Network Working Group S. Bensley
Internet-Draft Microsoft
Intended status: Informational L. Eggert
Expires: December 7, 2014 NetApp
D. Thaler
June 5, 2014

Microsoft's Datacenter TCP (DCTCP): TCP Congestion Control for Datacenters


This memo describes Datacenter TCP (DCTCP), an improvement to TCP congestion control for datacenter traffic, as implemented in Windows Server 2012. DCTCP enhances Explicit Congestion Notification (ECN) processing to estimate the fraction of bytes that encounter congestion, rather than simply detecting that some congestion has occurred. DCTCP then scales the TCP congestion window based on this estimate. This method achieves high burst tolerance, low latency, and high throughput with shallow-buffered switches.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Large datacenters necessarily need a large number of network switches to interconnect the servers in the datacenter. Therefore, a datacenter can greatly reduce its capital expenditure by leveraging low cost switches. However, low cost switches tend to have limited queue capacities and thus are more susceptible to packet loss due to congestion.

Network traffic in the datacenter is often a mix of short and long flows, where the short flows require low latency and the long flows require high throughput. Datacenters also experience incast bursts, where many endpoints send traffic to a single server at the same time. For example, this is a natural consequence of MapReduce algorithms. The worker nodes complete at approximately the same time, and all reply to the master node concurrently.

These factors place some conflicting demands on the queue occupancy of a switch:

Standard TCP congestion control [RFC5681] relies on segment loss to detect congestion. This does not meet the demands described above. First, the short flows will start to experience unacceptable latencies before packet loss occurs. Second, by the time TCP congestion control kicks in on the sender, most of the incast burst has already been dropped.

[RFC3168] describes a mechanism for using Explicit Congestion Notification (ECN) from the switch for early detection of congestion, rather than waiting for segment loss to occur. However, this method only detects the presence of congestion, not the extent. In the presence of mild congestion, it reduces the TCP congestion window too aggressively and unnecessarily affects the throughput of long flows.

Datacenter TCP (DCTCP) enhances ECN processing to estimate the fraction of bytes that encounter congestion, rather than simply detecting that some congestion has occurred. DCTCP then scales the TCP congestion window based on this estimate. This method achieves high burst tolerance, low latency, and high throughput with shallow-buffered switches.

This document describes DCTCP as implemented in Microsoft Windows Server 2012.

2. Terminology

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. DCTCP Algorithm

There are three components involved in the DCTCP algorithm:

3.1. Marking Congestion on the Switch

The switch indicates congestion to the end nodes by setting the CE codepoint in the IP header as specified in Section 5 of [RFC3168]. For example, the switch may be configured with a congestion threshold. When a packet arrives at the switch and its queue length is greater than the congestion threshold, the switch sets the CE codepoint in the packet. However, the actual algorithm for marking congestion is an implementation detail of the switch and will generally not be known to the sender and receiver.

3.2. Echoing Congestion Information on the Receiver

According to Section 6.1.3 of [RFC3168], the receiver sets the ECE flag if any of the packets being acknowledged had the CE code point set. The receiver then continues to set the ECE flag until it receives a packet with the Congestion Window Reduced (CWR) flag set. However, the DCTCP algorithm requires more detailed congestion information. In particular, the sender must be able to determine the number of sent bytes that encountered congestion. Thus, the scheme described in [RFC3168] does not suffice.

One possible solution is to ACK every packet and set the ECE flag in the ACK if and only if the CE code point was set in the packet being acknowledged. However, this prevents the use of delayed ACKs, which are an important performance optimization in datacenters.

Instead, DCTCP introduces a new Boolean TCP state variable, DCTCP Congestion Encountered (DCTCP.CE), which is initialized to false and stored in the Transmission Control Block (TCB). When sending an ACK, the ECE flag MUST be set if and only if DCTCP.CE is true. When receiving packets, the CE codepoint MUST be processed as follows:

  1. If the CE codepoint is set and DCTCP.CE is false, send an ACK for any previously unacknowledged packets and set DCTCP.CE to true.
  2. If the CE codepoint is not set and DCTCP.CE is true, send an ACK for any previously unacknowledged packets and set DCTCP.CE to false.
  3. Otherwise, ignore the CE codepoint.

3.3. Processing Congestion Indications on the Sender

The sender estimates the fraction of sent bytes that encountered congestion. The current estimate is stored in a new TCP state variable, DCTCP.Alpha, which is initialized to 1 and MUST be updated as follows:


In order to update DCTCP.Alpha, the TCP state variables defined in [RFC0793] are used, and three additional TCP state variables are introduced:

The congestion estimator on the sender MUST process acceptable ACKs as follows:

  1. Compute the bytes acknowledged (TCP SACK options [RFC2018] are ignored):

  2. Update the bytes sent:

  3. If the ECE flag is set, update the bytes marked:

  4. If the sequence number is less than or equal to DCTCP.WindowEnd, then stop processing. Otherwise, the end of the observation window was reached, so proceed to update the congestion estimate as follows:
  5. Compute the congestion level for the current observation window:

  6. Update the congestion estimate:

  7. Determine the end of the next observation window:

  8. Reset the byte counters:

Rather than always halving the congestion window as described in [RFC3168], when the sender receives an indication of congestion, the sender MUST update cwnd as follows:

Thus, when no sent byte experienced congestion, DCTCP.Alpha equals zero, and cwnd is left unchanged. When all sent bytes experienced congestion, DCTCP.Alpha equals one, and cwnd is reduced by half. Lower levels of congestion will result in correspondingly smaller reductions to cwnd.

Just as specified in [RFC3168], TCP should not react to congestion indications more than once every window of data. The setting of the "Congestion Window Reduced" (CWR) bit is also exactly as per [RFC3168].

4. Implementation Issues

As noted in Section 3.3, the implementation must choose a suitable estimation gain. [DCTCP10] provides a theoretical basis for selecting the gain. However, it may be more practical to use experimentation to select a suitable gain for a particular network and workload. The Microsoft implementation of DCTCP in Windows Server 2012 uses a fixed estimation gain of 1/16.

The implementation must also decide when to use DCTCP. Datacenter servers may need to communicate with endpoints outside the datacenter, where DCTCP is unsuitable or unsupported. Thus, a global configuration setting to enable DCTCP will generally not suffice. DCTCP may be configured based on the IP address of the remote endpoint. Microsoft Windows Server 2012 also supports automatic selection of DCTCP if the estimated RTT is less than 10 msec, under the assumption that if the RTT is low, then the two endpoints are likely on the same datacenter network.

5. Deployment Issues

Since DCTCP relies on congestion marking by the switch, DCTCP can only be deployed in datacenters where the network infrastructure supports ECN. The switches may also support configuration of the congestion threshold used for marking. [DCTCP10] provides a theoretical basis for selecting the congestion threshold, but as with estimation gain, it may be more practical to rely on experimentation or simply to use the default configuration of the device.

DCTCP requires changes on both the sender and the receiver, so both endpoints must support DCTCP. Furthermore, DCTCP provides no mechanism for negotiating its use, so both endpoints must be configured through some out-of-band mechanism to use DCTCP. A variant of DCTCP that can be deployed unilaterally and only requires standard ECN behavior has been described in [ODCTCP], but requires additional experimental evaluation.

6. Known Issues

DCTCP relies on the sender's ability to reconstruct the stream of CE codepoints received by the remote endpoint. To accomplish this, DCTCP avoids using a single ACK packet to acknowledge segments received both with and without the CE codepoint set. However, if an ACK packet is dropped, it's possible that a subsequent ACK will indeed acknowledge a mix of CE and non-CE segments. This will, of course, result in a less accurate congestion estimate. There are some potential mitigations:

However, the affect of packet drops on DCTCP under real world conditions has not been analyzed.

DCTCP provides no mechanism for negotiating its use. Thus, there is additional management and configuration overhead required to ensure that DCTCP is not used with non-DCTCP endpoints. The affect of using DCTCP with a standard ECN endpoint has been analyzed in [ODCTCP]. Furthermore, it's possible that other implementations may also modify [RFC3168] behavior without negotiation, causing further interoperability issues.

Much like standard TCP, DCTCP is biased against flows with longer RTTs. A method for improving the fairness of DCTCP has been proposed in [ADCTCP], but requires additional experimental evaluation.

7. Security Considerations

DCTCP enhances ECN and thus inherits the security considerations discussed in [RFC3168]. The processing changes introduced by DCTCP do not exacerbate these considerations or introduce new ones. In particular, with either algorithm, the network infrastructure or the remote endpoint can falsely report congestion and thus cause the sender to reduce cwnd. However, this is no worse than what can be achieved by simply dropping packets.

8. IANA Considerations

This document has no actions for IANA.

9. Acknowledgements

The DCTCP algorithm was originally proposed and analyzed in [DCTCP10] by Mohammad Alizadeh, Albert Greenberg, Dave Maltz, Jitu Padhye, Parveen Patel, Balaji Prabhakar, Sudipta Sengupta, and Murari Sridharan.

10. References

10.1. Normative References

[RFC0793] Postel, J., "Transmission Control Protocol", STD 7, RFC 793, September 1981.
[RFC2018] Mathis, M., Mahdavi, J., Floyd, S. and A. Romanow, "TCP Selective Acknowledgment Options", RFC 2018, October 1996.
[RFC2119] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.
[RFC3168] Ramakrishnan, K., Floyd, S. and D. Black, "The Addition of Explicit Congestion Notification (ECN) to IP", RFC 3168, September 2001.

10.2. Informative References

[RFC5681] Allman, M., Paxson, V. and E. Blanton, "TCP Congestion Control", RFC 5681, September 2009.
[DCTCP10] Alizadeh, M., Greenberg, A., Maltz, D., Padhye, J., Patel, P., Prabhakar, B., Sengupta, S. and M. Sridharan, "Data Center TCP (DCTCP)", December 2010.
[ODCTCP] Kato, M., "Improving Transmission Performance with One-Sided Datacenter TCP", M.S. Thesis, Keio University, 2014.
[ADCTCP] Alizadeh, M., Javanmard, A. and B. Prabhakar, "Analysis of DCTCP: Stability, Convergence, and Fairness", June 2011.

Authors' Addresses

Stephen Bensley Microsoft One Microsoft Way Redmond, WA 98052 USA Phone: +1 425 703 5570 EMail:
Lars Eggert NetApp Sonnenallee 1 Kirchheim, 85551 Germany Phone: +49 151 120 55791 EMail: URI:
Dave Thaler Microsoft Phone: +1 425 703 8835 EMail: