ESnet’s Data Mobility Exhibition: Moving to petascale with the research community

Research and Education Networks (REN) capacity planning and user requirements differ from those faced by commodity internet service providers for home users. One key difference is that scientific workflows can require the REN to move large, unscheduled, high-volume data transfers, or “bursts” of traffic. Experiments may be impossible to duplicate and even one underperforming network link can cause the entire data transfer to fail.  Another set of challenges stem from the federated nature of scientific collaboration and networking. Because network performance standards cannot be centrally enforced, performance is obtained as a result of the entire REN community working together to identify best practices and resolve issues.  For example:

  • Data Transfer Nodes (DTN), which connect network endpoints to local data storage systems are owned by individual institutions, facilities, or labs. DTNs can be deployed with various equipment configurations, with local or networked storage configurations, and connected to internal networks in many different ways. 
  • Research institutions have diverse levels of resources and varied data transfer requirements; DTNs and local networks are maintained and operated based on these local considerations.
  • Devising performance benchmarks for “how fast a data transfer should be” is difficult as capacity, flexibility, and general capabilities of networks linking scientists and resources constantly evolve and are not consistent across the entire research ecosystem.

ESnet has long been focused on developing ways to streamline workflows and reduce network operational burdens on the scientific programs, researchers, and others both those we directly serve and on behalf of the entire R&E network community.  Building on the successful Science DMZ design pattern and the Petascale DTN project, the Data Mobility Exhibition (DME) was developed to improve the predictability of data movement between research sites and universities. Many sites use perfSONAR to test end-to-end network performance. The DME allows sites to take this a step farther and test end to end data transfer performance.

DME is a resource that enables the calibration of data transfer performance for a site’s DTNs to ensure that they are performing well by using ESnet’s own test environment, at scale. As part of the DME, system/storage administrators and network engineers have a wide variety of resources available to analyze data transfer performance against ESnet’s standard DTNs, obtain help from ESnet Science Engagement (or from universities, Engagement and Performance Operation Centers) to tune equipment, and to share performance data and network designs with the community to help others.  For instance, a 10Gbps DTN should be capable of – at a minimum – transferring one Terabyte per hour. However, we would like to see DTNs > 10G or a cluster of 10G DTNs transfer at PetaScale rates of 6TB/hr or 1PB/week.

Currently, the DME has geographically dispersed benchmarking DTNs in three research locations:

  • Cornell Center for Advanced Computing in Ithaca, NY, connected through NYSERnet
  • NCAR GLADE in Boulder, CO, connected through Front Range Gigapop
  • Petrel system at Argonne National Lab, connected through ESnet

Benchmarking DTNs are also deployed in two commercial cloud environments: Google Drive and Box.  All five DME DTN can be used for both upload and download testing allowing users to calibrate and compare their network’s data transfer performance. Additional DTNs are being considered for future capacity. Next generation ESnet6 DTNs will be added in FY22-23, supporting this data transfer testing framework.

DME provides calibrated data sets ranging in size from 100MB to 5TB, so that performance of different sized transfers can be studied. 

DOE scientists or infrastructure engineers can use the DME testing framework, built from the Petascale DTN model, with their peers to better understand the performance that institutions are achieving in practice. Here are examples of how past Petascale DTN data mobility efforts have helped large scientific data transfers:

  1. 768 TB of DESI data sent via ESnet, between OLCF and NERSC automatically via Globus over 20 hours. Despite the interruption of a maintenance activity at ORNL, the transfer was seamlessly reconnected without any user involvement.
  2. Radiation-damage-free high-resolution SARS-CoV-2 main protease SFX structures obtained at near-physiological-temperature offer invaluable information for immediate drug-repurposing studies for the treatment of COVID19. This Work required near-real-time collaboration and data movement between LCLS, NERSC via ESnet.

To date, over 100 DTN operators have used DME benchmarking resources to tune their own data transfer performance. In addition, the DME has been added to the NSF-funded Engagement and Performance Operations Center (EPOC) program’s six main scientific networking consulting support services, bringing this capability to a wide set of US Research Universities. 

As the ESnet lead for this project, I invite you to contact me for more info (consult@es.net). We also have information up on our knowledge-base website fasterdata.es.net. DME is an easy, effective way to ensure your network, data transfer, and storage resources are operating at peak efficiency! 

Meeting the Challenge of High Availability through the HASS

Operating a highly optimized network across two continents that meets the needs of very demanding scientific endeavors requires a tremendous amount of automation, orchestration, security, and monitoring.  Any failure to provide these services can create serious operational challenges. 

As we enter the ESnet6 era, ESnet is dedicated to ensuring that we continue to relentlessly push the boundaries of operational excellence and obsessively seek out and improve upon operational risks. Our new High Availability Services Site (HASS) in San Jose, CA. will be a critical component to realizing those goals in our computing platforms and services. ESnet’s HASS will soon provide fully redundant network operations platforms, allowing us to seamlessly maintain services if our operations at LBL are disrupted.

For about a decade, ESnet has augmented its data center operations at Berkeley Lab in California with a small footprint at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.  This has allowed us to synchronize important information across two sites and to run multiple instances of important services to ensure operational continuity in the case of a failure.  While this has provided great stability and reliability, there are limitations.  In particular, the 2,500 mile gap across a continent does not let ESnet restore operations without some degree of delay as some key services must be manually transitioned.  HASS will enable seamless operational continuity, since the shorter distance between Berkeley and San Jose will let us automatically maintain the active synchronization of operational platforms.

Deployment of HASS involves a team effort of our ESnet Computing Infrastructure, Network Engineering, and Security teams, working together to architect and deploy the next evolution in our computing and service reliability strategy.  After finalizing our requirements, we are now working with Equinix, a commercial colocation provider, to deploy a site adjacent to the ESnet6 network.  Equinix was able to provide a secure suite in their San Jose facility and this location gives us the capacity, and physical adjacency we require to directly connect this suite to ESnet6 and reach our Berkeley data center comfortably within our demanding latency goals (10ms or less).  

As part of standing up HASS , we’ll be installing a new routing platform with a 100G upstream connection to ESnet6 in both San Jose and Berkeley.  We’ll also be installing new high performance switching platforms, security services (high throughput firewalls, tapping, black hole routing, etc.), virtualization resources, and several other redundant internal operational platforms.  Our existing virtualization platform (ESXi/vSAN) will “stretch” into the new space as part of the same logical cluster we operate in Berkeley.  Once this is deployed, even networking services that lack native high availability capabilities will be able to simply “float” between the two physical data centers with data mirrored and striped across both sites.  

We’re very excited by the addition of the San Jose HASS, and HASS, in combination with existing reliability resources at Brookhaven, will continue to ensure that ESnet6 has the ability to meet scientific networking community needs for service hosting, disaster recovery, and offsite data replication.

Graduate students publish on network telemetry with ESnet

Two graduate students working with ESnet have published their papers recently in IEEE and ACM workshops.

Bibek Shrestha, a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno, and his advisor Engin Arslan worked with Richard Cziva from ESnet to publish a work on “INT Based Network-Aware Task Scheduling for Edge Computing”. In the paper, Bibek investigated the use of in-band network telemetry (INT) for real-time in-network task scheduling. Bibek’s experimental analysis using various workload types and network congestion scenarios revealed that enhancing task scheduling of edge computing with high-precision network telemetry can lead up to a 40% reduction in data transfer times and up to 30% reduction in total task execution times by favoring edge servers in uncongested (or mildly congested) sections of the network when scheduling tasks. The paper will appear in the 3rd Workshop on Parallel AI and Systems for the Edge (PAISE) co-conducted with IEEE IPDPS 2021 conference to be held on May 21st, 2021, in Portland, Oregon. 

Zhang Liu, a former ESnet intern and a current graduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, worked with the ESnet High Touch Team – Chin Guok, Bruce Mah, Yatish Kumar, and Richard Cziva – on fastcapa-ng, ESnet’s telemetry processing software. In the paper “Programmable Per-Packet Network Telemetry: From Wire to Kafka at Scale,” Zhang showed the scaling and performance characteristics of fastcapa-ng, and highlighted the most critical performance considerations that allow the pushing of 10.4 million telemetry packets per second to Kafka with only 5 CPU cores, which is more than enough to handle 170 Gbit/s of original traffic with 1512B MTU. This paper will appear in the 4th International Workshop on Systems and Network Telemetry and Analytics (SNTA 2021) held at the ACM HPCD 2021 conference in Stockholm, Sweden between 21-25 June 2021.

Congratulations Bibek and Zhang!


If you are a networked systems research student looking to collaborate with us on network measurements, please reach out to Richard Cziva. If you are interested in a summer internship with ESnet, please visit this page.

IPv6 past, present, future with Michael Sinatra and Nick Buraglio

In March 2020, the U.S. Government Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a draft memo outlining a required migration to IPv6 only. Memorandum M-21-07 was made official on November 19, 2020. Among other things, this memo mandates that 80% of IP-enabled assets on Federal networks are operating in IPv6-only environments by the end of FY 2025.

ESnet is in the process of planning this transition now, to ensure that we provide our users with the support and resources they need to continue their work uninterrupted and unimpeded by the transition. Practically speaking, this means for ESnet that by 2025, all of our nodes will be transitioned to IPv6 address space, and we will not support dual-stacking with IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. 

Transitioning to an IPv6-only network has been over a quarter-century in the making for ESnet.  Here’s a look back at our history with IPv6

IPv6: Past and Present

ESnet’s history of helping to develop, support, and operationalize new protocols begins well before the advent of IPv6.  

In the early 1990s, Cathy Aronson, an employee of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory working on ESnet, helped establish a production implementation and support plan for the Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) Connectionless-mode Network Service (CLNS) suite of network protocols. Crucially, Aronson developed a scalable network addressing plan that provided a model for the utilization of the kinds of massive address spaces that OSI CLNS and, later, IPv6 would come to use. CLNS itself was a logical progression from DECnet which had been embraced and supported by ESnet’s precursors (MFEnet and HEPnet).  

As the IPv6 draft standard (RFC2460) developed in the 1990s, ESnet staff created an operational support model for the new protocol. The stakes were high; if IPv6 were to succeed in supplanting IPv4, and prevent the ill effects of IPv4 address exhaustion, it would need a smooth roll-out. Bob Fink, Tony Hain, and Becca Nitzan spearheaded early IPv6 adoption processes, and their efforts reached far beyond ESnet and the Department of Energy (DOE).  The trio were instrumental in establishing a set of operational practices and testbeds under the auspices of the Internet Engineering Task Force–the body where IPv6 was standardized–and this led to the development of a worldwide collaboration known as the 6bone.  6bone was a set of tunnels that allowed IPv6 “islands” to be connected, forming a global overlay network.  More importantly, it was a collaboration that brought together commercial and research networks, vendors, and scientists, all with the goal of creating a robust internet protocol for the future.

Not only were Fink, Hain, and Nitzan critical in this development of what would become a production IPv6 network (their names appear on a number of IETF RFCs), they would also spearhead the adoption of the protocol within ESnet and DOE. In the summer of 1996, ESnet was officially connected to the 6bone; by 1999, the Regional Internet Registries had received their production allocations of IPv6 address space. Just one month later, the first US allocation of that space was made–to ESnet.  ESnet has the distinction of being the first IPv6 allocation from ARIN – assigned on August 3, 1999, with the prefix 2001:0400::/32

Nitzan continued her pioneering work, establishing native IPv6 support on ESnet, and placing what we believe was the first workstation on a production IPv6 network. This was part of becoming the first production network in North America to adopt IPv6 in tandem with IPv4 via the use of an IPv6 “dual-stack.” As US Government requirements and mandates developed in 2005, 2012, and 2014, the ESnet team met these requirements for increased IPv6 adoption, while also providing support and consultation for the DOE community. 

Although Aronson, Fink, Hain, and Nitzan have all moved on from ESnet, a new generation of staff continued the spirit of innovation and early adoption. In the early 2010s, ESnet’s internal routing protocols were consolidated around the use of multi-topology Intermediate System to Intermediate System or IS-IS. This allowed for the deployment of flexible and disparate IPv4 and IPv6 topologies, paving the way for the creation of IPv6-only portions of ESnet, allowing the use of optimized routing protocols for the entire network.  ESnet’s acquisition strategy has long emphasized IPv6 support and feature parity between IPv4 and IPv6.  

All IPv6: Switching over, and the future

As ESnet moves into ESnet6, it is well-positioned to build and expand an IPv6-only network, while retaining legacy support for IPv4 where needed. ESnet will soon finish a two-year project to switch our management plane entirely over to IPv6

For our customers and those connected to us, here’s what this means:

  • ESnet will be ready, willing, and able to support connectors, constituents, and partners in their journey to deploying IPv6-only across our international network. 
  • ESnet planning and architecture team members have been included in the Department of Energy Integration and Product Team (DOE IPT) for migration to IPv6-only, and are supporting planning and documentation efforts for the DOE Complex.
  • We look forward to supporting our customers and users, as we all make this change to IPv6 together.

Defending ESnet with ZoMbis!

Zeek is a powerful open source network security monitoring software extensively used by ESnet. Zeek (formally called Bro) was initially developed by researchers at Berkeley Lab; it allows users to identify & manage cyber threats by tracking and logging network traffic activity. Zeek operates as a passive monitor, providing a holistic view of what is transpiring in the network and on all network traffic. 

In a previous post, I presented some of our efforts in approaching the WAN security using Zeek for general network monitoring, with successes and challenges found during the process. In this blog post I’ll focus on our efforts in using Zeek as  part of security monitoring for the ESnet6 management network – ZoMbis (Zeek on Management based information system).

ZoMbis on the ESnet6 management network:

Most research and educational networks employ a dedicated management network as a best practice. The management network provides a configuration command and control layer, as well as conduits for all of the inter-routing communications between the devices used to move our critical customer data. Because of the sensitive nature of these communications, the management network needs to be protected from external and general user network traffic (websites, file transfers, etc.), and our staff needs to have detailed visibility on management network activity.

At ESnet, we typically use real IP addresses for all internal network resources, and our management network is allocated a fairly large address space block advertised in our global routing table, to help protect against opportunistic hijacking attacks. By isolating our management network from user data streams, the amount of routine background noise is vastly reduced making the use of Zeek, or any network monitoring security capability, much more effective. 

The above diagram shows an overview of the deployment strategy of Zeek on the ESnet6 management network. The blue dots in the diagram show the locations that will have equipment running Zeek instances for monitoring the network traffic on the management network. The traffic from the routers on those locations is mirrored to the Zeek instances using a spanning port, and the Zeek logs generated are then aggregated in our central security information and event logging and management system (SIEM).

Scott Campbell presented ‘Using Zeek in ESnet6 Management Network Security Monitoring’ during virtual Zeek Week held last year that explained the overall strategy for deployment of Zeek on the management network in greater detail. Some ZoMbis deployment highlights are:

ESnet 6’s new management network will use only IPv6. From a monitoring perspective this change from the traditional IPv4 poses a number of interesting challenges; In particular, IPv6 traffic employs more multicast and link-local traffic for local subnet communications. Accordingly, we are in the process of adjusting and adding to Zeek’s policy based detection scripts to support these changes in network patterns. These new enhancements and custom scripts being written by our cybersecurity team to support IPv6 will be of interest to other Zeek users and we will release them to the entire Zeek community soon. 

The set of Zeek policy created for this project can be broken out into two general groups. The first of these is protocol mechanics – particularly looking closer between layer 2 and 3 where there are a number of interesting security behaviors with IPv6.  A subset of notices that these protocol mechanic policies will provide are:

  • ICMP6_RtrSol_NotMulticat – Router solicitation not multicast
  • ICMP6_RtrAnn_NotMulticat – Router announcement should be a multicast request
  • ICMP6_RtrAnn_NewMac – Router announcement from an unknown MAC
  • ICMP6_MacIPChange – If the MAC <-> IP mapping changes
  • ICMP6_NbrAdv_NotRouter – Advertisement comes from non-router
  • ICMP6_NbrAdv_UnSolicit – Advertisement is not solicited
  • ICMP6_NbrAdv_OverRide – Advertisement without override
  • ICMP6_NbrAdv_NoRequest – Advertisement without known request

The second set of Zeek policies that have been developed in support for ZoMbis involves taking advantage of predictable management network behavioral patterns – we build policy to model anticipated behaviors and let us know if something is amiss. For example looking at DNS and NTP behavior we can identify unexpected hosts and data volumes, since we know which systems are supposed to be communicating with one another, and what patterns traffic between these components should follow.

Stay tuned for the part II of this blogpost, where I will discuss ways of using Sinkholing, together with ZoMbis, to provide better understanding and visibility of unwanted traffic upon the management network.

100G DTN Experiment: Testing Technologies for Next-Generation File Transfer

ESnet has recently completed an experiment testing high-performance, file-based data transfers using Data Transfer Nodes (DTNs) on the 100G ESnet Testbed. Within ESnet, new ways to provide optimized, on-demand data movement tools to our network users are being prototyped. One such potential new data movement tool is offered by Zettar, Inc. Zettar’s “zx” product integrates with several storage technologies with an API for automation. This ESnet data movement experiment allowed us to test the use of tools like zx on our network. 

Two 100Gbps capable DTNs were deployed on the ESnet Testbed for this work, each with 8 x NVMe SSDs for fast disk-to-disk transfers, and connected using an approximately 90ms round trip time network path.  As many readers are aware, this combination of fast storage and fast networking requires careful tuning from both a file I/O and network protocol standpoint to achieve expected end-to-end transfer rates, and this evaluation was no exception. With the help of a storage throughput baseline achieved using the freely available elbencho tool, a single tuning profile for zx was found that struck an impressive performance balance when moving a sweep of hyperscale data sets (>1TB total size or >1M total files or both, see figure below) between the testbed DTNs.

A combined line chart with the measured storage throughput for each file size (blue line), together with both the Zettar zxtransfer data rates attained with a single run carried out by Zettar (orange line), and the average of five runs carried out by ESnet (green line)

To keep things interesting, the DTN software under evaluation was configured and launched within Docker containers to understand any performance and management impacts, and to establish a potential use case for more broadly deploying DTNs as-a-Service using containerization approaches. Spoiler: the testing was a great success! When configured appropriately, our evaluation has shown that modern container namespaces using performance-oriented Linux networking impart little to no impact on achievable storage and network performance at the 100Gbps scale while enabling a great deal of potential for distributed deployment of DTNs.  More critically, the problem of service orchestration and automation becomes the next great challenge when considering any large-scale deployment of dynamic data movement endpoints.

Our takeaways:

  • When properly provisioned and configured, a containerized environment has a high potential to provide an optimized, on-demand data movement service.
  • Data movers such as zx demonstrate that when modern TCP is used efficiently to move data at scale and speed, network latency becomes less of a factor – the same level of data rates are attainable over LAN, Metro, and WAN as long as packet loss rates can be effectively kept low
  • Finally, creating a holistic data movement solution demands integrated consideration of storage, computing, networking, and highly concurrent and intrinsically scale-out data mover software that incorporates a proper understanding of the variety in data movement scenarios.

For more information, a project report detailing the testing environment, performance comparisons, and best practices may be found here

40G Data Transfer Node (DTN) now Available for User Testing!

ESnet’s first 40 Gb/s public data transfer node (DTN) has been deployed and is now available for community testing. This new DTN is the first of a new generation of publicly available networking test units, provided by ESnet to the global research and engineering network community as part of promoting high-speed scientific data mobility. This 40G DTN will provide four times the speed of previous-generation DTN test units, as well as the opportunity to test a variety of network transfer tools and calibrated data sets.

The 40G DTN server, located at ESnet’s El Paso location, is based on an updated reference implementation of our Science DMZ architecture. This new DTN (and others that will soon follow in other locations) will allow our collaborators throughout the global research and engineering network community to test high speed, large, demanding data transfers as part of improving their own network performance. The deployment provides a resource enabling the global science community to reach levels of data networking performance first demonstrated in 2017 as part of the ESnet Petascale DTN project

The El Paso 40G DTN has Globus installed for gridFTP and parallel file transfer testing. Additional data transfer applications may be installed in the future. To facilitate user evaluation of their own network capabilities ESnet Data Mobility Exhibition (DME), test data sets will be loaded on this new 40G DTN shortly. 

All ESnet DTN public servers can be found at https://app.globus.org/file-manager. ESnet will continue to support existing 10G DTNs located at Sunnyvale, Starlight, New York, and CERN. 

ESnet's 40G DTN Reference Architecture Block Diagram
ESnet’s 40G DTN Reference Architecture Block Diagram

The full 40G DTN Reference architecture and more information on the design of these new DTN can be found here:

A second 40G DTN will be available in the next few weeks, and will be deployed in Boston. It will feature Google’s bottleneck bandwidth and round-trip propagation time (BBR2) software, allowing improved round-trip-time measurement and the ability for users to explore BBR2 enhancements to standard TCP congestion control algorithms.

In an upcoming blog post, I will describe the Boston/BBR2-enabled 40G DTN and perfSONAR servers. In the meantime, ESnet and the deployment team hope that the new El Paso DTN will be of great use to the global research community!  

Re-imagining perfSONAR to gain new network insights

Scientific discovery increasingly relies on the ability to perform large data transfers across networks operated by many different providers (including ESnet) around the globe. But what happens when a researcher initiates one of these large data transfers and data movement is slow? What does “slow” even mean? These can be surprisingly complex questions and it is important to have the right tools to help answer them. perfSONAR is an open source software tool designed to measure network performance and pinpoint issues that occur as data travels across many different networks on the way to a destination.

perfSONAR has been around for more than 15 years and is primarily maintained today by a collaboration of ESnet, GEANT, Indiana University, Internet2, and the University of Michigan. perfSONAR has an active community that extends well beyond the five core organizations that maintain the software with more than 2000 public deployments that span six continents and hundreds of organizations. perfSONAR deployments are capable of scheduling  and running tests that calculate metrics including (but not limited to) how fast a transfer can be performed (throughput), if a unit of information makes it to a desired destination (packet loss), if so how long did it take (latency) and what path did it take to get there (traceroute). What is novel about perfSONAR is not just these metrics, but the set of tools to feature these metrics in dashboards built by multiple collaborating organizations.  These dashboards aim to clearly identify patterns that signify potential issues and provide the means to drill-down into graphs that give more information.

Example perfSONAR dashboard grid highlighting packet loss to an ANL test node (top). Example line graphs that further illustrate aspects of the problem (bottom).

While perfSONAR has had great success in providing the current set of capabilities, there is more that can be done. For example, perfSONAR is very good at correlating metrics it collects with the other perfSONAR metrics with at least one similar endpoint. But what if we want to correlate the metrics by location, intermediate network or with non-perfSONAR collected statistics like flow statistics and interface counters? These are all key questions the perfSONAR project is looking to answer. 

Building upon a strong foundation

PerfSONAR has the ability to add analytics from other software tools using a plug-in framework. Recently, we have begun to use Elastic Search via this framework, to ingest log data and enable improved search and analytics on perfSONAR data.

For example, traditionally perfSONAR has viewed an individual measurement as something between a pair of IP addresses. But what do these IP addresses represent and where are they located? Using off-the-shelf tools Elastic Search in combination with Logstash, perfSONAR is able to answer questions like “What geographic areas are showing the most packet loss?”.

Example map showing packet loss hotspots to different locations around the globe. It also contains a menu to filter results by intermediate network.

Additionally, we can apply this same principle to traceroute (and similar tools) that yield a list of IP addresses giving an idea of the path a measurement takes between source and destination. Each IP address is a key to more information about the path including not only geographic information but also the organization at each point. This means you can ask questions such as “What is the throughput of all results that transit a given organization?”. Previously a user would not only have to know the exact address of the IPs, but it would have to be the first (source) or last (destination) address in the path. 

Integration with non-perfSONAR data is another area the project is looking to expand. By putting perfSONAR data in a well established data store like Elasticsearch, the door is open to leverage other off-the-shelf open source tools like Grafana to display results. What’s interesting about this platform is not only its ability to build new visualizations, but also the diverse set of backends it is capable of querying. If data such as host metrics, network interface counters and flow statistics are kept in any of the supported data stores, then there is a means to present this information along perfSONAR data. 

Example of perfSONAR statistics combined with host statistics from a completely different database being displayed in Grafana

These efforts are very much still in their early stages of development, but initial indicators are promising. Leveraging the perfSONAR architecture in conjunction with the wealth of off-the-shelf open source tools available on the market today create opportunities to gain new insights from the network, like those described above, not previously possible with the traditional perfSONAR tools. 

Getting involved and learning more

The perfSONAR project will continue to provide updates as this work progresses. You can also see the perfSONAR web site for updates and more information on keeping in touch through our mailing lists. The perfSONAR project looks forward to working with the community to provide exciting new network measurement capabilities.

Zeek and stream asymmetry research at ESnet

In my previous post, we discussed use of the open-source Zeek software to support network security monitoring at ESnet.  In this post, I’ll talk a little about work underway to improve Zeek’s ability to support network traffic monitoring when faced with stream asymmetry.

This comes from recent work by two of my colleagues on the ESnet Security team.

Scott Campbell and Sam Oehlert presented ‘Running Zeek on the WAN: Experiences and solutions for large scale flow asymmetry’ during a workshop held last year at CERN Geneva that explained the phases and deployment of the Zeek-on-the-WAN (ZoW) pilot in detail.

Scott Campbell at CERN presenting ‘Running Zeek on the WAN’
The asymmetry problem on a WAN (example)

Some of the significant findings and results from this presentation are highlighted below:

  • Phase I: Initial Zeek Node Design Considerations 
    • Select locations that provide an interesting network vantage point – in the case of our ESnet network, we deployed Zeek nodes on our commodity internet peerings (eqx-sj, eqx-chi, eqx-ash) since they represent the interface to the vast majority of hostile traffic.
    • Identifying easy traffic to test with and using spanning ports to forward traffic destined to the stub network on each of the routers used for collection.
  • Phase I: Initial Lessons learned from testing and results
    • Some misconfigurations were found in the ACL prefix lists. 
    • We increased visibility into our WAN side traffic through implementation of new background methods.
    • Establishing a new process for end-to-end testing, installing and verifying Zeek system reporting. 
  • Phase II:  Prove there is more useful data to be seen
    • For phase II we moved towards collection of full peer connection records, from statistical sampling based techniques. Started running Zeek on traffic crossing the interfaces which connect ESnet network peers to the internet from the AS (Autonomous system) responsible for most notices. .
    • To get high fidelity connection information without being crushed by data volume, define a subset of packets that are interesting – zero length control packets (Syn/Syn-Ack/Fin/Rst) from peerings.
  • Phase II: Results
    • A lot of interesting activity got discovered like information leakage in syslogs, logins (and attempted logins) using poorly secure authentication protocols, and analysis of the amount of asymmetric traffic patterns gave valuable insights to understand better the asymmetric traffic problems.
  • Ongoing Phase III: Expanding the reach of traffic collection on WAN
    • We are currently in the process of deploying Zeek nodes at another three WAN locations for monitoring commodity internet peering – PNWG (peering at Seattle WA), AM-SIX (peering at Amsterdam) and LOND (peering at London)
Locations for the ZoW systems, the pink shows ongoing Phase III deployment

As our use of Zeek on the WAN side of ESnet continues to grow, the next phase to the ZoW pilot is currently being defined.  We’re working to incorporate these lessons learned on how to handle traffic asymmetry into these next phases of effort. 

Some (not all) solutions being taken into consideration include: 

  • Aggregating traffic streams at a central location to make sense out of the asymmetric packet streams and then run Zeek on the aggregated traffic, or
  • Running Zeek on the individual asymmetric streams and then aggregating these Zeek streams @ 5-tuple which will be aggregation of connection metadata rather than the connection stream itself. 

We are currently exploring these WAN solutions as part of providing better solutions to both ESnet, and connected sites.