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Re: to thread or fork or ?

by Tanktalus (Canon)
on Oct 19, 2012 at 03:08 UTC ( #999855=note: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??


in reply to to thread or fork or ?

Personally, I'd default to the same as mbethke: no threading. And forking might not be any better.

If I were to even consider something like this, the file would have to be split. Across multiple physical disks. Because your CPU is so much faster than the disk access that there's no way for the disk to overwhelm a single CPU, nevermind multiple CPUs. Only with multiple physical disks all spinning and sending back data simultaneously do you have a chance at even keeping a single CPU busy. And even then, I suspect that the bus would still be a limiting factor.

If, however, you were to be doing analysis of each word to group similar-sounding words together (see soundex), then you might have enough to do to make the disks start to wait for the CPU. But I doubt it.

Assuming we completely change your requirements so that there would be a point to this, that your file was actually large files each on separate physical disks, and that you were doing some significant processing, even then, I'd probably avoid threading or forking if at all possible. To this end, I'd consider using IO::AIO (which uses threads under the covers, but not perl threads) to read the files.

If that ends up not being fast enough where you actually need to process on more than one CPU at a time, I would suggest as little sharing as possible. Having different threads be responsible for words starting with a different letter just doesn't scale easily (26 threads may not be optimal for your CPU configuration, and what if you start dealing with non-English languages, especially Russian or Greek or Chinese, among others?), nor uniformly (more words start with "s" in English than any other letter, for example, while the thread dealing with words starting with "x" will be awfully idle). Instead, one thread/process per file, and each thread/process doing exactly the same thing: populating a hash. Then the challenge is that in the parent process, you need to pull all this together and add them together. That's not really too hard:

for my $word (keys %child_results) { $total{$word} += $child_results{$ +word} }
The challenge is getting that data back to the parent atomically. That is, the entire hash, not a partial result. And doing so easily. One way is to share the %total hash in each thread, and then use a mutal exclusion semaphore on it that blocks concurrent access. Another way is to use AnyEvent::Util::fork_call to transfer the data back from the subprocess (not thread) to the parent process. In this model, the parent is not using threads at all, and so will not be able to get partial results.

But, for your original requirements, there's just no way that threading, forking, or any of that will add anything other than complexity. :-)


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Re^2: to thread or fork or ?
by bitingduck (Friar) on Oct 19, 2012 at 03:32 UTC

    To add to what both mbethke and Tanktalus have already said, Perl can be pretty fast with just single CPU linear processes. I was doing some stuff for fun where I extracted all the music related entries from the Wikipedia dump files (about 8 GB compressed) using a pull parser out of CPAN and it was slurping them all out and dumping to a file in a couple hours on a 1.8 GHz Macbook Pro 1,1 (not even a Core Duo) with 2 GB of RAM. And I could do other stuff at the same time.

    So unless you're doing something like sorting through CERN data to check for the Higgs yourself, or something that requires a lot of real time processing on a bunch of data, working to split a task to multiple cores might be overkill. Unless it's for entertainment, and then you should post it as a CUFP when it's working.

Re^2: to thread or fork or ?
by Anonymous Monk on Oct 19, 2012 at 04:13 UTC

    Thanks for your suggestions/comments. To be a bit more forthcoming I should describe something closer to the real problem. The input data set can be 100s of Gb (up to perhaps Tb) and the "words" are states of a system that can number in the billions (it's actually closer to the CERN problem someone suggested than the baby example I gave). The full frequency spectrum won't fit in memory on a single node, and to this point I've been doing a Perl solution where the "word-space" is roughly load-balanced across hundreds to thousands of cores each reading the entire dataset and only keeping track of the frequencies of their portion of the full spectrum. The trouble with this is the I/O bandwidth requirement is huge and I'm trying to reduce that by having each node in my cluster only read the data once and share it among all of the threads running on that node, instead of the current solution where every process needs to read the entire dataset. Does this change things at all?

      An architecture:

      Split your bigfile size across N machines.

      Have a process on each machine that processes a filesize/N chunk of the bigfile. (Say, 32 machines each reading a different 32GB chunk of your 1TB file.)

      Each reader accumulates word counts in a hash until the hash size approaches it's memory limit.

      (Assume ~1.5GB/10 million words/keys on a 64-bit Perl; somewhat less on a 32-bit.)

      When that limit is reached; it posts (probably udp) out the word/count pairs to the appropriate accumulator machines; frees the hash and continues reading the file from where it left off.

      • The file is only processed once.
      • It can be processed in parallel by as many reader processes/machines as your IO/Disk bandwidth will allow.
      • Each reader process only uses whatever amount of memory you decide is the limit.
      • You can split the accumulations across as many (or few) boxes as are required.
      • As only word/count pairs are exchanged, IO (other than reading the file) will be minimal.

      No threading, shared memory or locking required. Simple to set up and efficient to process.


      With the rise and rise of 'Social' network sites: 'Computers are making people easier to use everyday'
      Examine what is said, not who speaks -- Silence betokens consent -- Love the truth but pardon error.
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      RIP Neil Armstrong

        Would you please elaborate on this good-idea a bit further?   Specifically, the part about the UDP transmission of the word/count pairs.   Somehow the words have to be parceled-out among the various machines who are counting them.   How would you approach that piece of your scenario, such that the distribution is fair among the “hundreds or thousands of” nodes and yet we can be sure (although using UDP) that every pair is in fact counted or considered by someone.   Also, what sort of UDP/TCP network bandwidth is this scenario relying upon?

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