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3.5 Spatial Properties of Complex Systems


Now we switch topics and consider the spatial properties of complex systems.

The size N of the complex system is obviously an important property. Note that we think of a complex system as a set of members with their spatial structure evolving with time. Sometimes, the time domain has a definite ``size'' but often one can evolve the system indefinitely in time. However, most complex systems have a natural spatial size with the spatial domain consisting of N members. In the examples of Section 3.3, the seismic example had a definite spatial extent and unlimited time domain; on the other hand, Gaussian elimination  had spatial members evolving for a fixed number of n ``time'' steps. As usual, the value of spatial size N will depend on the granularity or detail with which one looks at the complex system. One could consider a parallel computer as a complex system constructed as a collection of transistors with a correspondingly very large value of but here we will view the processor node as the fundamental entity and define the spatial size of a parallel computer viewed as a complex system, by the number of processing nodes.

Now is a natural time to define the von Neumann complex system spatial structure which is relevant, of course, for computer architecture. We will formally define this to be a system with no spatial extent, i.e. size . Of course, a von Neumann node can have a sophisticated structure if we look at fine enough resolution with multiple functional units. More precisely, perhaps, we can generalize this complex system to one where is small and will not scale up to large values.

Consider mapping a seismic  simulation with grid points onto a parallel machine with processors. An important parameter is the grain size n of the resultant decomposition. We can introduce the problem grain size and the computer grain size as the memory contained in each node of the parallel computer. Clearly we must have,


if we measure memory size in units of seismic grid points. More interestingly, in Equation 3.10 we will relate the performance of the parallel implementation of the seismic simulation to and other problem and computer characteristics. We find that, in many cases, the parallel performance only depends on and in the combination and so grain size is a critical parameter in determining the effectiveness of parallel computers for a particular application.

The next set of parameters describe the topology or structure of the spatial domain associated with the complex system. The simplest parameter of this type is the geometric dimension of the space. As reviewed in Chapter 2, the original hardware and, in fact, software (see Chapter 5) exhibited a clear geometric structure for or . The binary hypercube of dimension d had this as its geometric dimension. This was an effective architecture because it was richer than the topologies of most problems. Thus, consider mapping a problem of dimension onto a computer of dimension . Suppose the software system preserves the spatial structure of the problem and that . Then, one can show that the parallel computing overhead f has a term due to internode communication that has the form,


with parallel speedup S given by


The communication overhead depends on the problem grain size and computer complex system . It also involves two parameters specifying the parallel hardware performance.

The definitions of and are imprecise above. In particular, depends on the nature of node and can take on very different values depending on the details of the implementation; floating-point operations are much faster when the operands are taken from registers than from slower parts of the memory hierarchy. On systems built from processors like the Intel i860 chip, these effects can be large; could be from registers (50 MFLOPS) and larger by a factor of ten when the variables a,b are fetched from dynamic RAM. Again, communication speed depends on internode message size (a software characteristic) and the latency  (startup time) and bandwidth  of the computer communication subsystem.

Returning to Equation 3.10, we really only need to understand here that the term indicates that communication overhead depends on relative performance of the internode communication system and node (floating-point) processing unit. A real study of parallel computer performance would require a deeper discussion of the exact values of and . More interesting here is the dependence on the number of processors and problem grain size . As described above, grain size depends on both the problem and the computer. The values of and are given by


independent of computer parameters, while if


The results in Equation 3.13 quantify the penalty, in terms of a value of that increases with , for a computer architecture that is less rich than the problem architecture.  An attractive feature of the hypercube architecture is that is large and one is essentially always in the regime governed by the top line in Equation 3.13. Recently, there has been a trend away from rich topologies like the hypercube towards the view that the node interconnect should be considered as a routing network or switch to be implemented in the very best technology. The original MIMD machines from Intel, nCUBE,  and AMETEK  all used hypercube topologies, as did the SIMD Connection Machines  CM-1 and CM-2. The nCUBE-2, introduced in 1990, still uses a hypercube topology but both it and the second generation Intel iPSC/2 used a hardware routing that ``hides'' the hypercube connectivity. The latest Intel Paragon and Touchstone Delta and Symult (ex-Ametek) 2010 use a two-dimensional mesh with wormhole routing. It is not clear how to incorporate these new node interconnects into the above picture and further research is needed. Presumably, we would need to add new complex system properties and perhaps generalize the definition of dimension as we will see below is in fact necessary for Equation 3.10 to be valid for problems whose structure is not geometrically based.

Returning to Equations 3.10 through 3.12, we note that we have not properly defined the correct dimension or to use. We have implicitly equated this with the natural geometric dimension but this is not always correct. This is illustrated by the complex system consisting of a set of particles in three dimensions interacting with a long range force such as gravity or electrostatic charge. The geometric structure is local with but the complex system structure is quite different; all particles are connected to all others. As described in Chapter 3 of [Fox:88a], this implies that whatever the underlying geometric structure. We define the system dimension  for a general complex system to reflect the system connectivity. Consider Figure 3.9 which shows a general domain D in a complex system. We define the volume of this domain by the information in it. Mathematically, is the computational complexity needed to simulate D in isolation. In a geometric system


where L is a geometric length scale. The domain D is not in general isolated and is connected to the rest of the complex system. Information flows in D and again in a geometric system. is a surface effect with


Figure 3.9: The Information Density and Flow in a General Complex System with Length Scale L

If we view the complex system as a graph, is related to the number of links of the graph inside D and is related to the number of links cut by the surface of D. Equations 3.14 and 3.15 are altered in cases like the long-range force  problem where the complex system connectivity is no longer geometric. We define the system dimension to preserve the surface versus volume interpretation of Equation 3.15 compared to Equation 3.14. Thus, generally we define


With this definition of system dimension , we will find that Equations 3.10 through 3.12 essentially hold in general. In particular for the long range force problem, one finds independent of .

A very important special type of spatial structure is the case when we find the embarrassingly parallel  or spatially disconnected complex system. Here there is no connection between the different members in the spatial domain. Applying this to parallel computing, we see that if or is spatially disconnected, then it can be parallelized very straightforwardly. In particular, any MIMD machine can be used whatever the temporal structure of the complex system. SIMD machines can only be used to simulate embarrassingly parallel complex systems which have spatially disconnected members with identical structure.

In Section 13.7, we extend the analysis of this section to cover the performance of hierarchical memory  machines. We find that one needs to replace subdomains in space with those in space-time.

In Chapter 11, we describe other interesting spatial properties in terms of a particle analogy. We find system temperature and phase transitions as one heats and cools the complex system.

next up previous contents index
Next: 3.6 Compound Complex Systems Up: 3 A Methodology for Previous: 3.4 The Temporal Properties

Guy Robinson
Wed Mar 1 10:19:35 EST 1995