Millions of little minions: using packets for low latency network programming and visibility

Vimalkumar Jeyakumar, Mohammad Alizadeh, Yilong Geng, Changhoon Kim, David Mazières
Appears in: 
CCR August 2014

This paper presents a practical approach to rapidly introducing new dataplane functionality into networks: End-hosts embed tiny programs into packets to actively query and manipulate a network’s internal state. We show how this “tiny packet program” (TPP) interface gives end-hosts unprecedented visibility into network behavior, enabling them to work with the network to achieve a desired functionality. Our design leverages what each component does best: (a) switches forward and execute tiny packet programs (at most 5 instructions) in-band at line rate, and (b) end-hosts perform arbitrary (and easily updated) computation on network state. By implementing three different research proposals, we show that TPPs are useful. Using a hardware prototype on a NetFPGA, we show our design is feasible at a reasonable cost.