Transport Area Working Group G. White
Internet-Draft CableLabs
Intended status: Informational October 22, 2018
Expires: April 25, 2019

Identifying and Handling Non Queue Building Flows in a Bottleneck Link


This draft discusses the potential to improve quality of experience for broadband internet applications by distinguishing between flows that cause queuing latency and flows that don't.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Residential broadband internet services are commonly configured with a single bottleneck link (the access network link) upon which the service definition is applied. The service definition, typically an upstream/downstream data rate tuple, is implemented as a configured pair of rate shapers that are applied to the user's traffic. In such networks, the quality of service that each application receives, and as a result, the quality of experience that it generates for the user is influenced by the characteristics of the access network link.

The vast majority of packets that are carried by residential broadband access networks are managed by an end-to-end congestion control algorithm, such as Reno, Cubic or BBR. These congestion control algorithms attempt to seek the available capacity of the end-to-end path (which in the case of residential broadband networks, can frequently be the access network link), and in doing so generally overshoot the available capacity, causing a queue to build-up at the bottleneck link. This queue build up results in queuing delay that the application experiences as variable latency.

In contrast to congestion-controlled applications, there are a variety of relatively low data rate applications that do not materially contribute to queueing delay, but are nonetheless subjected to it by sharing the same bottleneck link in the access network. Many of these applications may be sensitive to latency or latency variation, and thus produce a poor quality of experience in such conditions.

Active Queue Management (AQM) mechanisms (such as PIE, DOCSIS-PIE, or CoDel) can improve the quality of experience for latency sensitive applications, but there are practical limits to the amount of improvement that can be achieved without impacting the throughput of capacity-seeking applications.

This document considers differentiating between these two classes of traffic in bottleneck links in order that both classes can deliver exceptional quality of experience for their applications, and solicits discussion / feedback.

2. Non-Queue Building Flows

There are many applications that send traffic at relatively low data rates and/or in a fairly smooth and consistent manner such that they are highly unlikely to exceed the available capacity of the network path between source and sink. Such applications are ideal candidates to be queued separately from the capacity-seeking applications that cause queue buildups and latency.

These Non-queue-building (NQB) flows are typically UDP flows, which send traffic at a lower data rate and don't seek the capacity of the link (examples: online games, voice chat, dns lookups). Here the data rate is essentially limited by the Application itself. In contrast, Queue-building (QB) flows include traffic which uses the Traditional TCP, QUIC, BBR or other TCP variants.

There are a lot of great examples of applications that fall very neatly into these two categories, but there are also application flows that may be in a gray area in between (e.g. they are NQB on high-speed links, but QB on slow-speed links).

3. Identifying NQB traffic

This memo is intended to seek feedback on mechanisms by which Non-Queue Building flows can be identified by the network in an application-neutral way. Two mechanisms in particular seem feasible, and could (either alone or in concert) be used to differentiate between QB and NQB flows.

3.1. Endpoint marking

This mechanism would have application endpoints apply a marking (perhaps utilizing the Diffserv field of the IP header) to NQB flows that could then be used by the network to differentiate between QB and NQB flows. It would be useful for such a marking to be universally agreed upon, rather than being locally defined by the network operator, such that applications could be written to apply the marking without regard to local network policies.

Some questions that arise when considering endpoint marking are: How can an application determine whether it is queue building or not, given that the sending application is generally not aware of the available capacity of the path to the receiving endpoint? Even in cases where an application is aware of the capacity of the path, how can it be sure that the available capacity (considering other flows that may be sharing the path) would be sufficient to result in the application's traffic not causing a queue to form? In an unmanaged environment, how can networks trust endpoint marking, why wouldn't all applications mark their packets as NQB?

As an answer the last question, it would be worthwhile to note that the NQB designation and marking would be intended to convey verifiable traffic behavior, not needs or wants. Also, it would be important that incentives are aligned correctly, i.e. that there is a benefit to the application in marking its packets correctly, and no benefit for an application in intentionally mismarking its traffic. Thus, a useful property of nodes that support separate queues for NQB and QB flows would be that for NQB flows, the NQB queue provides better performance (considering latency, loss and throughput) than the QB queue; and for QB flows, the QB queue provides better performance (considering latency, loss and throughput) than the NQB queue.

Even so, it is possible that due to an implementation error or misconfiguration, a QB flow would end up getting mismarked as NQB, or vice versa. In the case of an NQB flow that isn't marked as NQB and ends up in the QB queue, it would only impact its own quality of service, and so it seems to be of lesser concern. However, a QB flow that is mismarked as NQB, either due to error or due to the fact that the application developer can't predict the data rate capabilities of the link, would causing queuing delays for all of the other flows that are sharing the NQB queue.

To prevent this situation from harming the performance of the real NQB flows, it would likely be valuable to support a "queue protection" function that could identify QB flows that are mismarked as NQB, and reclassify those flows/packets to the QB queue. This would benefit the reclassified flow by giving it access to a large buffer (and thus lower packet loss rate), and would benefit the actual NQB flows by preventing harm (increased latency variability) to them. Some open questions around this function include: How could such a function be implemented in an objective and verifiable manner? What other options might exist to serve this purpose in a dual-queue architecture?

3.2. Queuing behavior analysis

Similar to the queue protection function outlined in the previous section, it may be feasible to devise a real time flow analyzer for a node that would identify flows that are causing queue build up, and redirect those flows to the QB queue, leaving the remaining flows in the NQB queue.

4. Non Queue Building PHB

This section uses the DiffServ nomenclature of per-hop-behavior (PHB) to describe how a network node could provide better quality of service for NQB flows without reducing performance of QB flows.

A node supporting the NQB PHB would provide a separate queue for non-queue-building traffic. This queue would support a latency-based queue protection mechanism that is able to identify queue-building behavior in flows that are classified into the queue, and to redirect flows causing queue build up to a different queue.

While there may be some similarities between the characteristics of NQB flows and flows marked with the Expedited Forwarding DSCP, the NQB PHB would differ from the Expedited Forwarding PHB in several important ways.

In networks that support the NQB PHB, it may be preferred to also include traffic marked EF (101110b) in the NQB queue. The choice of the 0x2A codepoint (101010b) for NQB would conveniently allow a node to select these two codepoints using a single mask pattern of 101x10b.

5. End-to-end Support

In contrast to the existing standard DSCPs, which are typically only enforced within a DiffServ Domain (e.g. an AS), this DSCP would be intended for end-to-end usage across the Internet. Some access network service providers bleach the Diffserv field on ingress into their network, and in some cases apply their own DSCP for internal usage. Access networks that support the NQB PHB would need to permit the NQB PHB to pass through this bleaching operation such that the PHB can be provided at the access network link.

6. Relationship to L4S

The dual-queue mechanism described in this draft is similar to, and is intended to be compatible with [I-D.ietf-tsvwg-l4s-arch].

7. Comparison to Existing Approaches

Traditional QoS mechanisms focus on prioritization in an attempt to achieve two goals, reduced latency for "latency-sensitive" traffic, and increased bandwidth availability for "important" applications. Applications are generally given priority in proportion to some combination of latency-sensitivity and importance.

Downsides to this approach include the difficulties in sorting out what priority level each application should get (making the value judgement as to latency-sensitivity and importance), associating packets to priority levels (lots of classifier state, or trusting endpoint markings and the value judgements that they convey), ensuring that high priority traffic doesn't starve lower priority traffic (admission control, weighted scheduling, etc. are possible solutions). This solution can work in a managed network, where the network operator can control the usage of the QoS mechanisms, but has not been adopted end-to-end across the internet.

Flow queueing approaches (such as fq_codel RFC 8290), on the other hand, achieve latency improvements by associating packets into "flow" queues and then prioritizing "sparse flows", i.e. packets that arrive to an empty flow queue. Flow queueing does not attempt to differentiate between flows on the basis of value (importance or latency-sensitivity), it simply gives preference to sparse flows, and tries to guarantee that the non-sparse flows all get an equal share of the remaining channel capacity. As a result, fq mechanisms could be considered more appropriate for unmanaged environments and general internet traffic.

Downsides to this approach include loss of low latency performance due to hash collisions (where a sparse flow shares a queue with a bulk data flow), complexity in managing a large number of queues, and the scheduling (typically DRR) that enforces that each non-sparse flow gets an equal fraction of link bandwidth causes problems with VPNs and other tunnels, exhibits poor behavior with less-aggressive CA algos, e.g. LEDBAT, and exhibits poor behavior with RMCAT CA algos. In effect the network element is making a decision as to what constitutes a flow, and then forcing all such flows to take equal bandwidth at every instant.

The Dual-queue approach achieves the main benefit of fq_codel: latency improvement without value judgements, without the downsides.

The distinction between NQB flows and QB flows is similar to the distinction made between "sparse flow queues" and "non-sparse flow queues" in fq_codel. In fq_codel, a flow queue is considered sparse if it is drained completely by each packet transmission, and remains empty for at least one cycle of the round robin over the active flows (this is approximately equivalent to saying that it utilizes less than its fair share of capacity). While this definition is convenient to implement in fq_codel, it isn't the only useful definition of sparse flows.

8. Acknowledgements


9. IANA Considerations


10. Security Considerations


11. Informative References

[I-D.ietf-tsvwg-l4s-arch] Briscoe, B., Schepper, K. and M. Bagnulo, "Low Latency, Low Loss, Scalable Throughput (L4S) Internet Service: Architecture", Internet-Draft draft-ietf-tsvwg-l4s-arch-03, October 2018.
[RFC8033] Pan, R., Natarajan, P., Baker, F. and G. White, "Proportional Integral Controller Enhanced (PIE): A Lightweight Control Scheme to Address the Bufferbloat Problem", RFC 8033, DOI 10.17487/RFC8033, February 2017.
[RFC8034] White, G. and R. Pan, "Active Queue Management (AQM) Based on Proportional Integral Controller Enhanced PIE) for Data-Over-Cable Service Interface Specifications (DOCSIS) Cable Modems", RFC 8034, DOI 10.17487/RFC8034, February 2017.
[RFC8289] Nichols, K., Jacobson, V., McGregor, A. and J. Iyengar, "Controlled Delay Active Queue Management", RFC 8289, DOI 10.17487/RFC8289, January 2018.
[RFC8290] Hoeiland-Joergensen, T., McKenney, P., Taht, D., Gettys, J. and E. Dumazet, "The Flow Queue CoDel Packet Scheduler and Active Queue Management Algorithm", RFC 8290, DOI 10.17487/RFC8290, January 2018.

Author's Address

Greg White CableLabs 858 Coal Creek Circle Louisville, CO 80027 US EMail: