[Cake] Proposing COBALT

Jonathan Morton chromatix99 at gmail.com
Fri May 20 06:04:09 EDT 2016

With the recent debate over handling unresponsive flows in fq_codel, I had a brainwave involving constructing a hybrid AQM which preserves Codel’s excellent properties on responsive flows, while also reacting appropriately when faced with a UDP flood.  The key difficulty was deciding when to switch over from the Codel behaviour to a PIE or RED like behaviour.

It turns out that BLUE is a perfect fit for this job, because it activates when the queue is completely full - an unambiguous signal that Codel has lost the plot and is unable to control the queue alone.  BLUE was one of the more promising AQMs in the days immediately prior to Codel’s ascendance, so it should be effective outside Codel’s speciality.

The name COBALT, as well as referring to a nice shade of blue, can read “Codel-BLUE Alternate”.

It is unnecessary to explicitly “switch over” between Codel and BLUE; they can work in parallel, since their operating characteristics are independent.  It may be feasible to simplify the Codel implementation, since it will no longer need to handle overload conditions as robustly.  For example, the Codel section should use ECN marking whenever possible, and never drop an ECN-Capable packet; the BLUE section should ignore ECN capability and simply drop packets, since the traffic is evidently not responding to any ECN signals if BLUE is triggered.

One of the major reasons why Codel fails on UDP floods is that its drop schedule is time-based.  This is the correct behaviour for TCP flows, which respond adequately to one congestion signal per RTT, regardless of the packet rate.  However, it means it is easily overwhelmed by high-packet-rate unresponsive (or anti-responsive, as with TCP acks) floods, which an attacker or lab test can easily produce on a high-bandwidth ingress, especially using small packets.

BLUE, by contrast, uses a drop *probability*, so its effectiveness on floods is independent of the packet rate.  If necessary, its drop rate can increase to 100% in a reasonable amount of time.

A couple of details are necessary to integrate BLUE with a flow-isolating qdisc:

BLUE’s up-trigger should be on a packet drop due to overflow (only) targeting the individual subqueue managed by that particular BLUE instance.  It is not correct to trigger BLUE globally when an overall overflow occurs.  Note also that BLUE has a timeout between triggers, which should I think be scaled according to the estimated RTT.

BLUE’s down-trigger is on the subqueue being empty when a packet is requested from it, again on a timeout.  To ensure this occurs, it may be necessary to retain subqueues in the DRR list while BLUE’s drop probability is nonzero.

Note that this does nothing to improve the situation regarding fragmented packets.  I think the correct solution in that case is to divert all fragments (including the first) into a particular queue dependent only on the host pair, by assuming zero for src and dst ports and a “special” protocol number.  This has the distinct advantages of keeping related fragments together, and ensuring they can’t take up a disproportionate share of bandwidth in competition with normal traffic.

 - Jonathan Morton

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