Single Operation Multiple Data

Posted in Hacking, Maps at 5:40 pm by ducky

One of the most venerable types of parallel processing is called SIMD, for Single Instruction Multiple Data. In those types of computers, you would do the exact same thing on many different pieces of data (like add two, multiply by five, etc) at the same time. There are some problems that lend themselves to SIMD processing very well. Unfortunately, there are a huge number of problems that do not lend themselves well to SIMD. It’s rare that you want to process every piece of data exactly the same.

Google has done a really neat thing with their architecture and software tools. They have abstracted things such that it looks to the developer like they have a single operation multiple data machine, where an operation can be something relatively complicated.

For example, to create one of my map tiles, I determine the coordinates of the tile, retrieve information about the geometry, retrieve information about the demographics, and draw the tile. With Google tools, once I have a list of tile coordinates, I could send one group of worker-computers (A group) off to retrieve the geometry information and a second (B group) off to retrieve the demographic information. Another group (the C group) could then draw the tiles. (Each worker in the C group would use data from exactly one A worker and one B worker.)

The A and B tasks are pretty simple, and maybe could be done by an old-style SIMD computer, but C’s job is much too complex to do in a SIMD computer. What steps are performed depends entirely on what is in the data. For a tile out at sea, the C worker doesn’t need to draw anything. For a tile in the heart of Los Angeles, it has to draw lots and lots of little polygons. But at this level of abstraction, I can think of “draw the tile” as one operation.

Under the covers, Google is does a lot of work to make it look like everything is beautifully parallel. In reality, there probably aren’t as many workers as tiles, but the Google tools take care of dispatching jobs to workers until all the jobs are finished. To the developer, it all looks really clean and tidy.

There are way more problems that lend themselves to SOMD than to SIMD, so I think this approach has enormous potential.

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