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PlusNet's Prioritised Gaming - A How To

April 10th, 2008 at 14:10 by Dave Tomlinson

Gran Turismo 5 PrologueThis post is intended as a short article centred on how we manage the gaming experience for our customers. I’ve focussed on:

  • How and why we give priority to gaming traffic on our network.
  • How we identify specific games and add new ones to our database.

Introduction

Although most on-line games don’t use a lot of bandwidth, they do need a low and stable ping rate (aka latency). Even when the broadband network gets busy, by giving gaming traffic high priority, we ensure that latency remains low and stable at all times. With the exception of Broadband Your Way Option 1, we give gaming the highest possible priority (‘titanium ‘ currently) on our network.

Like all Broadband providers we operate a network which is shared between our customers. That means at peak times (such as in the evening) if lots of people use their connection at the same time the available bandwidth is shared amongst all of them (an effect known as contention). If the network is busy this can result in ping spikes and packet loss alongside a reduction in data transfer speed.

If all traffic is treated equally then for some applications (downloads for example), slowdowns, changes in ping time or a little packet loss don’t cause any major problems. However this effect can make on-line games completely unplayable. By controlling what types of traffic are affected at busy times on the PlusNet network, and prioritising gaming traffic, we can ensure the gaming experience will be good regardless of what else is happening on the network.

How are different types of traffic identified?

How we identify gaming traffic from other types of Internet application is quite a complicated process. In essence, we have a big database of applications containing pretty much anything and everything that can be used on Internet. We regularly update the database with new applications; some that we add ourselves, some that come from Ellacoya directly, and some that are identified and requested by our customers.

What criteria is used to matched against the database depends on the particular application. Generally the system uses a combination of deep packet inspection (DPI) to find identifiers within the traffic, the port the traffic uses, and/or the the IP address that it comes from.

Considering gaming in particular, games like World of Warcraft or Xbox live are generally picked up by a combination of port and IP address. If the traffic comes from a World of Warcraft server and uses the World of Warcraft port, the chances are it’s going to be WoW. On the other hand Unreal Tournament might be identified from both the port and deep packet inspection. i.e. we see traffic on port 7777 so the rules say traffic on port 7777 is likely to be Unreal Tournament and it then checks against a known signature in the data packet. If the packet inspection matches the signature then it’s classed as gaming, if it doesn’t match it will check against the other signatures.

What about applications that are not in the database?

If the system can’t identify the type of traffic, it will be classed as “Other” or “Unknown” (as an aside, in View My Usage you’ll see an ‘Other traffic’ category, this is slighly different as it includes some known traffic like DNS and Remote Access software like VPN and Remote Desktop which is highly prioritised, as well as unknown traffic). On most accounts unknown traffic gets a lower priority on the network and so at busy times will see an increase in ping times.

Reducing the amount of unidentified traffic is an ongoing task. As we identify new applications we can, with relative ease, “fish out” applications from unknown and make them known. Either we’ll see that there’s a new game or application and test it ourselves, or our customers will find that something doesn’t work quite as well as expected and let us know. We normally need a bit of information to add an application to our database. This includes the name of the application, website address, the port(s) it uses and where applicable the IP address(es) of any central servers. However, probably the single most useful thing is a Wireshark capture.

Wireshark is free software utility that captures the raw data travelling through a network point. We ask customers to use this tool to record the traffic uploaded and downloaded across their PlusNet broadband connection. We’ve written a tutorial which shows how to use Wireshark, including a video for PC and a video for Mac. The Wireshark capture provides two things: It shows the priority of traffic received from our network, and if that priority is wrong we can use the data to see what that traffic looks like and what port it ran on. Sometimes we need several Wireshark captures to be run at different times to build up a pattern.

Once we understand the details of an unidentified type of traffic we have a process for adding that to our database. For a simple change we normally look at a turning around requests within a week from approving the addition of a new application to it going live. Sometimes we can make temporary changes to try and fix an issue for a particular customer before a permanent fix can be put in. However, because the database of applications is part of a live system any additions have to go through rigorous tests and a change control process first to ensure the change will work and won’t affect any other part of the system. This ensures we don’t add anything in error and that any signatures we add will pick up the game or application correctly.

Summary

We often get asked why we need traffic shaping at all – Surely we should provide enough bandwidth for everyone to use all of the time? Of course, that would be ideal for us too, but it isn’t practical unless we radically increased our prices (See this article for details on wholesale broadband costs for details). To provide customers with more options last year we launched Broadband Your Way Pro. This product prioritises unknown traffic with a higher priority (gold) so performance will be a lot better even on traffic which isn’t identified by our database. BBYW Pro represents an account type that is effectively free of any potential problems that our traffic shaping implementation might cause.

Dave Tomlinson

PlusNet Product Team

dave

This entry was posted by Dave Tomlinson on Thursday, April 10th, 2008 at 2:10 pm and is tagged with , , and is posted in the category Traffic Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


9 comments on "PlusNet's Prioritised Gaming - A How To"

Be3G

Just a small pedantic point: titanium isn't the highest possible priority - platinum is, only, you don't use it yet.

s_d_c

@Be3G - so it is the highest possible priority then? If they haven't built platinum, it can't be the highest?!

Dave - is it possible to run wireshark on a PS3 / XBox, other than installing and using Linux? Is there something else that can be used to achieve a similar result to a wireshark capture?

Be3G

s_d_c: This page on the PlusNet portal implies that platinum exists... if it didn't, I can't see it being mentioned there. If it does exist, it means that titanium, whilst being the highest priority used at the moment, isn't actually the highest possible priority on PlusNet's equipment/network.

Anyway, I wasn't trying to get in to a debate about semantics - I was just pointing out something that might want minor clarification in the article!

Firejack

Is there any progress on improving the speed at which new games are identified? I asked awhile ago on the forums (http://community.plus.net/forum/index.php/topic,59754.html) and Kelly seemed fairly keen on an SLA to check games were added in an acceptable timeframe. Nothing came of that idea though as the thread was derailed by talk of the Newsletter.

There are a couple of new games; Age of Conan, Empire: Total War, due out in the next few months I'm keen on buying and would very much appreciate them being added to the Traffic Management system much quicker then World in Conflict and Pirates of the Burning Sea took.

dave

s_d_c - I don't think you can Wireshark direct on the PS3, at least not easily (without Linux). The way I've done it in the past is to connect the PS3 to a PC and use ICS on the PC then you can do the capture via the PC. Not exactly the most elegant solution but did at least work. I'm sure there's another way of using Wireshark to capture the packets from another device but I can't remember what you have to do or how.

Firejack - Age of Conan was put in the last the database in the last batch of games, can't remember off the top of my head whether that was last week or this week, but it's in and will be added to the known game list when I next update it.

Empire: Total War I've not seen yet but will check that out this evening.

We do try and keep on top of new games as and when they come out, the only real problem is that sometimes things change during the beta phases, so we might add a game when it's in beta but on release the signature or port have changed.

If you know of new games that we haven't got then the best place to add them at first is the Internet Event Calendar forum. If you have pre-release/beta games then we can always use wireshark captures, etc. to add them in but even if you don't we can still research them and do our best to ensure they work.

We've got Mario Kart Wii coming out (tomorrow I think) and whilst I think it should work fine I can't be 100% certain simply because we haven't been able to try it, but in theory it should work.

Our aim is to turnaround requests where we can inside a week. The port/signature changes are processed once a week by the network guys, that allows us time to evaluate each request and where necessary test it on test Ellacoya platform before rolling it out on the live platform. We can also monitor the live platform afterwards to ensure that nothing untowards happens.

dave

play.com lists Empire: Total War as being out in September, with it being that long away we'll look at it nearer the release. I've added it to the calendar.

http://community.plus.net/forum/index.php/topic,63445.0.html

s_d_c

Semantics - gotta love 'em ;-) I think it's just down to theoretical highest priorities - I'm sure in 2 years time there will be something higher than platinum!

Dave - thanks for the info. I'll badger Carl and see what he does (though he's probably installed Linux on his PS3!)

_CN_

s_d_c I look at session stats via my Cisco IOS Firewall, you could buy a cheap hub and then you can snoop traffic on your PC without the need for ICS

wllow

Anyone plz teach me how can i prioritse warcraft III in my network? What should i do? I cant get wireshark to work as it doent seems to capture any data

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