques to detect situations such as this. The user of the analysis tools are responsible for informing the tools where in the source code adaptations can take place and what changes to the state will be made when an adaptation is needed. Returning to the grid-based parallel program example, changes to the grid as well as to the variables associated with the starting and ending row number will be made. The points at which this could potentially happen are marked.

    Our analysis technique is based on a new technique for partitioning the program variables into three sets: adaptable variables which are changed with an adaptation, conserved variables which are completely independent of the adaptation, and inconsistant variables, variables with characteristics of both adaptable and conserved. I use static backwards slicing to find the subset of the program on which the value of each live variable depends. This subset is examined to do the final classification. Adaptable and conserved variables are provably consistent after a runtime adaptation. Inconsistent variables must be evaluated by the programmer to determine if a problem will result at runtime. The analysis we do is limited to static program variables and static variables on the runtime stack.

    I started working on these ideas during the summer of 1998 and have a prototype tool built that performs the analysis described above and performs some source to source transformation to deal with adaptive variables on the runtime activation record stack.

This work is supported by the National Science Foundation under contract CCR-9625202.