Department of Computer Science and Technology

Technical reports

Optimising data centre operation by removing the transport bottleneck

Toby Moncaster

June 2018, 130 pages

This technical report is based on a dissertation submitted February 2018 by the author for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the University of Cambridge, Wolfson College.

DOI: 10.48456/tr-921


Data centres lie at the heart of almost every service on the Internet. Data centres are used to provide search results, to power social media, to store and index email, to host “cloud” applications, for online retail and to provide a myriad of other web services. Consequently the more efficient they can be made the better for all of us. The power of modern data centres is in combining commodity off-the-shelf server hardware and network equipment to provide what Google’s Barrosso and Hölzle describe as “warehouse scale” computers.

Data centres rely on TCP, a transport protocol that was originally designed for use in the Internet. Like other such protocols, TCP has been optimised to maximise throughput, usually by filling up queues at the bottleneck. However, for most applications within a data centre network latency is more critical than throughput. Consequently the choice of transport protocol becomes a bottleneck for performance. My thesis is that the solution to this is to move away from the use of one-size-fits-all transport protocols towards ones that have been designed to reduce latency across the data centre and which can dynamically respond to the needs of the applications.

This dissertation focuses on optimising the transport layer in data centre networks. In particular I address the question of whether any single transport mechanism can be flexible enough to cater to the needs of all data centre traffic. I show that one leading protocol (DCTCP) has been heavily optimised for certain network conditions. I then explore approaches that seek to minimise latency for applications that care about it while still allowing throughput-intensive applications to receive a good level of service. My key contributions to this are Silo and Trevi.

Trevi is a novel transport system for storage traffic that utilises fountain coding to maximise throughput and minimise latency while being agnostic to drop, thus allowing storage traffic to be pushed out of the way when latency sensitive traffic is present in the network. Silo is an admission control system that is designed to give tenants of a multi-tenant data centre guaranteed low latency network performance. Both of these were developed in collaboration with others.

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BibTeX record

  author =	 {Moncaster, Toby},
  title = 	 {{Optimising data centre operation by removing the transport
  year = 	 2018,
  month = 	 jun,
  url = 	 {},
  institution =  {University of Cambridge, Computer Laboratory},
  doi = 	 {10.48456/tr-921},
  number = 	 {UCAM-CL-TR-921}