# Granularity, Concurrency, and Task-Interaction

The number and size of tasks into which a problem is decomposed determines the granularity of the decomposition. A decomposition into a large number of small tasks is called fine-grained and a decomposition into a small number of large tasks is calledcoarse-grained. For example, the decomposition for matrix-vector multiplication shown in Figure 3.1 would usually be considered fine-grained because each of a large number of tasks performs a single dot-product. Figure 3.4 shows a coarse-grained decomposition of the same problem into four tasks, where each tasks computes n/4 of the entries of the output vector of length n.

##### Figure 3.4. Decomposition of dense matrix-vector multiplication into four tasks. The portions of the matrix and the input and output vectors accessed by Task 1 are highlighted.

A concept related to granularity is that of degree of concurrency. The maximum number of tasks that can be executed simultaneously in a parallel program at any given time is known as its maximum degree of concurrency. In most cases, the maximum degree of concurrency is less than the total number of tasks due to dependencies among the tasks. For example, the maximum degree of concurrency in the task-graphs of Figures 3.2 and 3.3 is four. In these task-graphs, maximum concurrency is available right at the beginning when tables for Model, Year, Color Green, and Color White can be computed simultaneously. In general, for task-dependency graphs that are trees, the maximum degree of concurrency is always equal to the number of leaves in the tree.

A more useful indicator of a parallel program’s performance is the average degree of concurrency, which is the average number of tasks that can run concurrently over the entire duration of execution of the program.

Both the maximum and the average degrees of concurrency usually increase as the granularity of tasks becomes smaller (finer). For example, the decomposition of matrix-vector multiplication shown in Figure 3.1 has a fairly small granularity and a large degree of concurrency. The decomposition for the same problem shown in Figure 3.4 has a larger granularity and a smaller degree of concurrency.

The degree of concurrency also depends on the shape of the task-dependency graph and the same granularity, in general, does not guarantee the same degree of concurrency. For example, consider the two task graphs in Figure 3.5, which are abstractions of the task graphs of Figures 3.2 and 3.3, respectively (Problem 3.1). The number inside each node represents the amount of work required to complete the task corresponding to that node. The average degree of concurrency of the task graph in Figure 3.5(a) is 2.33 and that of the task graph in Figure 3.5(b) is 1.88 (Problem 3.1), although both task-dependency graphs are based on the same decomposition.

##### Figure 3.5. Abstractions of the task graphs of Figures 3.2 and 3.3, respectively.

A feature of a task-dependency graph that determines the average degree of concurrency for a given granularity is its critical path. In a task-dependency graph, let us refer to the nodes with no incoming edges by start nodes and the nodes with no outgoing edges by finish nodes. The longest directed path between any pair of start and finish nodes is known as the critical path. The sum of the weights of nodes along this path is known as the critical path length, where the weight of a node is the size or the amount of work associated with the corresponding task. The ratio of the total amount of work to the critical-path length is the average degree of concurrency. Therefore, a shorter critical path favors a higher degree of concurrency. For example, the critical path length is 27 in the task-dependency graph shown in Figure 3.5(a) and is 34 in the task-dependency graph shown in Figure 3.5(b). Since the total amount of work required to solve the problems using the two decompositions is 63 and 64, respectively, the average degree of concurrency of the two task-dependency graphs is 2.33 and 1.88, respectively.

Although it may appear that the time required to solve a problem can be reduced simply by increasing the granularity of decomposition and utilizing the resulting concurrency to perform more and more tasks in parallel, this is not the case in most practical scenarios. Usually, there is an inherent bound on how fine-grained a decomposition a problem permits. For instance, there are n^{2} multiplications and additions in matrix-vector multiplication considered in Example 3.1 and the problem cannot be decomposed into more than O(n^{2}) tasks even by using the most fine-grained decomposition.

Other than limited granularity and degree of concurrency, there is another important practical factor that limits our ability to obtain unbounded speedup (ratio of serial to parallel execution time) from parallelization. This factor is the interaction among tasks running on different physical processors. The tasks that a problem is decomposed into often share input, output, or intermediate data. The dependencies in a task-dependency graph usually result from the fact that the output of one task is the input for another. For example, in the database query example, tasks share intermediate data; the table generated by one task is often used by another task as input. Depending on the definition of the tasks and the parallel programming paradigm, there may be interactions among tasks that appear to be independent in a task-dependency graph. For example, in the decomposition for matrix-vector multiplication, although all tasks are independent, they all need access to the entire input vector b. Since originally there is only one copy of the vector b, tasks may have to send and receive messages for all of them to access the entire vector in the distributed-memory paradigm.

The pattern of interaction among tasks is captured by what is known as a task-interaction graph. The nodes in a task-interaction graph represent tasks and the edges connect tasks that interact with each other. The nodes and edges of a task-interaction graph can be assigned weights proportional to the amount of computation a task performs and the amount of interaction that occurs along an edge, if this information is known. The edges in a task-interaction graph are usually undirected, but directed edges can be used to indicate the direction of flow of data, if it is unidirectional. The edge-set of a task-interaction graph is usually a superset of the edge-set of the task-dependency graph. In the database query example discussed earlier, the task-interaction graph is the same as the task-dependency graph. We now give an example of a more interesting task-interaction graph that results from the problem of sparse matrix-vector multiplication.

Example 3.3 Sparse matrix-vector multiplication

Consider the problem of computing the product y = Ab of a sparse n x n matrix A with a dense n x 1 vector b. A matrix is considered sparse when a significant number of entries in it are zero and the locations of the non-zero entries do not conform to a predefined structure or pattern. Arithmetic operations involving sparse matrices can often be optimized significantly by avoiding computations involving the zeros. For instance, while computing the ith entry of the product vector, we need to compute the products A[i, j] x b[j] for only those values of j for which A[i, j] 0. For example, y[0] = A[0, 0].b[0] + A[0, 1].b[1] + A[0, 4].b[4] + A[0, 8].b[8].

One possible way of decomposing this computation is to partition the output vector y and have each task compute an entry in it. Figure 3.6(a) illustrates this decomposition. In addition to assigning the computation of the element y[i] of the output vector to Task i, we also make it the “owner” of row A[i, *] of the matrix and the element b[i] of the input vector. Note that the computation of y[i] requires access to many elements of b that are owned by other tasks. So Task i must get these elements from the appropriate locations. In the message-passing paradigm, with the ownership of b[i],Task i also inherits the responsibility of sending b[i] to all the other tasks that need it for their computation. For example, Task 4 must send b[4] to Tasks 0, 5, 8, and 9 and must get b[0], b[5], b[8], and b[9] to perform its own computation. The resulting task-interaction graph is shown in Figure 3.6(b).

##### Figure 3.6. A decomposition for sparse matrix-vector multiplication and the corresponding task-interaction graph. In the decomposition Task i computes .