Automatically Characterizing Large Scale Program Behavior

Timothy Sherwood, Erez Perelman, Greg Hamerly, Brad Calder

10th International Conference on Architectural Support for Programming Languages and Operating Systems, October 2002.


Understanding program behavior is at the foundation of computer architecture and program optimization. Many programs have wildly different behavior on even the very largest of scales (over the complete execution of the program). This realization has ramifications for many architectural and compiler techniques, from thread scheduling, to feedback directed optimizations, to the way programs are simulated. However, in order to take advantage of time-varying behavior, we must first develop the analytical tools necessary to automatically and efficiently analyze program behavior over large sections of execution.

Our goal is to develop automatic techniques that are capable of finding and exploiting the Large Scale Behavior of programs (behavior seen over billions of instructions). The first step towards this goal is the development of a hardware independent metric that can concisely summarize the behavior of an arbitrary section of execution in a program. To this end we examine the use of Basic Block Vectors. We quantify the effectiveness of Basic Block Vectors in capturing program behavior across several different architectural metrics, explore the large scale behavior of several programs, and develop a set of algorithms based on clustering capable of analyzing this behavior. We then demonstrate an application of this technology to automatically determine where to simulate for a program to help guide computer architecture research.