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Peter J. Downey

Peter J. Downey is Professor Emeritus of
Computer Science at the University of Arizona. He received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1974, and subsequently joined the faculty of The Pennsylvania State University. In 1978 he moved to Arizona, where he has been for 33 years. He served as Head of the Department from 1998 to 2007. He became Emeritus Professor in May 2011.

Downey's main research area is probabilistic analysis of algorithms and systems, with particular emphasis on modeling the performance of parallel algorithms.

Department of Computer Science
Gould-Simpson Building, Room 917
1040 E Fourth St
The University of Arizona
Tucson AZ 85721-0077
pete at cs dot arizona dot edu

Parallel Program Performance

The goal of this research project is the development of analytic methods to evaluate the performance of parallel asynchronous algorithms and systems. In order to understand the origins and effects of overheads in parallel computation, such as synchronization delays, methods focus on probabilistic models of workloads and task processing times. Rather than developing exact but unrealistic models with only narrow applicability, emphasis is on the development of bounds and approximations that are robust and valid for extremely general workload and task distributions (distribution-free methods). For large workloads and massive numbers of parallel processors, laws of large number apply and allow run-time and speed-up to be approximated or bounded in terms of a few underlying parameters of the workload.

Analysis of Overheads

Analysis of parallel algorithms is distinctly different from that of sequential algorithms because of the presence of overheads, following from the need to coordinate parallel activity. Overheads are of two fundamentally different kinds. Explicit overheads result from the need to add additional code to a parallel algorithm to handle coordination matters such as forks and message sends. Implicit overheads arise from delays spent waiting on synchronization events, such as joins, to occur. Implicit and explicit overheads increase with increasing degree of parallelism; expected implicit overheads increase with the mean, variance and skewness of the underlying task time distributions. Much of this research aims to quantify the effects of such overheads, and to understand how they depend on various parameters of the workload distribution.

Foundations: Extreme Order Statistics

Let X1, ... , Xn be random variables, representing execution times of tasks. Two random variables derived from the task times play a critical role in determining the performance of parallel activity: Work aimed at understanding the behavior of both Sn and Mn for large n, even if the task times are dependent, forms a fundamental part of this research upon which all analysis is based. This foundational theory must meet a very practical methodological constraint: to be able to bound or approximate the behavior of extrema and sums without detailed information about the task workload distributions.

Scheduling and Sequencing

Parallel performance issues occur at the operating systems level in the design of multiprocessor schedulers. The design and analysis of simple scheduling policies having guaranteed performance bounds is an important part of this research. New applications of stochastic ordering relations to prove optimality of static scheduling policies and to develop bounds for dynamic policies are being extended as part of this work.

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