Internet DRAFT - draft-fairhurst-tsvwg-circuit-breaker
TSVWG Working Group G. Fairhurst
Internet-Draft University of Aberdeen
Intended status: Standards Track May 5, 2014
Expires: November 6, 2014
Network Transport Circuit Breakers
This note explains what is meant by the term "network transport
circuit breaker" (CB). It describes the needs for circuit breakers
when using network tunnels, and other non-congestion controlled
applications. It defines requirements for building a circuit breaker
and the expected outcomes of using a circuit breaker within the
Status of This Memo
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Table of Contents
1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
1.1. Types of Circuit-Breaker . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
2. Terminology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
3. Design of a Circuit-Breaker (What makes a good circuit
breaker?) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
3.1. Functional Components . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
3.2. Requirements for implementing a CB . . . . . . . . . . . 6
4. Examples of Circuit Breakers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
4.1. A Fast-Trip Circuit Breaker . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
4.1.1. A Fast-Trip Circuit Breaker for RTP . . . . . . . . . 8
4.2. A Slow-trip Circuit Breaker . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
4.3. A Managed Circuit Breaker . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
4.3.1. A Managed Circuit Breaker for SAToP Pseudo-Wires . . 9
5. Examples where circuit breakers may not be needed. . . . . . 10
5.1. CBs and uni-directional Traffic . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
5.2. CBs over pre-provisioned Capacity . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
5.3. CBs with CC Traffic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
6. Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
7. IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
8. Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
9. Revision Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
10. References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
10.1. Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
10.2. Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Author's Address . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
A network transport Circuit Breaker (CB) is an automatic mechanism
that is used to estimate congestion caused by a flow, and to
terminate (or significantly reduce the rate of) the flow when
persistent congestion is detected. This is a safety measure to
prevent congestion collapse (starvation of resources available to
other flows), essential for an Internet that is heterogeneous and for
traffic that is hard to predict in advance.
A CB is intended as a protection mechanism of last resort. Under
normal circumstances, a CB should not be triggered; It is designed to
protect things when there is overload. Just as people do not expect
the electrical circuit-breaker (or fuse) in their home to be
triggered, except when there is a wiring fault or a problem with an
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Persistent congestion (also known as "congestion collapse") was a
feature of the early Internet of the 1980s. This resulted in excess
traffic starving other connection from access to the Internet. It
was countered by the requirement to use congestion control (CC) by
the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) [Jacobsen88] [RFC1112].
These mechanisms operate in Internet hosts to cause TCP connections
to "back off" during congestion. The introduction of CC in TCP
(currently documented in [RFC5681] ensured the stability of the
Internet, because it was able to detect congestion and promptly
react. This worked well while TCP was by far the dominant traffic in
the Internet, and most TCP flows were long-lived (ensuring that they
could detect and respond to congestion before the flows terminated).
This is no longer the case, and non-congestion controlled traffic,
including many applications of the User Datagram Protocol (UDP) can
form a significant proportion of the total traffic traversing a link.
The current Internet therefore requires that non-congestion
controlled traffic needs to be considered to avoid congestion
There are important differences between a transport circuit-breaker
and a congestion-control method. Specifically, congestion control
(as implemented in TCP, SCTP, and DCCP) needs to operate on the
timescale on the order of a packet round-trip-time (RTT), the time
from sender to destination and return. Congestion control methods
may react to a single packet loss/marking and reduce the transmission
rate for each loss or congestion event. The goal is usually to limit
the maximum transmission rate that reflects the available capacity of
a network path. These methods typically operate on individual
traffic flows (e.g. a 5-tuple).
In contrast, CBs are recommended for non-congestion-controlled
Internet flows and for traffic aggregates, e.g.traffic sent using a
network tunnel. Later sections provide examples of cases where
circuit-breakers may or may not be desirable.
A CB needs to measure (meter) the traffic to determine if the network
is experiencing congestion and must be designed to trigger robustly
when there is persistent congestion. This means the trigger needs to
operate on a timescale much longer than the path round trip time
(e.g. seconds to possibly many tens of seconds). This longer period
is needed to provide sufficient time for transports (or applications)
to adjust their rate following congestion, and for the network load
to stabilise after any adjustment. A CB trigger will often be based
on a series of successive sample measurements taken over a reasonably
long period of time. This is to ensure that a CB does not
accidentally trigger following a single (or even successive)
congestion events (congestion events are what triggers congestion
control, and are to be regarded as normal on a network link operating
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near its capacity). Once triggered, a control function needs to
remove traffic from the network, either disabling the flow or
significantly reducing the level of traffic. This reaction provides
the required protection to prevent persistent congestion being
experienced by other flows that share the congested part of the
1.1. Types of Circuit-Breaker
There are various forms of network transport circuit breaker. These
are differentiated mainly on the timescale over which they are
triggered, but also in the intended protection they offer:
o Fast-Trip Circuit Breakers: The relatively short timescale used by
this form of circuit breaker is intended to protect a flow or
related group of flows.
o Slow-Trip Circuit Breakers: This circuit breaker utilises a longer
timescale and is designed to protect traffic aggregates.
o Managed Circuit Breakers: Utilise the operations and management
functions that may be present in a managed service to implement a
Examples of each type of circuit breaker are provided in section 4.
The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
"SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this
document are to be interpreted as described in [RFC2119].
3. Design of a Circuit-Breaker (What makes a good circuit breaker?)
Although circuit breakers have been talked about in the IETF for many
years, there has not yet been guidance on the cases where circuit
breakers are needed or upon the design of circuit breaker mechanisms.
This document seeks to offer advise on these two topics.
Section 3.1 describes the functional components of a circuit breaker
and section 3.2 defines requirements for implementing a circuit
3.1. Functional Components
The basic design of a circuit breaker involves communication between
an ingress point (a sender) and an egress point (a receiver) of a
network flow. A simple picture of CB operation is provided in figure
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1. This shows a set of routers (each labelled R) connecting a set of
endpoints. A CB is used to control traffic passing through a subset
of these routers, acting between an ingress and a egress point. In
some cases the ingress and egress may be in one or both endpoints, in
other cases they will be in the network, for example one expected use
would be at the ingress and egress of a tunnel service.
| +-+ +-+ +---------+ +-+ +-+ +-+ +--------+ +-+ +-+ |
+--+R+--+R+--+ Ingress +--+R+--+R+--+R+--+ Egress |--+R+--+R+--+
+++ +-+ +-------+-+ +-+ +-+ +-+ +-----+--+ +++ +-+
| ^ | | |
+-+ | | +----+----+ | | +-+
+R+---+ | | Measure +<-------------------+ +---+R+
+++ | +----+----+ +++
| | | |
| | +----+----+ |
+--+-----+ | | Trigger + +--+-----+
|Endpoint| | +----+----+ |Endpoint|
+--------+ | | +--------+
Figure 1: A CB controlling the part of the end-to-end path between an
ingress point and an egress point.
The set of components needed to implement a circuit breaker are:
1. An Ingress meter (at the sender or tunnel ingress) records the
number of packets/bytes sent in each measurement interval. This
measures the offered network load. The measurement interval
could be every few seconds.
2. An Egress meter (at the receiver or tunnel egress) records the
number/bytes received in each measurement interval. This
measures the supported load and may utilise other signals to
detect the effect of congestion (e.g. loss/marking experienced
over the path).
3. The measured values at the ingress and egress are communicated to
the CB Measurement function. This may use several methods
including: Sending return measurement packets from a receiver to
a trigger function at the sender; An implementation using
Operations, Administration and Management (OAM), or another in-
band signalling datagram to send to the trigger function; It
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could also be implemented purely as a control plane function
using a software-defined network controller.
4. The Measurement function combines the Ingress and Egress
measurements to assess the present level of network congestion.
(For example, the loss rate for each measurement interval could
be deduced from calculating the difference between counter
values. Note that accurate measurement intervals are not
typically important, since isolated loss events need to be
5. A Trigger function determines if the measurements indicate
persistent congestion. This defines an appropriate threshold for
determining there is persistent congestion between the ingress
and egress (e.g. more than 10% loss, but other methods could also
be based on the rate of transmission as well as the loss rate).
The transport CB is triggered when the threshold is exceeded in
multiple measurement intervals (e.g. 3 successive measurements).
This design needs to be robust to single or spurious events
triggering a reaction.
6. A Reaction that is applied at the Ingress when the CB is
triggered. This seeks to automatically remove the traffic
causing persistent congestion.
7. The CB also triggers when it does not receive both sender and
receiver measurements, since this also could indicate a loss of
control packets (also a symptom of heavy congestion or inability
to control the load).
3.2. Requirements for implementing a CB
The requirements for implementing a CB are:
o There MUST be a control path from the Ingress meter and the Egress
meter to the point of measurement. The CB MUST trigger if this
control path fails. That is, the feedback indicating a congested
period is designed so that the CB is triggered when it fails to
receive measurement reports that indicate an absence of
congestion, rather than relying on the successful transmission of
a "congested" signal back to the sender. (The feedback signal
could itself be lost under congestion collapse).
o A CB MUST define a measurement period over which the receiver
measures the level of congestion. This method does not have to
detect individual packet loss, but MUST have a way to know that
packets have been lost/marked from the traffic flow. If Explicit
Congestion Notification (ECN) is enabled [RFC3168], an egress
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meter MAY also count the number of ECN congestion marks/event per
measurement interval, but even if ECN is used, loss MUST still be
measured, since this better reflects the impact of persistent
congestion. The type of CB will determine how long this
measurement period needs to be. The minimum time must be
significantly longer than the time that current CC algorithms need
to reduce their rate following detection of congestion (i.e. many
o A CB is REQUIRED to define a threshold to determine whether the
measured congestion is considered excessive.
o A CB is REQUIRED to define a period over which the Trigger uses
the collected measurements.
o A CB MUST be robust to multiple congestion events. This usually
will define a number of measured persistent congestion events per
triggering period. For example, a CB may combine the results of
several measurement periods to determine if the CB is triggered.
(e.g. triggered when persistent congestion is detected in 3
measurements within the triggering interval).
o A triggered CB MUST react decisively by disabling (or
significantly reducing) traffic at the source (e.g. tunnel
ingress). The CB SHOULD be constructed so that it does not
trigger under light or intermittent congestion, with a default
response to a trigger that disables all traffic that contributed
o Some circuit breaker designs use a reaction that reduces, rather
that disables, the flows it control. This response MUST be much
more severe than that of a CC algorithm, because the CB reacts to
more persistent congestion and operates over longer timescales. A
CB that reduces the rate of a flow, MUST continue to monitor the
level congestion and MUST further reduce the rate if the CB is
o The reaction to a triggered CB MUST continue for a period of time
of at least the triggering interval. Manual operator intervention
will usually be required to restore the flow. If an automated
response is needed to reset the trigger, then this MUST NOT be
immediate. The design of this release mechanism needs to be
sufficiently conservative that it does not adversely interact with
other mechanisms (including other CB algorithms that control
traffic over a common path.
o When a CB is triggered, it SHOULD be regarded as an abnormal
network event. As such, this event SHOULD be logged. The
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measurements that lead to triggering of the CB SHOULD also be
4. Examples of Circuit Breakers
There are multiple types of CB that may be defined for use in
different deployment cases. This section provides examples of
different types of circuit breaker:
4.1. A Fast-Trip Circuit Breaker
A fast-trip circuit breaker is the most responsive form of CB. It
has a response time that is only slightly larger than that of the
traffic it controls. It is suited to traffic with well-understood
characteristics. It is not be suited to arbitrary network traffic,
since it may prematurely trigger (e.g. when multiple congestion-
controlled flows lead to short-term overload).
4.1.1. A Fast-Trip Circuit Breaker for RTP
A set of fast-trip CB methods have been specified for use together by
a Real-time Transport Protocol (RTP) flow using the RTP/AVP Profile
:[RTP-CB] . It is expected that, in the absence of severe congestion,
all RTP applications running on best-effort IP networks will be able
to run without triggering these circuit breakers. A fast-trip RTP CB
is therefore implemented as a fail-safe.
The sender monitors reception of RTCP Reception Report (RR or XRR)
packets that convey reception quality feedback information. This is
used to measure (congestion) loss, possibly in combination with ECN
The CB action (shutdown of the flow) is triggered when any of the
following trigger conditions are true:
1. An RTP CB triggers on reported lack of progress.
2. An RTP CB triggers when no receiver reports messages are
3. An RTP CB uses a TFRC-style check and set a hard upper limit to
the long-term RTP throughput (over many RTTs).
4. An RTP CB includes the notion of Media Usability. This circuit
breaker is triggered when the quality of the transported media
falls below some required minimum acceptable quality.
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4.2. A Slow-trip Circuit Breaker
A slow-trip CB may be implemented in an endpoint or network device.
This type of CB is much slower at responding to congestion than a
fast-trip CB and is expected to be more common.
One example where a slow-trip CB is needed is where flows or traffic-
aggregates use a tunnel or encapsulation and the flows within the
tunnel do not all support TCP-style congestion control (e.g. TCP,
SCTP, TFRC), see [RFC5405] section 3.1.3. A use case is where
tunnels are deployed in the general Internet (rather than "controlled
environments" within an ISP or Enterprise), especially when the
tunnel may need to cross a customer access router.
4.3. A Managed Circuit Breaker
A managed CB is implemented in the signalling protocol or management
plane that relates to the traffic aggregate being controlled. This
type of circuit breaker is typically applicable when the deployment
is within a "controlled environment".
A Circuit Breaker requires more than the ability to determine that a
network path is forwarding data, or to measure the rate of a path -
which are often normal network operational functions. There is an
additional need to determine a metric for congestion on the path and
to trigger a reaction when a threshold is crossed that indicates
4.3.1. A Managed Circuit Breaker for SAToP Pseudo-Wires
[RFC4553], SAToP Pseudo-Wires (PWE3), section 8 describes an example
of a managed circuit breaker for isochronous flows.
If such flows were to run over a pre-provisioned (e.g. MPLS)
infrastructure, then it may be expected that the Pseudo-Wire (PW)
would not experience congestion, because a flow is not expected to
either increase (or decrease) their rate. If instead Pseudo-Wire
traffic is multiplexed with other traffic over the general Internet,
it could experience congestion. [RFC4553] states: "If SAToP PWs run
over a PSN providing best-effort service, they SHOULD monitor packet
loss in order to detect "severe congestion". The currently
recommended measurement period is 1 second, and the trigger operates
when there are more than three measured Severely Errored Seconds
(SES) within a period.
If such a condition is detected, a SAToP PW should shut down
bidirectionally for some period of time..." The concept was that when
the packet loss ratio (congestion) level increased above a threshold,
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the PW was by default disabled. This use case considered fixed-rate
transmission, where the PW had no reasonable way to shed load.
The trigger needs to be set at the rate the PW was likely have a
serious problem, possibly making the service non-compliant. At this
point triggering the CB would remove the traffic prevent undue impact
congestion-responsive traffic (e.g., TCP). Part of the rationale,
was that high loss ratios typically indicated that something was
"broken" and should have already resulted in operator intervention,
and should trigger this intervention. An operator-based response
provides opportunity for other action to restore the service quality,
e.g. by shedding other loads or assigning additional capacity, or to
consciously avoid reacting to the trigger while engineering a
solution to the problem. This may require the trigger to be sent to
a third location (e.g. a network operations centre, NOC) responsible
for operation of the tunnel ingress, rather than the tunnel ingress
5. Examples where circuit breakers may not be needed.
A CB is not required for a single CC-controlled flow using TCP, SCTP,
TFRC, etc. In these cases, the CC methods are designed to prevent
XX NOTE: Comments on this section are particularly welcome to
establish clearer understanding of the operational conditions under
which circuit breakers should or must be deployed.
5.1. CBs and uni-directional Traffic
A CB can be used to control uni-directional UDP traffic, providing
that there is a control path to connect the functional components at
the Ingress and Egress. This control path can exist in networks for
which the traffic flow is purely unidirectional (e.g. a multicast
stream that sends packets across an Internet path).
A one-way physical link may have no associated control path, and
therefore cannot be controlled using an automated process. This
could be managed by policing traffic to ensure it does not exceed the
available capacity. Supporting this type of traffic in the general
Internet requires operator monitoring to detect and respond to
persistent congestion or the use of dedicated capacity - e.g. Using
per-provisioned MPLS services, RSVP, or admission-controlled
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5.2. CBs over pre-provisioned Capacity
One common question is whether a CB is needed when a tunnel is
deployed in a private network with pre-provisioned capacity?
In this case, compliant traffic that does not exceed the provisioned
capacity should not result in congestion. A CB will hence only be
triggered when there is non-compliant traffic. It could be argued
that this event should never happen - but it may also be argued that
the CB equally should never be triggered. If a CB were to be
implemented, it would provide an appropriate response should this
persistent congestion occur in an operational network.
5.3. CBs with CC Traffic
IP-based traffic is generally assumed to be congestion-controlled,
i.e., it is assumed that the transport protocols generating IP-based
traffic at the sender already employ mechanisms that are sufficient
to address congestion on the path [RFC5405]. A question therefore
arises when people deploy a tunnel that is thought to only carry an
aggregate of TCP (or some other CC-controlled) traffic: Is there
advantage in this case in using a CB?
For sure, traffic in a such a tunnel will respond to congestion.
However, the answer to the question may not be obvious, because the
overall traffic formed by an aggregate of flows that implement a CC
mechanism does not necessarily prevent congestion collapse. For
instance, most CC mechanisms require long-lived flows to react to
reduce the rate of a flow, an aggregate of many short flows may
result in many terminating before they experience congestion. It is
also often impossible for a tunnel service provider to know that the
tunnel only contains CC-controlled traffic (e.g. Inspecting packet
headers may not be possible). The important thing to note is that if
the aggregate of the traffic does not result in persistent congestion
(impacting other flows), then the CB will not trigger. This is the
expected case in this context - so implementing a CB will not reduce
performance of the tunnel, but offers protection should persistent
6. Security Considerations
This section will describe security considerations.
7. IANA Considerations
This document makes no request from IANA.
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There are many people who have discussed and described the issues
that have motivated this draft. Contributions and comments are
appreciated, including: Lars Eggert, Colin Perkins, David Black, Matt
9. Revision Notes
RFC-Editor: Please remove this section prior to publication
This was the first revision. Help and comments are greatly
Contained clarifications and changes in response to received
comments, plus addition of diagram and definitions. Comments are
10.1. Normative References
European Telecommunication Standards, Institute (ETSI),
"Congestion Avoidance and Control", SIGCOMM Symposium
proceedings on Communications architectures and
protocols", August 1998.
[RFC2119] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.
[RFC5405] Eggert, L. and G. Fairhurst, "Unicast UDP Usage Guidelines
for Application Designers", BCP 145, RFC 5405, November
[RTP-CB] and , "Multimedia Congestion Control: Circuit Breakers for
Unicast RTP Sessions", February 2014.
10.2. Informative References
[RFC1112] Deering, S., "Host extensions for IP multicasting", STD 5,
RFC 1112, August 1989.
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[RFC3168] Ramakrishnan, K., Floyd, S., and D. Black, "The Addition
of Explicit Congestion Notification (ECN) to IP", RFC
3168, September 2001.
[RFC4553] Vainshtein, A. and YJ. Stein, "Structure-Agnostic Time
Division Multiplexing (TDM) over Packet (SAToP)", RFC
4553, June 2006.
[RFC5681] Allman, M., Paxson, V., and E. Blanton, "TCP Congestion
Control", RFC 5681, September 2009.
[RFC6040] Briscoe, B., "Tunnelling of Explicit Congestion
Notification", RFC 6040, November 2010.
[RFC6679] Westerlund, M., Johansson, I., Perkins, C., O'Hanlon, P.,
and K. Carlberg, "Explicit Congestion Notification (ECN)
for RTP over UDP", RFC 6679, August 2012.
University of Aberdeen
School of Engineering
Fraser Noble Building
Aberdeen, Scotland AB24 3UE
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