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Noction review: BGP automation for top network performance

How many times have you wished a smarter version of BGP for your multi-homed network?

The first version of BGP (RFC-1105) was formalised in 1989, when the Internet was just at the early stage in terms of size and capabilities. Many years (and four versions) later, we are still stuck with this epic protocol that made history of the Internet routing, but it’s also showing its limitations in dealing with modern complex networks.

BGP makes routing decisions based on information exchanged with its neighbours, but also influenced by the attributes carried in the route updates:

  • AS path
  • Next Hop
  • Origin
  • Atomic Aggregate
  • Local preference
  • Multi-exit discriminator
  • Communities
  • Aggregator
  • Weight (Cisco proprietary)

These attributes are customisable by the Network Engineer in charge of configuring BGP, but once they are configured they can’t be easily changed on the fly. Typical example is manipulating the local-preference in a multi-homed network: the chosen outbound route is the one with higher local-preference, even though this path sometimes might be experiencing congestion.

Network Engineers can monitor the network looking for congestions and failures, but it’s not an easy task having to deal with a constantly changing environment: probes (e.g. ping, traceroute, etc..) need to continuously test the path to reach the targets and collect measurable data such as end-to-end latency, packet loss, jitter and available bandwidth. The paths are dynamic and can change at any time when BGP dictates a change of routing.

Even with all this information in hand, it’s not so easy reconfiguring BGP on the fly to cope with transient congestions and network failures to divert the traffic to different routes. In addition, there is also the high risk of manually intervening on a critical protocol such as BGP, where a typo in a console command could result in black holing a massive amount of traffic..you don’t want to experience that!

It’s time to try Noction Intelligent Routing Platform!

Noction Intelligent Routing Platform (IRP) promises to improve the performance of the network, reducing the operational costs of a multi-homed network.

Noction IRP Dashboard
Noction IRP Dashboard

Typical challenges faced by ISP and large Enterprises include:

  • Reliable services with 100% uptime
  • Avoid network congestions and problematic routes
  • Avoid paths with high latency and packet loss
  • Achieving consistent throughput without exceeding the committed bandwidth
  • Providing low latency routes for time critical applications
  • Reducing the MTTR and ensure 100% service uptime

Noction IRP can help in dealing with the aforementioned challenges through its extensive set of features:

  • Automated dynamic route updates based on real-time network performance
  • Customer defined routing policies to control ISP usage and cost
  • Automated throttling of outbound traffic to the ISP committed levels
  • Automated load balancing among different providers
  • Routing policies customisable based on business goals

How it works

Noction IRP adds intelligence to the routing decisions, leveraging the existing Internet connectivity with dynamically collected information on the status of the network. Network Engineers can’t spend their days running thousands of probes in the hope of catching a network failure, a congestion or simply to determine the best traffic path to use. Unfortunately BGP does not have the capability of adapting the routing based on the network status, so the only way is to manually divert the traffic with BGP in order to bypass the issues.

noction IRP

Noction IRP automates the BGP optimisation process, reducing the need for engineering effort and eliminating the risk of human error during the BGP configuration. Here is what Noction IRP can do for you:

  • Traffic Routing Optimization: active probing of remote prefixes in terms of packet loss, latency, throughput, historical reliability and capacity. Based on this data, the platform calculates performance and optimisations. The platform then announces the improved route to the corporate edge routers via a typical BGP session.
  • Bypass Congestion and Outages: IRP operates at the network edge and performs a non-intrusive traffic analysis in order to detect issues on the network. If some routers on the path to the target are found affected, they are probed more in depth to understand more about the problem. Based on this data, IRP automatically reroutes traffic via the best path.
  • Minimize Latency and Packet Loss: as explained before, BGP makes routing decision based on static parameters without taking into consideration the current network status. IRP is able to measure latency and packet loss, diverting traffic in real-time to use the best transit path. As a matter of facts, IRP reduces latency by an average of 24% and packet loss by an average of 89% for the problematic routes detected.
  • Network Monitoring and Troubleshooting: IRP makes troubleshooting much quicker detecting, diagnosing and resolving network performance issues. IRP provides real-time view of performances and alerts, sending out notifications when specific problems occur.
  • Leverage Network Bandwidth Cost: IRP has the ability of optimising costs by intelligently balancing traffic among the available ISP. Bandwidth commit rate can be configured in IRP, to make sure the right amount of traffic is pushed into the right ISP.

noction IRP

Once installed in your network, Noction IRP gets a complete (or partial) copy of the traffic using either port mirroring or Netflow/Sflow from the edge router. IRP passively analyses the traffic looking for network anomalies, also actively monitoring relevant prefixes for packet loss, latency and jitter. The metrics are gathered using active probes sent through all the available provider links.

The collected data is sent to the Core of Noction IRP, which computes either a performance or cost-improved routing policy to apply to the network. Noction IRP then announces this new improved routes to the edge routers using a standard BGP peering session.

noction IRP architecture

IRP is non-intrusive and sits outside the traffic path so there is no risk of affecting the network performance. If IRP is switched off or fails, the edge router will fallback to the normal BGP routing with no downtime at all.

There is also the option of running IRP in non-intrusive mode, basically only running active probes, gathering data and reporting for potential improvements without injecting any modified BGP routes.

RouterFreak’s Noction Review

Placing in your network an edge appliance with the power of changing the BGP routing of your traffic might cause the sweating (and veto!) of many Network Engineers. At RouterFreak, we tested Noction IRP in depth to fully understand how it works!

The very first thing that we liked is that IRP allows Network Engineers to have a proactive approach in detecting and bypassing network problems such as congestions and slow routes.

Noction comes with a built-in performance based mechanisms able to automatically determines which traffic needs to be rerouted. All the alternative paths are evaluated based on metrics such as packet loss, latency and jitter. Then, Noction IRP computes the best path and inject that to the edge router. In the picture we can see the graphs of improved prefixes.

 

noction IRP graphs

To check in details the improvements that Noction managed to achieve, check the next picture. Here we can see the list of prefixes and an explanation of the improvement: a prefix reroute in the first row, and metrics regarding the new routes showing reduces packet loss and latency.

noction IRP

Another awesome feature of Noction IRP is the ability of reducing the cost for transit providers. When available, IRP uses the less expensive transit providers keeping the costly ones as last choice. Overall, the bandwidth rate cost is greatly reduced.

If you think about the gigabit of traffic that travels inbound/outbound your network, you can easily work out the massive saving that could result in switching to a less expensive transit provider.

ISP’s normally price the bandwidth using a tiered level model: there is normally a minimum commitment with the possibility of bursting higher. In summary, companies pay the same amount regardless of usage up to a certain point, beyond which they would incur in higher costs during peak/burst time. Noction IRP addresses this problem by incorporating billing structures in the routing policy model: the platform can adjust and keep predefined bandwidth levels for each provider connection.

In the next picture you can see the bandwidth usage breakdown based on the provider (i.e. Alfa and Beta). A nice feature here is the presence of two thresholds in the graphs: committed rate (in orange color) and current rate (in red color). This is a no-brainer indication about the current average usage, with immediate rerouting if the current is above the committed rate.

noction IRP

All the data collected by Noction IRP is easily accessible via the reporting tool, offering the following suite of reports:

noction IRP

A view that we particularly liked is the Platform Overview, showing a summary of the improvements currently in place:

noction IRP

RouterFreak’s Verdict

If your business relies on service availability, you have to make sure you got the best possible network in place. BGP is showing the limitation of a 25 years old protocol that was designed in the early stage of the Internet, but Noction IRP can give a boost to its performance, at the same time achieving a nice cost optimisation.

Consistent and automatically controlled outbound traffic towards your ISP’s allows a better load balancing of packet streams, making sure to stay within the committed rate to avoid extra charges due to traffic bursting unexpectedly.

Looking at the nice automatic traffic engineering implementation implemented in Noction IRP, I would have expected to also have a mechanism to control the inbound traffic rate. This is a non-trivial  problem: BGP can manipulate attributes such as MED, AS Path or outbound communities to control inbound traffic streams, but that’s not as easy as the outbound traffic case. Hopefully this will be constructive feedback for Noction to improve IRP even more!

Noction definitely comes with an intelligent approach to BGP routing, achieving significant results in terms of performance and cost saving. At the Noction range of price you won’t find many competitors in this field, so RouterFreak definitely recommends to give it a go!

 

Noction review: BGP automation for top network performance
4.2 (84%)

About Daniele Besana

Daniele is a freelancer consultant with 15 years of experience in network security, customer support, Linux and Salsa. He worked for Juniper Networks in Netherlands, providing support and consultancy on security projects across Europe and Middle-East.

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4 comments

  1. Hi,

    People interested in BGP optimization and reporting might also want to look at our solution : http://www.border6.com.

    Regards,
    Product Engineer
    [email protected]

  2. Did you actually setup Noction and evaluate it, or is this information just based on their demo?

    • Hi Mark,
      Noction provided us a full test environment, not a simulation.
      We did not do the setup, but this is something Noction helps customers with.

      Thanks!

    • Hey Mark,

      Thank you for your comment on, Daniele’s, wonderful article about our product. 99.9% of our prospective customers take advantage of a free POC Trial of IRP. Through this POC we provide a full trial version of IRP so you can experience exactly what Daniele has described. Please visit our client page at http://www.noction.com/clients to learn about some of our customers and their case studies. Would you like to learn how you can take advantage of a free POC Trial of IRP?

      John

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