New system could reduce data-transmission delays across server farms by 99.6 percent
Big websites usually maintain their own “data centers,” banks of tens or even hundreds of thousands of servers, all passing data back and forth to field users’ requests. Like any big, decentralized network, data centers are prone to congestion: Packets of data arriving at the same router at the same time are put in a queue, and if the queues get too long, packets can be delayed.
At the annual conference of the ACM Special Interest Group on Data Communication, in August, MIT researchers will present a new network-management system that, in experiments, reduced the average queue length of routers in a Facebook data center by 99.6 percent — virtually doing away with queues. When network traffic was heavy, the average latency — the delay between the request for an item of information and its arrival — shrank nearly as much, from 3.56 microseconds to 0.23 microseconds.
Like the Internet, most data centers use decentralized communication protocols: Each node in the network decides, based on its own limited observations, how rapidly to send data and which adjacent node to send it to. Decentralized protocols have the advantage of an ability to handle communication over large networks with little administrative oversight.
The MIT system, dubbed Fastpass, instead relies on a central server called an “arbiter” to decide which nodes in the network may send data to which others during which periods of time. “It’s not obvious that this is a good idea,” says Hari Balakrishnan, the Fujitsu Professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and one of the paper’s coauthors.
With Fastpass, a node that wishes to transmit data first issues a request to the arbiter and receives a routing assignment in return. “If you have to pay these maybe 40 microseconds to go to the arbiter, can you really gain much from the whole scheme?” says Jonathan Perry, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) and another of the paper’s authors. “Surprisingly, you can.”
Division of labor
Balakrishnan and Perry are joined on the paper by Amy Ousterhout, another graduate student in EECS; Devavrat Shah, the Jamieson Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; and Hans Fugal of Facebook.
The researchers’ experiments indicate that an arbiter with eight cores, or processing units, can keep up with a network transmitting 2.2 terabits of data per second. That’s the equivalent of a 2,000-server data center with gigabit-per-second connections transmitting at full bore all the time.
“This paper is not intended to show that you can build this in the world’s largest data centers today,” Balakrishnan says. “But the question as to whether a more scalable centralized system can be built, we think the answer is yes.”
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