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Differentiated services

DiffServ or differentiated services is a method of trying to guarantee quality of service on large networks such as the Internet.

DiffServ deals with bulk flows of data rather than single flows and single reservations. This means that a single negotiation will be made for all of the packets from, for example, a single ISP, or a single university. The contracts resulting from these negotiations are called "service level agreementss", and will inevitably involve money changing hands. These service level agreements will specify what classes of traffic will be provided, what guarantees are needed for each class, and how much data will be sent for each class.

A "DiffServ cloud" is a collection of DiffServ routers. When packets enter a DiffServ cloud they are first classified by the sender. The sender sets the "type of service" field (which hence is also called DiffServ Code Point - DSCP), in the IP header according to the class of the data, so that the better classes get higher numbers.

As the packets enter the DiffServ cloud they are policed by the receiver. If there is so much traffic that it breaches the service level agreement, then the sender may be liable for fines, according to the details of the contract. Within the DiffServ cloud, all the individual routers need to do is to give highest priority to the packets with the highest value in the type of service field, which is simple to implement. There may also be a discard policy on the frequencies with which each type of packet is discarded if the router runs out of buffer space.

Table of contents
1 Example
2 Advantages of DiffServ
3 Examples of good use of traffic classification with rationing
4 Disadvantages of DiffServ


There are many ways to split up traffic into classes. For example, the traffic may be split into Gold, Silver, and Bronze classes. In each router, Gold traffic takes precedence over Silver traffic, which takes precedence over Bronze.

Special handling may be done in at least two different ways:

There are also many other schemes involving hybrids of these and other Quality of Service strategies.

Example: Prioritizing specific data on communications networks.

Advantages of DiffServ

One advantage of DiffServ, is that all the policing and classifying is done at the boundaries between DiffServ clouds. This means that in the core of the Internet, routers can get on with doing the job of routing, and not care about the complexities of collecting payment or enforcing agreements.

Examples of good use of traffic classification with rationing

Traffic classification is needed especially anywhere there are network bottlenecks. Who has gigabit WAN (ADSL, modem) or a wireless gigabit connection? - not many I think. TCP/IP will use all available bandwidth until TCP experience packet loss or severe delay - but TCP/IP does not know about delicate interactive traffic! - that is how TCP was designed and TCP is a successful protocol. The interactive protocols suffers however. Here are examples of practical implementations of traffic policies: The Wonder Shaper Comment: Traffic shaping are used with traffic class bandwidth garanties and traffic classification (Here DiffServ could be used).
Quote: "...

Before, without wondershaper, while uploading:
round-trip min/avg/max = 2041.4/2332.1/2427.6 ms

After, with wondershaper, during [traffic shaped] 220kbit/s upload:
round-trip min/avg/max = 15.7/51.8/79.9 ms

I attempted to create the holy grail:
This means that downloading or uploading files should not disturb SSH or even telnet. These are the most important things, even 200ms latency is sluggish to work over. Even though http is 'bulk' traffic, other traffic should not drown it out too much. This is a much observed phenomenon where upstream traffic simply destroys download speed. It turns out that all this is possible, at the cost of a tiny bit of bandwidth...."

Another example

Another one

Disadvantages of DiffServ

End-to-end and peering problems

One disadvantage is that the details of how individual routers deal with the type of service field is somewhat arbitrary, and it is difficult to predict end-to-end behaviour. This is complicated further if a packet crosses two or more DiffServ clouds before reaching its destination.

From a commercial viewpoint, this is a major flaw, as it means that it is impossible to sell different classes of end-to-end connectivity to end users, as one provider's Gold packet may be another's Bronze. Internet operators could fix this, by enforcing standardised policies across networks, but are not keen on adding new levels of complexity to their already complex peering agreements. One of the reasons for this is set out below.

DiffServ vs. more capacity

The greatest disadavantage of DiffServ is that at the very highest level, it can be regarded as a technical solution for a technical problem which does not exist.

Since DiffServ is simply a mechanism for deciding which packets to delay or drop at the expense of others in a situation where there is not enough network capacity, consider that when DiffServ is working by dropping packets selectively, traffic on the link in question must already be very close to saturation. Any further increase in traffic will result in Bronze services being taken out altogether. Since Internet traffic is highly bursty, this is almost certain to happen on a regular basis if traffic on a link is near the limit at which DiffServ becomes needed.

For this reason, many people think that DiffServ will always be inferior to adding sufficient network capacity to avoid packet loss on all classes of traffic.

As of 2003, there is a glut of fibre capacity in most parts of the telecoms market, with it being far easier and cheaper to add more capacity than to employ elaborate DiffServ policies as a way of increasing customer satisfaction. In fact, this is what is generally done in the core of the Internet, which is generally fast and dumb with "fat pipes" connecting its routers.

DiffServ as rationing

Hence, DiffServ is for most ISPs only a way of rationing customer network utilisation to allow greater overbooking of their existing capacity. A good example of this is the use of DiffServ tools to suppress peer-to-peer traffic, because of its ability to saturate customer links indefinitely, disrupting the ISP's business model which relies on 1%-10% link utilization for most customers.

See also: IntServ, quality of service, traffic shaping, traffic engineering, Paris Metro pricing