Cloud data centers host diverse applications, mixing workloads that require small predictable latency with others requiring large sustained throughput. In this environment, today’s state-of-the-art TCP protocol falls short. We present measurements of a 6000 server production cluster and reveal impairments that lead to high application latencies, rooted in TCP’s demands on the limited buffer space available in data center switches. For example, bandwidth hungry “background” flows build up queues at the switches, and thus impact the performance of latency sensitive “foreground” traffic.
To address these problems, we propose DCTCP, a TCP-like protocol for data center networks. DCTCP leverages Explicit Congestion Notification (ECN) in the network to provide multi-bit feedback to the end hosts. We evaluate DCTCP at 1 and 10Gbps speeds using commodity, shallow buffered switches. We find DCTCP delivers the same or better throughput than TCP, while using 90% less buffer space. Unlike TCP, DCTCP also provides high burst tolerance and low latency for short flows. In handling workloads derived from operational measurements, we found DCTCP enables the applications to handle 10X the current background traffic, without impacting foreground traffic. Further, a 10X increase in foreground traffic does not cause any timeouts, thus largely eliminating incast problems.