Saturday, September 26, 2009

The need for QOS versus Net Neutrality

In 2003, I made a VOIP call from home while downloading a large email attachment. The DSL line saturated and my audio quality became horrible while VOIP packets (and email packets) were being dropped. Doubling the bandwidth to my home would not have solved this problem. The email download would simply have been faster, but the VOIP call would still have suffered packet loss.
The solution to this problem is 'quality of service' (QOS). Some applications, particularly realtime interactive applications, are sensitive to packet loss. Other applications, particularly bulk data traffic (including email, ftp, backups, software update downloads) are not time sensitive and can have their traffic delayed in favor of the realtime traffic. QOS is the network function where certain applications and traffic are prioritized over others that are deemed less urgent.
The creators of the Internet Protocol version 4 understood that quality of service was a requirement. They included the 'type of service' field in the IPv4 header when it was specified in 1981. When developing IPv6, they cleaned up unnecessary header fields, but still they kept the 'class of service' field in the base IPv6 header. Every Internet Protocol packet sent on the Internet since 1983 (when IPv4 went live) included this service field in the header to enable QOS functionality.
In September 2009, Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC commissioners, proposed two new 'network neutrality' principles. Among them was the "principle of nondiscrimination." This proposed principle states 'broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications.' While there is a valid concern that ISP's may choose to impede applications or content from competitors, the current proposal as stated seems to restrict ISP's from using QOS to prioritize traffic for realtime applications, and deprioritize traffic for bulk data applications.
Due to the apparent attempt to ignore a fundamental building block of the Internet, I oppose the proposed 'principle of nondiscrimination' as written. ISP's need to prioritize realtime applications, while deprioritizing non-realtime bulk-data-transfer applications. In addition, ISP's need the freedom to block applications which do not 'play nicely' in a bandwidth constrained environment. Network engineers know that sometimes particular applications need to be blocked to allow the majority of the network (and the majority of customers) to enjoy adequate performance.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

IPv6 theory

The linked video introduces IPv6 theory. IPv6 is the 128-bit address replacement for IPv4. The Internet is expected to run out of it's 4-billion IPv4 addresses in 2012. IPv6 will replace IPv4 at the network-layer of the OSI stack. By replacing one layer in the stack, most applications and most layer-2 network devices will continue to function.

IPv6 includes several technical improvements over IPv4. IPv6 uses optional extension headers, so only packets requiring special options will have those headers. As a result most IPv6 packets will have simpler headers than their IPv4 counterparts. IPv6 eliminates broadcast, and instead uses multicast for most neighbor discovery functions. This is more efficient CPU-wise because hosts only need to subscribe to the multicast groups they require. IPv6 hosts use stateless autoconfiguration to acquire link-local and internet routable IPv6 addresses. In many cases this can eliminate the need for a separate DHCP server. And of course IPv6 includes 128-bit addresses, allowing 256 billion billion billion billion hosts.

The migration from IPv4 to IPv6 will be the highlight and most significant change of our networking careers. Most of us were not in this business during the IPv3 to IPv4 migration on January 1st 1983 (a 'flag day' migration). Odds are IPv6 will remain the dominant internet protocol until after we retire.

A PDF version of my presentation will be attached to the comments section.

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