Buffer Bloat, a minis to the TCP protocol

On April 8, 2013, in Rants, by Cubert aka (Cube Dweller)

Today I would like to take a minute of your time and talk about Bandwidth usage and a little known  phenomenon called Buffer Bloat.


What is Buffer bloat and what does it effect?


Buffer bloat is the product whereby excess buffering of packets inside the network causes high latency and jitter, as well as reducing the overall network throughput. Buffer bloat occurs when a network link becomes congested, causing packets to become queued in the buffer of a router or switch. As traffic passes from one router to another this buffering can become amplified. Amplification of Buffer bloat happens as each router segment buffers the netflows, the more router segments between the endpoints the larger the bloat can grow. The problem is caused mainly by router and switch manufacturers making incorrect assumptions and buffering packets for too long in cases where they should be dropped. Dropping packets is not always a bad thing. TCP is built so that when packets are dropped the protocol slows the transmission down. Transmission speeds up and slows down until it finds an equilibrium equal to the speed of the link. However, for this to work the packet drops must occur in a timely manner and buffering packets negates this process.


In a network buffer (router memory), packets are queued before being transmitted and in the problematic situation packets are only dropped if the buffer is full. With the advent of cheap RAM router manufactures have been adding more and more RAM to their systems allowing for larger and larger buffers. On older routers, buffers were fairly small so they filled quickly and therefore packets began to drop shortly after the link became saturated, the TCP protocol could adjust, and the issue wouldn’t become apparent. On newer routers buffers have become large enough to hold several megabytes of data, which translates to 10 seconds or more at a 1 Mbit/s line rate.


The problem is not limited to just TCP, these problems also affects other protocols. All packets passing through a simple buffer implemented as a single queue will experience the same delay, so the latency of any connection that passes through a filled buffer will be affected, this includes protocols like ICMP and UDP.  If you have read this please send me a email back, I would like to see how many of us out there read this far.


Want to learn more about Buffer bloat and how it effect endpoints and company networks? Please visit this article on Buffer bloat at http://gettys.wordpress.com/2010/12/03/introducing-the-criminal-mastermind-bufferbloat/



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