Copernicus: Characterizing the Performance Implications of Compression Formats Used in Sparse Workloads

Bahar Asgari, Ramyad Hadidi, Joshua Dierberger, Charlotte Steinichen, Hyesoon kim

Sparse matrices are the key ingredients of several application domains, from scientific computation to machine learning. The primary challenge with sparse matrices has been efficiently storing and transferring data, for which many sparse formats have been proposed to significantly eliminate zero entries. Such formats, essentially designed to optimize memory footprint, may not be as successful in performing faster processing. In other words, although they allow faster data transfer and improve memory bandwidth utilization -- the classic challenge of sparse problems -- their decompression mechanism can potentially create a computation bottleneck. Not only is this challenge not resolved, but also it becomes more serious with the advent of domain-specific architectures (DSAs), as they intend to more aggressively improve performance. The performance implications of using various formats along with DSAs, however, has not been extensively studied by prior work. To fill this gap of knowledge, we characterize the impact of using seven frequently used sparse formats on performance, based on a DSA for sparse matrix-vector multiplication (SpMV), implemented on an FPGA using high-level synthesis (HLS) tools, a growing and popular method for developing DSAs. Seeking a fair comparison, we tailor and optimize the HLS implementation of decompression for each format. We thoroughly explore diverse metrics, including decompression overhead, latency, balance ratio, throughput, memory bandwidth utilization, resource utilization, and power consumption, on a variety of real-world and synthetic sparse workloads.

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