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Tackling power management of multi-processor systems

Posted: 21 Dec 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Multiprocessing  electronic systems  processor  multi-core 

Multiprocessing is a staple in today's electronic systems. The key benefits are faster processing due to parallel execution and improved operating characteristics such as power, thermal and latency by engaging the right processor(s) for each activity. The same is valid for multi-core systems that typically have even closer data and timing ties between the processing units.

Historically, parallel execution and the resulting performance gains have received most of the attention of the engineering community which produced progressive parallel software standards such as Open Computing Language (OpenCL), Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA), Open Multi-Processing (OpenMP) and similar. The operating characteristics of multi-processor systems, like power, although vital for electronic systems, stayed entrapped in the OS-directed power management (OSPM) bundled with the main OS as the exclusive controller of the whole system. The first challenge to OSPM came with multiple guest OSs running on a single processor hypervisor, followed by the multi-OS, multi-core hypervisor variant and finally the heterogeneous multi-OS, multi-processor systems. Consequently, hypervisors and dedicated cores started taking over the OSPM role, and engineers developed home-grown power APIs to coordinate power control between various OSs of the electronic system.

The latency/power trade-off problem
There is currently no commonly used standard to manage system power in heterogeneous multi-processor systems. Each vendor must reinvent APIs and protocols to handle power management and spend time integrating these APIs into each codebase for every processing core in the system. To meet market windows, vendors tend to leverage existing power management solutions in the software they use for each core and then loosely couple these cores together to create ad hoc power-management regimes. These ad hoc regimes tend to have high latency power-state transitions. To work around this, companies create static, infrequently updated data-driven approaches, trading off latency for power. Because of these trade-offs, vendors have to leave power on the table.

New power API for heterogeneous processors
A solution to this problem is to create an API specification that all software vendors can reasonably implement, a spec that acts as an underlying power management substrate. Because of the unique needs of heterogeneous systems, it should be possible to implement the API using a small amount of code so that even the smallest cores can participate in system-wide power management. The API should also be sufficiently generic so that most heterogeneous architectures can be represented, but not too generic that the API becomes hard to use. Finally, the API should be compatible with existing power management schemes like ARM's Power State Coordination Interface (PSCI).

The new eXtensible Energy Management Interface (XEMI) developed by AGGIOS and Xilinx over the last two years fulfills each of these requirements.

XEMI is not revolutionary; it is not intended to be. XEMI is similar to ARM's PSCI. Unlike PSCI, XEMI covers heterogeneous systems. XEMI's intention is to provide a common API that allows all software components to power manage cores and peripherals. At a high-level, XEMI allows the user to specify a high-level power management goal such as suspending a complex processor cluster or just a single core. The underlying implementation is then free to implement an optimal power-saving approach autonomously. This approach cuts latency because the requestor of the action can specify a high-level power goal and not have to execute each step of the power state transition.

Message-passing interface masters system power
The XEMI API provides the mechanisms for managing power states of components in heterogeneous multi-core systems. By delegating power state control of system components to a central energy management layer, XEMI enables multiple independent processing clusters to share available slave devices in an energy efficient manner.

XEMI assumes a system architecture consisting of one or more processing clusters, central energy management software (which itself can be distributed across multiple cores), as well as slave devices that can enter multiple power states (figure 1). Furthermore, there may be a hierarchy of power islands and power domains, allowing groups of components to be turned off by either switching off the power locally in case of a power island or for power domains via an external regulator or power management IC (PMIC).

The processing clusters will submit power/performance requests via XEMI. These requests are received and processed by the power- management controller. The power-management controller is responsible for managing the power state of all slave devices, which it chooses based on the cumulative power performance requirements asserted by the processing clusters. It also is responsible for managing the power state of the processing clusters themselves, which will use XEMI to coordinate their own suspend procedures with the controller.

Figure 1: XEMI System Architecture.

The suspend procedure of processing clusters is mostly initiated and conducted by the software running on those clusters, while the power- management controller is required in order to perform the final steps of the suspend procedure. The controller is powering down the power islands and power domains the clusters reside in and by potentially adjusting the power state of slave devices the processing clusters are required to operate.

XEMI also includes APIs for requesting the suspend or wake-up of other processing clusters, providing a standardised mechanism to coordinate system sleep states as well as manage master/slave relationships between processing clusters.

The requirements passed in the XEMI APIs can either refer to explicit component capabilities, or include latency requirements, allowing the power management controller to choose the optimum power state for both slave devices as well as the processing clusters. Given that actual latencies will be platform specific, depending on components like external PMICs, XEMI allows these latency details to be encapsulated in the central controller firmware, rather than requiring the software on each of the processing clusters to be adjusted with such details. Application software just needs to know its latency requirements; how these requirements map to states of the various devices is left up to the power management controller.

XEMI for Xilinx Zynq UltraScale+ MPSoC
Aggios and Xilinx have created an implementation of XEMI for the Zynq UltraScale+ MPSoC (figure 2). This platform was ideal to build the first implementation of XEMI because the programmable logic allowed the engineering team to explore the design space efficiently. In addition, this platform will be ideal for others to continue to refine the XEMI specification because of its general availability and ease of use.

Figure 2: UltraScale+ MPSoC Architecture.

The Zynq UltraScale+ MPSoC contains several processing clusters that can act independently of each other, including a quad ARM Cortex-A53 application processor unit (APU), a dual ARM Cortex-R5 real-time processor unit (RPU), and the programmable logic, which can host one or more soft-core processors. All of these processors can share many of the slave devices. Furthermore, when a processor like the APU is not running, power consumption from leakage can be further reduced by turning off the power island completely. Further reductions in power are possible by turning off the entire Full Power Domain (FPD). XEMI is used for coordinating and implementing these and other transitions.

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