Challenges of Programming Multicore Systems

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The trend toward multicore systems continues to place pressure on system designers and application programmers to make better use of the multiple computing cores. Designers of operating systems must write scheduling algorithms that use multiple processing cores to allow the parallel execution shown in Figure 4.5.

For application programmers, the challenge is to modify existing programs as well as design new programs that are multithreaded. In general, five areas present challenges in programming for multicore systems:

1. Identifying tasks. This involves examining applications to find areas that can be divided into separate, concurrent tasks. Ideally, tasks are independent of one another and thus can run in parallel on individual cores.

2. Balance. While identifying tasks that can run in parallel, programmers must also ensure that the tasks perform equal work of equal value. In some instances, a certain task may not contribute as much value to the overall process as other tasks. Using a separate execution core to run that task may not be worth the cost.

3. Data splitting. Just as applications are divided into separate tasks, the data accessed and manipulated by the tasks must be divided to run on separate cores.

4. Data dependency. The data accessed by the tasks must be examined for dependencies between two or more tasks. When one task depends on data from another, programmers must ensure that the execution of the tasks is synchronized to accommodate the data dependency.

5. Testing and debugging. When a program is running in parallel on multiple cores, many different execution paths are possible. Testing and debugging such concurrent programs is inherently more difficult than testing and debugging single-threaded applications.

Because of these challenges, many software developers argue that the advent of multicore systems will require an entirely new approach to designing software systems in the future. (Similarly, many computer science educators believe that software development must be taught with increased emphasis on parallel programming.)

About the Authors

Abraham Silberschatz is the Sidney J. Weinberg Professor of Computer Science at Yale University. Prior to joining Yale, he was the Vice President of the Information Sciences Research Center at Bell Laboratories. Prior to that, he held a chaired professorship in the Department of Computer Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin.

Professor Silberschatz is a Fellow of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), a Fellow of Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and a member of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering.

Greg Gagne is chair of the Computer Science department at Westminster College in Salt Lake City where he has been teaching since 1990. In addition to teaching operating systems, he also teaches computer networks, parallel programming, and software engineering.

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The tenth edition of Operating System Concepts has been revised to keep it fresh and up-to-date with contemporary examples of how operating systems function, as well as enhanced interactive elements to improve learning and the student's experience with the material. It combines instruction on concepts with real-world applications so that students can understand the practical usage of the content. End-of-chapter problems, exercises, review questions, and programming exercises help to further reinforce important concepts. New interactive self-assessment problems are provided throughout the text to help students monitor their level of understanding and progress. A Linux virtual machine (including C and Java source code and development tools) allows students to complete programming exercises that help them engage further with the material.

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