Internet-Draft SDN and Semantic Routing May 2022
Boucadair, et al. Expires 2 December 2022 [Page]
Intended Status:
M. Boucadair
D. Trossen
A. Farrel
Old Dog Consulting

Considerations for the use of SDN in Semantic Routing Networks


The forwarding of packets in today's networks has long evolved beyond ensuring mere reachability of the receiving endpoint. Instead, other 'purposes' of communication, e.g., ensuring quality of service of delivery, ensuring protection against path failures through utilizing more than one, and others, are realized by many extensions to the original reachability purpose of IP routing.

Semantic Routing defines an approach to realizing such extended purposes beyond reachability by instead making routing and forwarding decisions based, not only on the destination IP address, but on other information carried in an IP packet. The intent is to facilitate enhanced routing decisions based on this information in order to provide differentiated forwarding paths for specific packet flows.

Software Defined Networking (SDN) places control of network elements (including all or some of their forwarding decisions) within external software components called controllers and orchestrators. This approach differs from conventional approaches that solely rely upon distributed routing protocols for the delivery of advanced connectivity services. By doing so, SDN aims to enable network elements to be simplified while still performing forwarding function.

This document examines the applicability of SDN techniques to Semantic Routing and provides considerations for the development of Semantic Routing solutions in the context of SDN.

Status of This Memo

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This Internet-Draft will expire on 2 December 2022.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Service differentiation in the network can be enforced by manipulating a set of parameters that belong to distinct dimensions (e.g., forwarding, routing, traffic classification, resource partitioning). Through this, the resulting system may be able to realize communication that goes beyond the mere reachability that original IP routing (and forwarding) aimed at. As pointed out in [I-D.trossen-rtgwg-routing-beyond-reachability], this differentiation and its solutions have long found entry into many existing and deployed Internet technologies.

Among the techniques to achieve such differentiation, this document focuses on Semantic Routing, which refers to a process that is meant to provide differentiated forwarding paths for specific packet flows distinct from simple shortest path first routing and, thus, satisfy specific service/application requirements.

More concretely, Semantic Routing is the process of making routing and forwarding decisions based, not only on the destination IP address of a packet, but also by taking into account other information that is carried in the packet such as (but not limited to):

Section 3 provides more details about Semantic Routing.

Software Defined Networking (SDN) places (partial or full) control of network elements and their forwarding decisions within dedicated software components called controllers and orchestrators. This approach differs from those that solely rely upon distributed routing protocols. An ambition of SDN is to enable network elements to be simplified while the network is optimized to deliver value-added connectivity services. Refer to Section 2 for an overview of SDN.

This document examines the applicability of SDN to Semantic Routing though programbale forwarding (see Section 4 and provides considerations for the development of Semantic Routing solutions in the context of SDN.

This document does not elaborate on specific SDN protocols: some SDN protocol solutions may be more or less amenable to use for Semantic Routing, but that discussion would need detailed analysis which is better suited to a further and separate document.

2. Software Defined Networking (SDN): An Overview

SDN refers to an approach for network programmability: the capacity to initialize, control, and manage network behavior dynamically via open interfaces. Such programmability can facilitate the delivery of services in a deterministic, dynamic, and scalable manner.

SDN emphasizes the role of software in operational networks by supporting the separation between data and control planes. Even if such a separation has been adopted by most routing processes for decades (Section 2.1 of [RFC7149]), SDN focuses more on the power of "central" controllers to optimize route computation within a network before populating the Forwarding Information Base (FIB) of the network elements.

The separation of the control and data planes allows faster innovation in both planes, and it enables a dynamic and flexible approach to implementing new network behaviors as well as to reacting to changes in network state and traffic demands.

SDN has been discussed in many places during the last decade. For example, within the IRTF, [RFC7426] provides a concise reference for the SDN research community to address the questions of what SDN is, what the layer structure of an SDN architecture is, and how layers interface with each other within that architecture. [RFC7149] (published in the IETF stream) offers a service provider's perspective of the SDN landscape by describing requirements, issues, and other considerations about SDN. In particular, [RFC7149] classifies SDN techniques into the following functional domains:

SDN can be deployed in a recursive model that involves dedicated interfaces for both network and service optimization. Indeed, [RFC8597] differentiates the control functions associated with transport (that is, the transfer capabilities offered by a networking infrastructure) from those related to services in an approach called Cooperating Layered Architecture for Software-Defined Networking (CLAS).

To an SDN context, domain-specific controllers can be deployed with specific interactions as discussed in Section 4 of [RFC8309].

3. Semantic Routing: Summary of Required Technical Elements

As described in [I-D.farrel-irtf-introduction-to-semantic-routing], Semantic Routing (or, more generally, Semantic Networking) is the process of achieving enhanced routing and forwarding decisions based on semantics added to IP packet headers to provide differentiated paths for different packet flows distinct from simple shortest path first routing. The additional information or "semantics" may be placed in existing header fields (such as the IPv6 Traffic Class field or the destination address) or may be carried by adding fields to the header. Further, the semantics may be encoded in the payload or additional headers (such as in the port number fields or in an IPv6 Extension Header).

The application of Semantic Routing allows packets from different flows (even those between the same applications on the same devices) to be marked for different treatment in the network. The packets may then be routed onto different paths according to the capabilities and states of the network links in order to meet the requirements of the flows. For example, one flow may need low latency, while another may require ultra low jitter, and a third may demand very high bandwidth.

Three elements are needed to achieve Semantic Routing:

All these elements can be matched to the SDN functional domains listed in Section 2. From that standpoint, this document provides more details on how SDN can be used to satisfy specific Semantic Routing needs.

4. Programmable Forwarding

Programmable Forwarding is the term applied to the use of control techniques to instruct network devices how to forward packets in a programmatic way.

4.1. Motivation

Modern networks are designed to carry traffic that belongs to a variety of services/applications that have distinct traffic performance requirements, reliability and robustness expectations, and service-specific needs [RFC7665][RFC8517]. Such expectations, and other forwarding requirements that can be captured in a Service Level Agreement (SLA) [RFC7297], can be considered by providers when designing their networks in order to be able to deliver differentiated forwarding behaviors. However, conventional routing and forwarding procedures do not always offer the required functionalities for such differentiated service delivery. Thus, additional means have to be enabled in these networks for the sake of innovative service delivery while minimizing the induced complexity to operate such networks. Also, these means should be tweaked to ensure consistent forwarding behaviors network-wide.

The aforementioned means are not only extensions to routing protocols, but include other mechanisms that affect the forwarding behaviors within a network. A non-exhaustive list of sample capabilities that can be offered by appropriate control of forwarding elements is provided below:

Resource Pooling:

A network may host dedicated functions that implement resource pooling among many available paths or that control which path is used to steer traffic as a function of the observed round-trip time (RTT) (e.g., enable Mutlipath TCP (MPTCP) converters [RFC8803] in specific network segments, including data centers as detailed in Section 2.1 of [RFC8041]).

There is a need to interact with the underlying forwarding elements to communicate a set forwarding policies that will ensure that such service differentiation is provided to the specific flows. These forwarding policies include, for example, a set of rules that characterize the flows that are eligible to the resource pooling service or the scheduling policies (maximize link utilization, grab extra resources only when needed, etc.).

These polices are then enforced by programmable forwarders.

Performance-based Route Selection:

Some applications may have strict traffic performance requirements (e.g., a low one-way delay [RFC7679]), however, the underlying network elements might not support a mechanism to disseminate performance metrics associated with specific paths and/or perform performance-based route selection (e.g., [I-D.ietf-idr-performance-routing]).

As an alternative, an off-line Semantic Routing approach could be used to collect measurement data to reach a given content (e.g., one-way delay to reach specific data centers), perform route selection based on this data, and then program the appropriate forwarding elements accordingly.

Energy-efficient Forwarding:

An important effort was made in the past to optimize the energy consumption of network elements. However, such optimization is node-specific and no standard means to optimize the energy consumption at the scale of the network have been defined. For example, many nodes (also, service cards) are deployed as backups.

A controller-based approach can be implemented so that the route selection process optimizes the overall energy consumption of a path. Such a process takes into account the current load, avoids waking nodes/cards for handling "sparse" traffic (i.e., a minor portion of the total traffic), considers node-specific data (e.g., [RFC7460]), etc. This off-line Semantic Routing approach will transition specific cards/nodes to "idle" and wake them as appropriate, etc., without breaking service objectives. Moreover, such an approach will have to maintain an up-to-date topology even if a node is in an "idle" state (such nodes may be removed from adjacency tables if they don't participate in routing advertisements).

Network Partitioning:

A network may need to be partitioned in order to rationalize the delivery of advanced connectivity services, and to address specific forwarding requirements of groups of services/applications. Network slicing [I-D.ietf-teas-ietf-network-slices] can be considered to deliver these services. However, an intelligence is needed to decide the criteria to be used to partition the available resources, filter them, decide whether network extensions are needed, ensure whether/how resource preemption is adequately implemented, etc.

These tasks are better achieved using a central intelligence that has direct visibility into the intents of applications, underlying network capabilities, local policies and guidelines, etc. As an output of processing these various inputs, a set of node-specific policies is generated, and then pushed using available SDN interface.

Alternative Forwarding:
The programmability of SDN in the form of forwarding actions defined on packet header fields allows for realizing forwarding techniques beyond the typical longest-prefix match used for IP-based reachability. Solutions, like those in [ICC2016], use a binary representation of links in a network to realize a path-based forwarding action that acts purely on node-local state, independent of the nature of the path or the communications traversing it. As discussed in Section 7, the limitation of forwarding actions to apply only to defined (IP) packet header fields results in issues that need special consideration when realizing such solutions in real-world deployments.

The next subsection further details which elements are needed when interacting with programmable forwarders in an SDN context.

4.2. SDN for Semantic Routing: The Intended Behavior

SDN minimizes the required changes to legacy (interior) routing protocols. More concretely, SDN can be used to provide the intended Semantic Routing behavior, especially:

  • Identify the forwarding elements that can be safely involved in providing the intended Semantic Routing features.
  • Maintain abstract topologies that involve these elements and their capabilities.
  • Capture application-specific intents and derive the corresponding forwarding requirements and, then, forwarding policies.
  • Map these abstract topologies to (groups of) applications with specific Semantic Routing needs.
  • Program a subset of nodes (called boundary nodes) with the required classification and marking policies to bind flows to their intended Semantic Routing behaviors.

    In order to adequately process the application flows that require specific differentiated forwarding, SDN controllers maintain a table that allows to unambiguously identify such flows. The content of that table is used to derive the appropriate classification/match rules that are then communicated by an SDN controller to a set of forwarding elements.

    When volatile data (e.g., dynamic IP addresses) are used to build such rules, it is the responsibility of the SDN controllers to update the rules whenever a new identifier is used. Failure to maintain "fresh" classification rules will lead to service failure/degradation.

  • Supply intermediate nodes (that is, nodes that are not boundary nodes) with the appropriate rules to locate and interpret the bits within the packet to determine and execute forwarding actions as established by Semantic Routing.
  • Automatically adjust, if possible, the network MTU to accommodate any overhead that is introcuced by any extra bits used to signal Semantic Routing behavior.
  • Instruct egress boundary nodes about the required actions such as stripping or setting any Semantic Routing bits.
  • Interact with the underlying nodes to maintain, retrieve, and disseminate the data that are used for assuring that Semantic Routing policies are appropriately fulfilled.
  • Configure OAM policies to measure the network behavior and adjust the forwarding processes.
  • Monitor the network and detect parts of the network where policies are broken or suboptimal.
  • Automate the overall procedure [RFC8969].

At least three approaches can be considered by an SDN controller to accomplish the above tasks:

  • Compute (centrally) the differentiated paths and install the required forwarding rules in involved nodes. Strict or loose paths may be installed. This approach has the merit of implementing new path selection algorithms without requiring them to be supported by every involved node.
  • Assign (centrally) differentiated link information and install the required forwarding rules in the involved nodes. End-to-end paths are constructed without involvement of the SDN controller, utilizing the link information to establish path identifiers on which installed forwarding rules can act upon without additional path-specific knowledge being required. See [ICC2016] for an example of such an approach.
  • Rely upon a distributed routing protocol to customize the route selection process ([I-D.ietf-lsr-flex-algo], for example). In such cases, the SDN controller is responsible for communicating the parameters to be used for the route selection process, selecting the nodes that will participate in a given topology, and configuring any tunnels to interconnect these nodes.

A hierarchical SDN design can also be considered, where specific controllers are enabled in each domain with dedicated interfaces to share data (e.g., radio bottlenecks, expectations). These domains do not need to support the same technological implementations. The interaction between the SDN controllers eases the delivery of consistent Semantic Routing behaviors without requiring common domain configuration.

5. Policy-Based Semantic Routing

Policy is a term applied to the application of local or network-wide operational choices made by the network manager. These may range from decisions about what traffic to admit to the network, how network resources should be used to support different traffic flows, how errors or security violations are handled, and how packets are routed through the network.

Policies are usually made available to network operators as configuration elements on network nodes. However, these configuration actions need to be coordinated across the whole network if the policies are to be effective. Thus, a mechanism is desired that allows an operator to set a network-wide policy in one place and that results in that policy being pushed out to the network nodes that need to act on the policy.

Semantic Routing is particularly amenable to a policy-based approach. That is, an operator (or their software tools) can make decisions about how different traffic flows should be handeled in the network. Those decisions can then be installed on network nodes so that different traffic is handled differently and according to the policies.

SDN is a powerly approach to implement a policy-based network management framework. The operator need only select or configure the desired policies at the controller: the controller will realize the policies and install the necessary instructions and behaviors on the network nodes.

6. Network-Wide Coordination

Critical to the correct functioning of any routing system is proper network-wide coordination. In many cases, the coordination starts with the collection and dissemination of network connectivity information (known as the network topology), the capabilities of the network nodes and links, and the current state (up, down, degraded, busy, etc.) of those nodes and links. But an even mode fundamental element of network-wide coordination is the decision about which routing algorithms and procedures will be used because, if different nodes or even different parts of the network) apply different routing approaches, it is very possible that traffic will loop or be dropped. Thus, th first elements of coordination are finding out what the network looks like and agreeing how to route traffic.

These essentials are no less relevant in Semantic Routing. All nodes that participate in a Semantic Routing network need to have the same understanding of the additional information carried in packets, and must make coordinated forwarding decisions based on a coordinated routing algorithm.

A centralized approach, such as that achieved in an SDN system, is particularly useful in this context because it allows the coordination to be applied through a central point of control which may remove the complexity and "fragility" from the routing system. This coordination may be considered in parallel with the aspects of policy-based routing described in Section 5.

7. Applying Semantic Information to Packets

Given the focus of Semantic Routing is the use within IP networks, semantic information that can be used in SDN-based Semantic Routing is limited to those fields specifically defined for use with Semantic Routing (see Section 2 for more information). This document deliberately makes no comment on the specifications that may be produced to define such fields, their meaning, and their encoding.

SDN aligns with the concept of Semantic Routing in that it allows the network devices to be programmed for forwarding actions indicated by a wide range of packet header fields beyond simply the IP destination addresses.

However, Semantic Routing solutions have also been proposed that "overwrite" existing protocol fields in order for them to carry semantic information that can be used to drive a forwarding action outside their original semantics. [POINT2015] and [POINT2016] outline an example of such approaches in which semantic information is used for a path-based forwarding decision; while the absence of "path" information is foreseen as an actionable packet header field in IPv6.

Here, the path is constructed by a Path Computation Element (PCE) [RFC4655] that matches a given service name against previously announced locations where said service name is located. The path is represented as a concatenation of individual link information, which in pushed by the SDN controller to the network nodes so that they can perform local forwarding actions on packets that arrive. Given the binary structure of the end-to-end path information, the forwarding operation can be implemented in a standard-compliant manner with its realization described in [ICC2016] as an arbitrary wildcard matching operation.

However, the constraint of acting only on limited packet fields requires that the path information be carried in one of those standard-defined packet header fields: thereby overwriting (or overloading) any existing packet header field. [POINT2016] uses the IPv6 address fields for this purpose, representing the longest continuous binary field in the IPv6 header (two addresses make up 256 bits in total) allows the support of topologies with up to 256 links.

Given the approach chosen in [POINT2016], any IPv6 address information, if needed, cannot be present in the packet header and so is provided in the encapsulated payload. This leads to repeated encapsulation with the overhead of carrying two IP headers in a single packet: one used for path-based forwarding and one for the operations in arriving endpoint. Only newer SDN-based forwarding plane programming tools, such as P4, would allow for such overhead to be removed by placing the path information into another packet header field (or even the payload as an extended header of sort) to act upon.

8. Benefits and Concerns with the Use of SDN for Semantic Routing

The programmability of SDN provides a fertile ground for forwarding decision that go beyond the reachability information provided through IPv4/v6 addresses, e.g., by using other packet header fields. This not only allows for extending the simple reachability-driven forwarding decision with richer, e.g., policy-based, decisions (as discussed in Section 5), it may also enable new forwarding paradigms per se, such as those in [POINT2016], which in turn may realize forwarding behaviours like multicast at much lower cost points and higher efficiency (see [ICC2016]).

However, SDN specifications have limited capabilities when it comes to the additional (i.e., new) packet header fields that may be used for forwarding actions. As a consequence, "true" Semantic Routing on any semantic enhancement, which is included in the packet, is only possible in a manner limited to those existing fields.

Solutions such as those in [POINT2016], using methods outlined in [ICC2016], attempt to break this limitation albeit by overwriting standard-defined packet header fields, thereby changing the semantics of those fields within the scope (i.e., network domain) where the "re-defined" semantics are known and understood.

This limits any solution to a limited domain [RFC8799]. More importantly, the redefinition of packet fields poses the danger of exposing this (non-standard compliant) semantic to elements outside the limited domain: semantic leakage may occur, or nodes outside the domain may misinterpret overwritten fields, requiring methods, such as dedicated gateways, to preventi such leakage. This can be seen in [POINT2016], where the boundaries to IP-compliant end devices and other domains alike are delimited by dedicated gateway elements. Those gateways usually act at higher layers than the forwarding layer, thereby incurring complexity and often delay.

See also [I-D.king-irtf-challenges-in-routing] for a discussion of issues and concerns that need to be examined when applying a new routing or forwarding paradigm to a self-contained network or Internet.

9. Security Considerations

SDN-related considerations are discussed in Section 5 of [RFC7149].

10. IANA Considerations

This document makes no requests for IANA action.

11. Acknowledgements

Thanks to George Polyzos for helpful comments on this work.

This work is partially supported by the European Commission under Horizon 2020 grant agreement number 101015857 Secured autonomic traffic management for a Tera of SDN flows (Teraflow).

12. Contributors

George Xylomenos

13. Informative References

Farrel, A. and D. King, "An Introduction to Semantic Routing", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-farrel-irtf-introduction-to-semantic-routing-04, , <>.
Xu, X., Hegde, S., Talaulikar, K., Boucadair, M., and C. Jacquenet, "Performance-based BGP Routing Mechanism", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-idr-performance-routing-03, , <>.
Psenak, P., Hegde, S., Filsfils, C., Talaulikar, K., and A. Gulko, "IGP Flexible Algorithm", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-lsr-flex-algo-20, , <>.
Farrel, A., Drake, J., Rokui, R., Homma, S., Makhijani, K., Contreras, L. M., and J. Tantsura, "Framework for IETF Network Slices", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-teas-ietf-network-slices-10, , <>.
King, D., Farrel, A., and C. Jacquenet, "Challenges for the Internet Routing Systems Introduced by Semantic Routing", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-king-irtf-challenges-in-routing-08, , <>.
Trossen, D., Lou, D., and S. Jiang, "Continuing to Evolve Internet Routing Beyond 'Mere' Reachability", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-trossen-rtgwg-routing-beyond-reachability-00, , <>.
Reed, M., Al-Naday, M., Thomos, N., Trossen, D., Petropoulos, G., and S. Spirou, "Stateless multicast switching in software defined networks", Paper IEEE ICC 2016, .
Trossen, D., Reed, M., Riihijarvi, J., Georgiades, M., Xylomenos, G., and S. Fotiou, "IP Over ICN: The Better IP?", Paper EuCNC (European Conference on Networks and Communications), Paris, France, .
Kim, S.-Y.., Robitzsch, S., Trossen, D., Reed, M., Al-Naday, M., and J. Riihijarvi, "Realizing IP-based Services over an Information-Centric Networking Transport Network", Paper Proceedings of the 3rd ACM Conference on Information-Centric Networking, Pages 215-216, .
Farrel, A., Vasseur, J.-P., and J. Ash, "A Path Computation Element (PCE)-Based Architecture", RFC 4655, DOI 10.17487/RFC4655, , <>.
Boucadair, M. and C. Jacquenet, "Software-Defined Networking: A Perspective from within a Service Provider Environment", RFC 7149, DOI 10.17487/RFC7149, , <>.
Boucadair, M., Jacquenet, C., and N. Wang, "IP Connectivity Provisioning Profile (CPP)", RFC 7297, DOI 10.17487/RFC7297, , <>.
Haleplidis, E., Ed., Pentikousis, K., Ed., Denazis, S., Hadi Salim, J., Meyer, D., and O. Koufopavlou, "Software-Defined Networking (SDN): Layers and Architecture Terminology", RFC 7426, DOI 10.17487/RFC7426, , <>.
Chandramouli, M., Claise, B., Schoening, B., Quittek, J., and T. Dietz, "Monitoring and Control MIB for Power and Energy", RFC 7460, DOI 10.17487/RFC7460, , <>.
Troan, O., Ed., Dec, W., Li, X., Bao, C., Matsushima, S., Murakami, T., and T. Taylor, Ed., "Mapping of Address and Port with Encapsulation (MAP-E)", RFC 7597, DOI 10.17487/RFC7597, , <>.
Halpern, J., Ed. and C. Pignataro, Ed., "Service Function Chaining (SFC) Architecture", RFC 7665, DOI 10.17487/RFC7665, , <>.
Almes, G., Kalidindi, S., Zekauskas, M., and A. Morton, Ed., "A One-Way Delay Metric for IP Performance Metrics (IPPM)", STD 81, RFC 7679, DOI 10.17487/RFC7679, , <>.
Bonaventure, O., Paasch, C., and G. Detal, "Use Cases and Operational Experience with Multipath TCP", RFC 8041, DOI 10.17487/RFC8041, , <>.
Quinn, P., Ed., Elzur, U., Ed., and C. Pignataro, Ed., "Network Service Header (NSH)", RFC 8300, DOI 10.17487/RFC8300, , <>.
Wu, Q., Liu, W., and A. Farrel, "Service Models Explained", RFC 8309, DOI 10.17487/RFC8309, , <>.
Dolson, D., Ed., Snellman, J., Boucadair, M., Ed., and C. Jacquenet, "An Inventory of Transport-Centric Functions Provided by Middleboxes: An Operator Perspective", RFC 8517, DOI 10.17487/RFC8517, , <>.
Contreras, LM., Bernardos, CJ., Lopez, D., Boucadair, M., and P. Iovanna, "Cooperating Layered Architecture for Software-Defined Networking (CLAS)", RFC 8597, DOI 10.17487/RFC8597, , <>.
Carpenter, B. and B. Liu, "Limited Domains and Internet Protocols", RFC 8799, DOI 10.17487/RFC8799, , <>.
Bonaventure, O., Ed., Boucadair, M., Ed., Gundavelli, S., Seo, S., and B. Hesmans, "0-RTT TCP Convert Protocol", RFC 8803, DOI 10.17487/RFC8803, , <>.
Gross, J., Ed., Ganga, I., Ed., and T. Sridhar, Ed., "Geneve: Generic Network Virtualization Encapsulation", RFC 8926, DOI 10.17487/RFC8926, , <>.
Wu, Q., Ed., Boucadair, M., Ed., Lopez, D., Xie, C., and L. Geng, "A Framework for Automating Service and Network Management with YANG", RFC 8969, DOI 10.17487/RFC8969, , <>.

Authors' Addresses

Mohamed Boucadair
Dirk Trossen
Adrian Farrel
Old Dog Consulting
United Kingdom