Univ. of Tennessee, Univ. of California Berkeley and Univ. of Colorado Denver

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Parallel Linear Algebra Software for Multicore Architectures

1. Purpose of PLASMA

The main purpose of PLASMA is to address the performance shortcomings of the LAPACK and ScaLAPACK libraries on multicore processors and multi-socket systems of multicore processors and their inability to efficiently utilize accelerators such as Graphics Processing Units (GPUs). PLASMA provides routines to solve dense general systems of linear equations, symmetric positive definite systems of linear equations and linear least squares problems, using LU, Cholesky, QR and LQ factorizations. Real arithmetic and complex arithmetic are supported in both single precision and double precision.

PLASMA has been designed to supercede LAPACK and ScaLAPACK, principally by restructuring the software to achieve much greater efficiency, where possible, on modern computers based on multicore processors. PLASMA also relies on new or improved algorithms. Currently, however, PLASMA does not serve as a complete replacement of LAPACK due to limited functionality. Specifically, PLASMA does not support band matrices and does not solve eigenvalue and singular value problems. Also, PLASMA does not replace ScaLAPACK as software for distributed memory computers, since it only supports shared-memory machines.

2. Where to Find More Information

The main repository for PLASMA documentation is the distribution ./docs directory. The directory contains important documents such as the Users' Guide and the Reference Manual. PLASMA documentation is also available online on the PLASMA website: http://icl.cs.utk.edu/plasma/. For installation instructions please refer to the Installation Guide. In addition, the PLASMA User Forum can be used to post general questions and comments as well as to report technical problems.

3. Important Information about BLAS and LAPACK

3.1. Optimized BLAS are Critical for Performance

It is absolutely critical for performance to use PLASMA in conjunction with an optimized implementation of the Basic Linear Algebra Subroutines (BLAS) library. Such implementations are usually provided by the processor manufacturer and are usually available free of charge for non-profit use, such as academic research. Examples include:

  • The VecLib from Apple,

  • The AMD Core Math Library (ACML),

  • The Math Kernel Library (MKL) from Intel,

  • The Engineering and Scientific Software Library (ESSL) from IBM.

Open-source alternatives also exist, such as:

As the last resort, the FORTRAN implementation of BLAS from Netlib can be used (often referred to as reference BLAS). However, since Netlib BLAS are completely unoptimized, PLASMA with Netlib BLAS will deliver correct numerical results, but no performance whatsoever.

For comprehensive installation instructions please refer to the Installation Guide. However, if you decide to install manually and edit the installation scripts then there is one important issue to keep in mind. Modern optimized BLAS are not stand-alone libraries but instead are bundled with additional software, primarily LAPACK. This makes it necessary to use proper linking flags. Commonly these are -L (for path to library) and -l (for library name):

-L/usr/lib -lblas

This will only pull in symbols from the BLAS library that are needed by PLASMA. The commonly made mistake is to just specify the full path to the library:


This method will work for simple cases but it forces the linker to include the whole contents of the BLAS library rather than just pull in the missing symbols. Aside from making the binary executable files larger, this method will easily cause name clashes as the same symbol name might be included multiple times.

3.2. Multithreading within BLAS Must be Disabled

Many Basic Linear Algebra Subroutines (BLAS) implementations exploit parallelism within BLAS through multithreading. PLASMA, however, utilizes BLAS for high performance implementations of single-core operations (often referred to as kernels) and exploits parallelism at the algorithmic level above the level of BLAS. For that reason, PLASMA should not be used in conjunction with a multithreaded BLAS, as this is likely to create more execution threads than actual cores. The phenomenon, known as oversubscribing of cores, will completely annihilate PLASMA’s performance due to devastating impact on the operation of cache memories for dense linear algebra workloads.

However, new eigenvalues and singular values are exploiting both sequential BLAS routines for reduction algorithms and multithreaded calls for eigenvalues, singular values solvers to provide good performance.

For that reason, PLASMA needs to be linked with a multithreaded BLAS library and to be informed of the library used to be able to adjust the number of threads according to the LAPACK/BLAS routine called, and by default the number of thread should be one. Typically, disabling the multithreading can be done by setting the appropriate environment variable from the command prompt, for instance:


In order to let PLASMA switch automatically the number of threads in the proper section, it is required to specify which BLAS library is used in the make.inc file by either adding -DPLASMA_WITH_MKL or -DPLASMA_WITH_ACML to the compilation flags (CFLAGS). Then, PLASMA will change the number of threads by calling respectively, omp_num_threads() or mkl_num_threads(). It is important to note that with MKL, PLASMA has to disable the affinity of the Intel OpenMP scheduler by calling: kmp_set_defaults("KMP_AFFINITY=disabled")

Currently, this disables the simultaneous use of PLASMA for some of the user’s functions and vendor BLAS for others. This cannot be easily remedied without standardization of interoperability rules of multithreaded libraries. One consolation is that PLASMA already delivers fast parallel implementations of all Level 3 BLAS routines and there is virtually no benefit from parallelization of Level 1 and 2 BLAS routines on current generation of multicore platforms due to memory contention.

3.3. PLASMA Software Stack

PLASMA requires the following software packages to be installed in the system prior to PLASMA’s installation: BLAS, CBLAS, LAPACK and Netlib LAPACK C Wrapper. CBLAS and the components of LAPACK required by PLASMA are commonly bundled with BLAS. If this is not the case Netlib implementation of CBLAS and Netlib LAPACK can be used. The C interface to LAPACK has not been standardized yet and the LAPACK C Wrapper from Netlib has to be used for the time being.

BLAS is the set of Basic Linear Algebra Subprograms described in the previous section. An unoptimized reference implementation of BLAS is available from Netlib at http://www.netlib.org/blas/. As mentioned before, it is critical for performance that optimized implementation of BLAS is used instead of Netlib BLAS.

CBLAS is the C language interface to BLAS available with most implementations of BLAS. A reference implementation from Netlib is also available at http://www.netlib.org/blas/blast-forum/cblas.tgz. Since CBLAS is only a set of wrappers to the actual BLAS, the CBLAS from Netlib can be used without any adverse effects on performance.

LAPACK is a large package of linear algebra routines for a wide range of problems. PLASMA uses only a tiny portion of LAPACK, which is also commonly bundled with BLAS distributions. If this is not the case, the complete LAPACK distribution from Netlib can be used, which is available at http://www.netlib.org/lapack/. Although vendor LAPACK routines can be more optimized than those from Netlib, there should be no adverse performance effects of using Netlib LAPACK, since PLASMA only relies on LAPACK for implementing some of its sequential kernels.

The user can point PLASMA’s installer to all the components already installed in the system. For all the missing components Netlib equivalents will be installed. The installer can also be forced to disregard any software already installed in the system and use the Netlib packages instead.

3.4. Thou Shalt Not Mix Compilers

For a given processor, the user can have different compilers at his disposal. For instance, GNU, PGI and Intel compilers are available for Intel processors. Different compilers can have slightly different Application Binary Interfaces (ABIs) and mixing compilers is generally a bad idea. User’s code and the PLASMA library should be compiled with the same compiler, and so should be BLAS, CBLAS, LAPACK and LAPACK C Wrapper, if a source distribution is used. If a binary distribution of the BLAS is used, the correct version has to be chosen (the one providing the right ABI). For Intel processors, the Intel Math Kernel Library Link Line Advisor can be used to assist with the choice.

3.5. Linking FORTRAN code with C Code

Currently PLASMA library does not contain any FORTRAN code any more. FORTRAN is only used in PLASMA’s testing suite derived from the one of LAPACK (/testing/lin/). Because of that, neither a FORTRAN compiler nor the FORTRAN standard library has to be involved in compiling PLASMA and linking it with C code. The following paragraph is preserved in this README only because it is a very useful piece of information for novice users who are forced to mix FORTRAN and C.

If FORTRAN code is mixed with C code, the FORTRAN standard library has to be included. Sometimes it can be accomplished by simply putting the standard FORTRAN library at the and of the link line, e.g., "-lgfortran" when using GCC. Alternatively, FORTRAN compiler can be used for linking. This will accomplish the same effect automatically. However, the Intel IFORT compiler, when used for linking, assumes that the main program is in FORTRAN and links for_main.o into the application. This provides the linker with two main() functions (one created by the user and one inserted by the build system), which is cause a linker error. To prevent this from happening, the "-nofor_main" link option has to be given.

4. Fortran 90 Interfaces

It is now possible to call PLASMA from modern Fortran, making use of the Fortran 2003 C interoperability features.

The benefits of using the Fortran 90 interfaces over the old-style Fortran 77 interfaces are: * Compile-time argument checking. * Native and transparent handling of pointer arguments - arrays, descriptors and handles. * A clean interface between Fortran and C.

In order to build the Fortran 90 interfaces add the following to your make.inc file: PLASMA_F90 = 1

To call PLASMA via the interfaces, Use PLASMA in your Fortran code.

Arguments such as descriptors and handles required by the PLASMA tiled and asynchronous interfaces are passed as type(c_ptr), which is part of the Fortran 2003 ISO C bingings module (so you will also need to Use iso_c_binding).

For the LAPACK-style interfaces, arrays should be passed in as normal.

Four examples of using the Fortran 90 interfaces are given, which show how to use the module, call auxiliary functions such as initializing PLASMA and setting options, perform tasks such as allocating workspace and translating between layouts, and calling a computational routine: example_sgebrd.f90 - single precision real bi-diagonal reduction using LAPACK-syle interface. example_dgetrs_tile_async.f90 - double precision real factorizaion followed by linear solve using the tiled, asynchronous interface. example_cgeqrf_tile.f90 - single precision complex QR factorization using the tiled interface. example_zgetrf_tile.f90 - double precision complex LU factorization using the tiled interface.

The interfaces can be found in the control directory:

plasma_f90.f90 plasma_cf90.F90 plasma_df90.F90 plasma_dsf90.F90 plasma_sf90.F90 plasma_zcf90.F90 plasma_zf90.F90

  • Please check the subroutine wrappers (following the contains statement in each module) to see the interfaces for the routines to call from your Fortran.

5. A Note on Running on NUMA Systems

PLASMA is a software package for shared memory systems, both Symmetric Multi-Processors (SMP) and Non-Uniform Memory Access (NUMA) systems. PLASMA does not detect the type of the system and does not take any specific actions in that respect. PLASMA’s performance may be poor on NUMA systems if matrices are not distributed among multiple memory nodes. The current wisdom is to use "numactl --interleave=all" when running an application that uses PLASMA.

6. A Note on Running PLASMA and OpenMP

PLASMA currently binds the existing threads to specific cores in order to optimize data locality during computation. As a consequence, if you add your first OpenMP section after the call to PLASMA_Init, all threads created by the OpenMP section will be sons of the main thread binded on the core 0 and will thus be binded on the same core. To avoid this problem, it is recommended to first have an OpenMP section to create the threads even if it does not do anything and then place the call to PLASMA_Init. If your OpenMP section is after the call to PLASMA_Finalize, it should not be a problem, since version 2.4.1 will unbind threads after this call.

7. License Information

PLASMA is a software package provided by University of Tennessee, University of California, Berkeley and University of Colorado, Denver. PLASMA’s license is a BSD-style permissive free software license (properly called modified BSD). It allows proprietary commercial use, and for the software released under the license to be incorporated into proprietary commercial products. Works based on the material may be released under a proprietary license as long as PLASMA’s license requirements are maintained, as stated in the LICENSE file, located in the main directory of the PLASMA distribution. In contrast to copyleft licenses, like the GNU General Public License, PLASMA’s license allows for copies and derivatives of the source code to be made available on terms more restrictive than those of the original license.

8. Publications

A number of technical reports were written during the development of PLASMA and published as LAPACK Working Notes by the University of Tennessee. Almost all of these reports later appeared as journal articles. To make a reference to PLASMA you can cite the following publications:

Emmanuel Agullo, Alfredo Buttari, Jack Dongarra, Mathieu Faverge, Bilel Hadri, Azzam Haidar, Jakub Kurzak, Julien Langou, Hatem Ltaief, Piotr Luszczek, Asim YarKhan
PLASMA Users' Guide
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department
Univesity of Tennessee

Alfredo Buttari, Julien Langou, Jakub Kurzak, Jack Dongarra
A class of parallel tiled linear algebra algorithms for multicore architectures
Parallel Computing 35 (2009) 38-53
DOI: 10.1016/j.parco.2008.10.002

Emmanuel Agullo, Jim Demmel, Jack Dongarra, Bilel Hadri, Jakub Kurzak, Julien Langou, Hatem Ltaief, Piotr Luszczek, Stanimire Tomov
Numerical linear algebra on emerging architectures: The PLASMA and MAGMA projects
2009 Journal of Physics: Conference Series 180 012037
DOI: 10.1088/1742-6596/180/1/012037

9. Funding

The PLASMA project is funded in part by the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, Microsoft, and the MathWorks.