SOC Working Group                                                V. Hilt
Internet-Draft                                  Bell Labs/Alcatel-Lucent
Intended status: Informational                                   E. Noel
Expires: February 14, 2011                                     AT&T Labs
                                                                 C. Shen
                                                     Columbia University
                                                              A. Abdelal
                                                          Sonus Networks
                                                         August 13, 2010

  Design Considerations for Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) Overload


   Overload occurs in Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) networks when
   SIP servers have insufficient resources to handle all SIP messages
   they receive.  Even though the SIP protocol provides a limited
   overload control mechanism through its 503 (Service Unavailable)
   response code, SIP servers are still vulnerable to overload.  This
   document discusses models and design considerations for a SIP
   overload control mechanism.

Status of this Memo

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   provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

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   This Internet-Draft will expire on February 14, 2011.

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   Copyright (c) 2010 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal

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Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   2.  SIP Overload Problem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4
   3.  Explicit vs. Implicit Overload Control . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
   4.  System Model . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
   5.  Degree of Cooperation  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
     5.1.  Hop-by-Hop . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
     5.2.  End-to-End . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
     5.3.  Local Overload Control . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
   6.  Topologies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
   7.  Fairness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
   8.  Performance Metrics  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
   9.  Explicit Overload Control Feedback . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
     9.1.  Rate-based Overload Control  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
     9.2.  Loss-based Overload Control  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
     9.3.  Window-based Overload Control  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
     9.4.  Overload Signal-based Overload Control . . . . . . . . . . 17
     9.5.  On-/Off Overload Control . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
   10. Implicit Overload Control  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
   11. Overload Control Algorithms  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
   12. Message Prioritization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
   13. Security Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
   14. IANA Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
   15. Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
   Appendix A.  Contributors  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
   Authors' Addresses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21

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1.  Introduction

   As with any network element, a Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)
   [RFC3261] server can suffer from overload when the number of SIP
   messages it receives exceeds the number of messages it can process.
   Overload occurs if a SIP server does not have sufficient resources to
   process all incoming SIP messages.  These resources may include CPU,
   memory, input/output, or disk resources.

   Overload can pose a serious problem for a network of SIP servers.
   During periods of overload, the throughput of a network of SIP
   servers can be significantly degraded.  In fact, overload may lead to
   a situation in which the throughput drops down to a small fraction of
   the original processing capacity.  This is often called congestion

   An overload control mechanism enables a SIP server to perform close
   to its capacity limit during times of overload.  Overload control is
   used by a SIP server if it is unable to process all SIP requests due
   to resource constraints.  There are other failure cases in which a
   SIP server can successfully process incoming requests but has to
   reject them for other reasons.  For example, a PSTN gateway that runs
   out of trunk lines but still has plenty of capacity to process SIP
   messages should reject incoming INVITEs using a 488 (Not Acceptable
   Here) response [RFC4412].  Similarly, a SIP registrar that has lost
   connectivity to its registration database but is still capable of
   processing SIP messages should reject REGISTER requests with a 500
   (Server Error) response [RFC3261].  Overload control mechanisms do
   not apply in these cases and SIP provides appropriate response codes
   for them.

   The SIP protocol provides a limited mechanism for overload control
   through its 503 (Service Unavailable) response code and the Retry-
   After header.  However, this mechanism cannot prevent overload of a
   SIP server and it cannot prevent congestion collapse.  In fact, it
   may cause traffic to oscillate and to shift between SIP servers and
   thereby worsen an overload condition.  A detailed discussion of the
   SIP overload problem, the problems with the 503 (Service Unavailable)
   response code and the Retry-After header and the requirements for a
   SIP overload control mechanism can be found in [RFC5390].

   This document discusses the models, assumptions and design
   considerations for a SIP overload control mechanism.  The document is
   a product of the SIP overload control design team.

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2.  SIP Overload Problem

   A key contributor to the SIP congestion collapse [RFC5390] is the
   regenerative behavior of overload in the SIP protocol.  When SIP is
   running over the UDP protocol, it will retransmit messages that were
   dropped by a SIP server due to overload and thereby increase the
   offered load for the already overloaded server.  This increase in
   load worsens the severity of the overload condition and, in turn,
   causes more messages to be dropped.  A congestion collapse can occur
   [Hilt et al.], [Noel et al.], [Shen et al.] and [Abdelal et al.].

   Regenerative behavior under overload should ideally be avoided by any
   protocol as this would lead to stable operation under overload.
   However, this is often difficult to achieve in practice.  For
   example, changing the SIP retransmission timer mechanisms can reduce
   the degree of regeneration during overload but will impact the
   ability of SIP to recover from message losses.  Without any
   retransmission each message that is dropped due to SIP server
   overload will eventually lead to a failed call.

   For a SIP INVITE transaction to be successful a minimum of three
   messages need to be forwarded by a SIP server.  Often an INVITE
   transaction consists of five or more SIP messages.  If a SIP server
   under overload randomly discards messages without evaluating them,
   the chances that all messages belonging to a transaction are
   successfully forwarded will decrease as the load increases.  Thus,
   the number of transactions that complete successfully will decrease
   even if the message throughput of a server remains up and assuming
   the overload behavior is fully non-regenerative.  A SIP server might
   (partially) parse incoming messages to determine if it is a new
   request or a message belonging to an existing transaction.  However,
   after having spend resources on parsing a SIP message, discarding
   this message is expensive as the resources already spend are lost.
   The number of successful transactions will therefore decline with an
   increase in load as less and less resources can be spent on
   forwarding messages and more and more resources are consumed by
   inspecting messages that will eventually be dropped.  The slope of
   the decline depends on the amount of resources spent to inspect each

   Another challenge for SIP overload control is that the rate of the
   true traffic source usually cannot be controlled.  Overload is often
   caused by a large number of UAs each of which creates only a single
   message.  These UAs cannot be rate controlled as they only send one
   message.  However, the sum of their traffic can overload a SIP

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3.  Explicit vs. Implicit Overload Control

   The main differences between explicit and implicit overload control
   is the way overload is signaled from a SIP server that is reaching
   overload condition to its upstream neighbors.

   In an explicit overload control mechanism, a SIP server uses an
   explicit overload signal to indicate that it is reaching its capacity
   limit.  Upstream neighbors receiving this signal can adjust their
   transmission rate according to the overload signal to a level that is
   acceptable to the downstream server.  The overload signal enables a
   SIP server to steer the load it is receiving to a rate at which it
   can perform at maximum capacity.

   Implicit overload control uses the absence of responses and packet
   loss as an indication of overload.  A SIP server that is sensing such
   a condition reduces the load it is forwarding a downstream neighbor.
   Since there is no explicit overload signal, this mechanism is robust
   as it does not depend on actions taken by the SIP server running into

   The ideas of explicit and implicit overload control are in fact
   complementary.  By considering implicit overload indications a server
   can avoid overloading an unresponsive downstream neighbor.  An
   explicit overload signal enables a SIP server to actively steer the
   incoming load to a desired level.

4.  System Model

   The model shown in Figure 1 identifies fundamental components of an
   explicit SIP overload control mechanism:

   SIP Processor:  The SIP Processor processes SIP messages and is the
      component that is protected by overload control.
   Monitor:  The Monitor measures the current load of the SIP processor
      on the receiving entity.  It implements the mechanisms needed to
      determine the current usage of resources relevant for the SIP
      processor and reports load samples (S) to the Control Function.
   Control Function:  The Control Function implements the overload
      control algorithm.  The control function uses the load samples (S)
      and determines if overload has occurred and a throttle (T) needs
      to be set to adjust the load sent to the SIP processor on the
      receiving entity.  The control function on the receiving entity
      sends load feedback (F) to the sending entity.

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   Actuator:  The Actuator implements the algorithms needed to act on
      the throttles (T) and ensures that the amount of traffic forwarded
      to the receiving entity meets the criteria of the throttle.  For
      example, a throttle may instruct the Actuator to not forward more
      than 100 INVITE messages per second.  The Actuator implements the
      algorithms to achieve this objective, e.g., using message gapping.
      It also implements algorithms to select the messages that will be
      affected and determine whether they are rejected or redirected.

   The type of feedback (F) conveyed from the receiving to the sending
   entity depends on the overload control method used (i.e., loss-based,
   rate-based, window-based or signal-based overload control; see
   Section 9), the overload control algorithm (see Section 11) as well
   as other design parameters.  The feedback (F) enables the sending
   entity to adjust the amount of traffic forwarded to the receiving
   entity to a level that is acceptable to the receiving entity without
   causing overload.

   Figure 1 depicts a general system model for overload control.  In
   this diagram, one instance of the control function is on the sending
   entity (i.e., associated with the actuator) and one is on the
   receiving entity (i.e., associated with the monitor).  However, a
   specific mechanism may not require both elements.  In this case, one
   of two control function elements can be empty and simply passes along
   feedback.  E.g., if (F) is defined as a loss-rate (e.g., reduce
   traffic by 10%) there is no need for a control function on the
   sending entity as the content of (F) can be copied directly into (T).

   The model in Figure 1 shows a scenario with one sending and one
   receiving entity.  In a more realistic scenario a receiving entity
   will receive traffic from multiple sending entities and vice versa
   (see Section 6).  The feedback generated by a Monitor will therefore
   often be distributed across multiple Actuators.  A Monitor needs to
   be able to split the load it can process across multiple sending
   entities and generate feedback that correctly adjusts the load each
   sending entity is allowed to send.  Similarly, an Actuator needs to
   be prepared to receive different levels of feedback from different
   receiving entities and throttle traffic to these entities

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          Sending                Receiving
           Entity                  Entity
     +----------------+      +----------------+
     |    Server A    |      |    Server B    |
     |  +----------+  |      |  +----------+  |    -+
     |  | Control  |  |  F   |  | Control  |  |     |
     |  | Function |<-+------+--| Function |  |     |
     |  +----------+  |      |  +----------+  |     |
     |     T |        |      |       ^        |     | Overload
     |       v        |      |       | S      |     | Control
     |  +----------+  |      |  +----------+  |     |
     |  | Actuator |  |      |  | Monitor  |  |     |
     |  +----------+  |      |  +----------+  |     |
     |       |        |      |       ^        |    -+
     |       v        |      |       |        |    -+
     |  +----------+  |      |  +----------+  |     |
   <-+--|   SIP    |  |      |  |   SIP    |  |     |  SIP
   --+->|Processor |--+------+->|Processor |--+->   | System
     |  +----------+  |      |  +----------+  |     |
     +----------------+      +----------------+    -+

           Figure 1: System Model for Explicit Overload Control

5.  Degree of Cooperation

   A SIP request is usually processed by more than one SIP server on its
   path to the destination.  Thus, a design choice for an explicit
   overload control mechanism is where to place the components of
   overload control along the path of a request and, in particular,
   where to place the Monitor and Actuator.  This design choice
   determines the degree of cooperation between the SIP servers on the
   path.  Overload control can be implemented hop-by-hop with the
   Monitor on one server and the Actuator on its direct upstream
   neighbor.  Overload control can be implemented end-to-end with
   Monitors on all SIP servers along the path of a request and an
   Actuator on the sender.  In this case, the Control Functions
   associated with each Monitor have to cooperate to jointly determine
   the overall feedback for this path.  Finally, overload control can be
   implemented locally on a SIP server if Monitor and Actuator reside on
   the same server.  In this case, the sending entity and receiving
   entity are the same SIP server and Actuator and Monitor operate on
   the same SIP processor (although, the Actuator typically operates on
   a pre-processing stage in local overload control).  Local overload
   control is an internal overload control mechanism as the control loop
   is implemented internally on one server.  Hop-by-hop and end-to-end
   are external overload control mechanisms.  All three configurations

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   are shown in Figure 2.

               +---------+             +------(+)---------+
      +------+ |         |             |       ^          |
      |      | |        +---+          |       |         +---+
      v      | v    //=>| C |          v       |     //=>| C |
   +---+    +---+ //    +---+       +---+    +---+ //    +---+
   | A |===>| B |                   | A |===>| B |
   +---+    +---+ \\    +---+       +---+    +---+ \\    +---+
               ^    \\=>| D |          ^       |     \\=>| D |
               |        +---+          |       |         +---+
               |         |             |       v          |
               +---------+             +------(+)---------+

         (a) hop-by-hop                   (b) end-to-end

                         v |
    +-+      +-+        +---+
    v |      v |    //=>| C |
   +---+    +---+ //    +---+
   | A |===>| B |
   +---+    +---+ \\    +---+
                    \\=>| D |
                         ^ |

           (c) local

    ==> SIP request flow
    <-- Overload feedback loop

              Figure 2: Degree of Cooperation between Servers

5.1.  Hop-by-Hop

   The idea of hop-by-hop overload control is to instantiate a separate
   control loop between all neighboring SIP servers that directly
   exchange traffic.  I.e., the Actuator is located on the SIP server
   that is the direct upstream neighbor of the SIP server that has the
   corresponding Monitor.  Each control loop between two servers is
   completely independent of the control loop between other servers
   further up- or downstream.  In the example in Figure 2(a), three
   independent overload control loops are instantiated: A - B, B - C and
   B - D. Each loop only controls a single hop.  Overload feedback

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   received from a downstream neighbor is not forwarded further
   upstream.  Instead, a SIP server acts on this feedback, for example,
   by rejecting SIP messages if needed.  If the upstream neighbor of a
   server also becomes overloaded, it will report this problem to its
   upstream neighbors, which again take action based on the reported
   feedback.  Thus, in hop-by-hop overload control, overload is always
   resolved by the direct upstream neighbors of the overloaded server
   without the need to involve entities that are located multiple SIP
   hops away.

   Hop-by-hop overload control reduces the impact of overload on a SIP
   network and can avoid congestion collapse.  It is simple and scales
   well to networks with many SIP entities.  An advantage is that it
   does not require feedback to be transmitted across multiple-hops,
   possibly crossing multiple trust domains.  Feedback is sent to the
   next hop only.  Furthermore, it does not require a SIP entity to
   aggregate a large number of overload status values or keep track of
   the overload status of SIP servers it is not communicating with.

5.2.  End-to-End

   End-to-end overload control implements an overload control loop along
   the entire path of a SIP request, from UAC to UAS.  An end-to-end
   overload control mechanism consolidates overload information from all
   SIP servers on the way (including all proxies and the UAS) and uses
   this information to throttle traffic as far upstream as possible.  An
   end-to-end overload control mechanism has to be able to frequently
   collect the overload status of all servers on the potential path(s)
   to a destination and combine this data into meaningful overload

   A UA or SIP server only throttles requests if it knows that these
   requests will eventually be forwarded to an overloaded server.  For
   example, if D is overloaded in Figure 2(b), A should only throttle
   requests it forwards to B when it knows that they will be forwarded
   to D. It should not throttle requests that will eventually be
   forwarded to C, since server C is not overloaded.  In many cases, it
   is difficult for A to determine which requests will be routed to C
   and D since this depends on the local routing decision made by B.
   These routing decisions can be highly variable and, for example,
   depend on call routing policies configured by the user, services
   invoked on a call, load balancing policies, etc.  The fact that a
   previous message to a target has been routed through an overloaded
   server does not necessarily mean the next message to this target will
   also be routed through the same server.

   The main problem of end-to-end overload control is its inherent
   complexity since UAC or SIP servers need to monitor all potential

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   paths to a destination in order to determine which requests should be
   throttled and which requests may be sent.  Even if this information
   is available, it is not clear which path a specific request will

   A variant of end-to-end overload control is to implement a control
   loop between a set of well-known SIP servers along the path of a SIP
   request.  For example, an overload control loop can be instantiated
   between a server that only has one downstream neighbor or a set of
   closely coupled SIP servers.  A control loop spanning multiple hops
   can be used if the sending entity has full knowledge about the SIP
   servers on the path of a SIP message.

   A key difference to transport protocols using end-to-end congestion
   control such as TCP is that the traffic exchanged between SIP servers
   consists of many individual SIP messages.  Each of these SIP messages
   has its own source and destination.  Even SIP messages containing
   identical SIP URIs (e.g., a SUBSCRIBE and a INVITE message to the
   same SIP URI) can be routed to different destinations.  This is
   different from TCP which controls a stream of packets between a
   single source and a single destination.

5.3.  Local Overload Control

   The idea of local overload control (see Figure 2(c)) is to run the
   Monitor and Actuator on the same server.  This enables the server to
   monitor the current resource usage and to reject messages that can't
   be processed without overusing the local resources.  The fundamental
   assumption behind local overload control is that it is less resource
   consuming for a server to reject messages than to process them.  A
   server can therefore reject the excess messages it cannot process to
   stop all retransmissions of these messages.  Since rejecting messages
   does consume resources on a SIP server, local overload control alone
   cannot prevent a congestion collapse.

   Local overload control can be used in conjunction with an other
   overload control mechanisms and provides an additional layer of
   protection against overload.  It is fully implemented within a SIP
   server and does not require cooperation between servers.  In general,
   SIP servers should apply other overload control techniques to control
   load before a local overload control mechanism is activated as a
   mechanism of last resort.

6.  Topologies

   The following topologies describe four generic SIP server
   configurations.  These topologies illustrate specific challenges for

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   an overload control mechanism.  An actual SIP server topology is
   likely to consist of combinations of these generic scenarios.

   In the "load balancer" configuration shown in Figure 3(a) a set of
   SIP servers (D, E and F) receives traffic from a single source A. A
   load balancer is a typical example for such a configuration.  In this
   configuration, overload control needs to prevent server A (i.e., the
   load balancer) from sending too much traffic to any of its downstream
   neighbors D, E and F. If one of the downstream neighbors becomes
   overloaded, A can direct traffic to the servers that still have
   capacity.  If one of the servers serves as a backup, it can be
   activated once one of the primary servers reaches overload.

   If A can reliably determine that D, E and F are its only downstream
   neighbors and all of them are in overload, it may choose to report
   overload upstream on behalf of D, E and F. However, if the set of
   downstream neighbors is not fixed or only some of them are in
   overload then A should not activate an overload control since A can
   still forward the requests destined to non-overloaded downstream
   neighbors.  These requests would be throttled as well if A would use
   overload control towards its upstream neighbors.

   In the "multiple sources" configuration shown in Figure 3(b), a SIP
   server D receives traffic from multiple upstream sources A, B and C.
   Each of these sources can contribute a different amount of traffic,
   which can vary over time.  The set of active upstream neighbors of D
   can change as servers may become inactive and previously inactive
   servers may start contributing traffic to D.

   If D becomes overloaded, it needs to generate feedback to reduce the
   amount of traffic it receives from its upstream neighbors.  D needs
   to decide by how much each upstream neighbor should reduce traffic.
   This decision can require the consideration of the amount of traffic
   sent by each upstream neighbor and it may need to be re-adjusted as
   the traffic contributed by each upstream neighbor varies over time.
   Server D can use a local fairness policy to determine much traffic it
   accepts from each upstream neighbor.

   In many configurations, SIP servers form a "mesh" as shown in
   Figure 3(c).  Here, multiple upstream servers A, B and C forward
   traffic to multiple alternative servers D and E. This configuration
   is a combination of the "load balancer" and "multiple sources"

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                   +---+              +---+
                /->| D |              | A |-\
               /   +---+              +---+  \
              /                               \   +---+
       +---+-/     +---+              +---+    \->|   |
       | A |------>| E |              | B |------>| D |
       +---+-\     +---+              +---+    /->|   |
              \                               /   +---+
               \   +---+              +---+  /
                \->| F |              | C |-/
                   +---+              +---+

       (a) load balancer             (b) multiple sources

       | A |---\                        a--\
       +---+-\  \---->+---+                 \
              \/----->| D |             b--\ \--->+---+
       +---+--/\  /-->+---+                 \---->|   |
       | B |    \/                      c-------->| D |
       +---+---\/\--->+---+                       |   |
               /\---->| E |            ...   /--->+---+
       +---+--/   /-->+---+                 /
       | C |-----/                      z--/

             (c) mesh                   (d) edge proxy

                           Figure 3: Topologies

   Overload control that is based on reducing the number of messages a
   sender is allowed to send is not suited for servers that receive
   requests from a very large population of senders, each of which only
   infrequently sends a request.  This scenario is shown in Figure 3(d).
   An edge proxy that is connected to many UAs is a typical example for
   such a configuration.

   Since each UA typically only contributes a few requests, which are
   often related to the same call, it can't decrease its message rate to
   resolve the overload.  In such a configuration, a SIP server can
   resort to local overload control by rejecting a percentage of the
   requests it receives with 503 (Service Unavailable) responses.  Since
   there are many upstream neighbors that contribute to the overall
   load, sending 503 (Service Unavailable) to a fraction of them can
   gradually reduce load without entirely stopping all incoming traffic.
   The Retry-After header can be used in 503 (Service Unavailable)
   responses to ask UAs to wait a given number of seconds before trying

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   the call again.  Using 503 (Service Unavailable) towards individual
   sources can, however, not prevent overload if a large number of users
   places calls at the same time.

      Note: The requirements of the "edge proxy" topology are different
      than the ones of the other topologies, which may require a
      different method for overload control.

7.  Fairness

   There are many different ways to define fairness between multiple
   upstream neighbors of a SIP server.  In the context of SIP server
   overload, it is helpful to describe two categories of fairness: basic
   fairness and customized fairness.  With basic fairness a SIP server
   treats all call attempts equally and ensures that each call attempt
   has the same chance of succeeding.  With customized fairness, the
   server allocates resources according to different priorities.  An
   example application of the basic fairness criteria is the "Third
   caller receives free tickets" scenario, where each call attempt
   should have an equal success probability in making calls through an
   overloaded SIP server, irrespective of the service provider where it
   was initiated.  An example of customized fairness would be a server
   which assigns different resource allocations to its upstream
   neighbors (e.g., service providers) as defined in a service level
   agreement (SLA).

8.  Performance Metrics

   The performance of an overload control mechanism can be measured
   using different metrics.

   A key performance indicator is the goodput of a SIP server under
   overload.  Ideally, a SIP server will be enabled to perform at its
   capacity limit during periods of overload.  E.g., if a SIP server has
   a processing capacity of 140 INVITE transactions per second then an
   overload control mechanism should enable it to process 140 INVITEs
   per second even if the offered load is much higher.  The delay
   introduced by a SIP server is another important indicator.  An
   overload control mechanism should ensure that the delay encountered
   by a SIP message is not increased significantly during periods of

   Reactiveness and stability are other important performance
   indicators.  An overload control mechanism should quickly react to an
   overload occurrence and ensure that a SIP server does not become
   overloaded even during sudden peaks of load.  Similarly, an overload

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   control mechanism should quickly stop rejecting calls if the overload
   disappears.  Stability is another important criteria.  An overload
   control mechanism should not cause significant oscillations of load
   on a SIP server.  The performance of SIP overload control mechanisms
   is discussed in [Noel et al.], [Shen et al.], [Hilt et al.] and
   [Abdelal et al.].

   In addition to the above metrics, there are other indicators that are
   relevant for the evaluation of an overload control mechanism:

   Fairness:  Which types of fairness does the overload control
      mechanism implement?
   Self-limiting:  Is the overload control self-limiting if a SIP server
      becomes unresponsive?
   Changes in neighbor set:  How does the mechanism adapt to a changing
      set of sending entities?
   Data points to monitor:  Which and how many data points does an
      overload control mechanism need to monitor?

9.  Explicit Overload Control Feedback

   Explicit overload control feedback enables a receiver to indicate how
   much traffic it wants to receive.  Explicit overload control
   mechanisms can be differentiated based on the type of information
   conveyed in the overload control feedback and whether the control
   function is in the receiving or sending entity (receiver- vs. sender-
   based overload control).

9.1.  Rate-based Overload Control

   The key idea of rate-based overload control is to limit the request
   rate at which an upstream element is allowed to forward traffic to
   the downstream neighbor.  If overload occurs, a SIP server instructs
   each upstream neighbor to send at most X requests per second.  Each
   upstream neighbor can be assigned a different rate cap.

   An example algorithm for an Actuator in the sending entity is request
   gapping.  After transmitting a request to a downstream neighbor, a
   server waits for 1/X seconds before it transmits the next request to
   the same neighbor.  Requests that arrive during the waiting period
   are not forwarded and are either redirected, rejected or buffered.

   The rate cap ensures that the number of requests received by a SIP
   server never increases beyond the sum of all rate caps granted to
   upstream neighbors.  Rate-based overload control protects a SIP
   server against overload even during load spikes assuming there are no
   new upstream neighbors that start sending traffic.  New upstream

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   neighbors need to be considered in all rate caps assigned to upstream
   neighbors.  The overall rate cap of a SIP server is determined by an
   overload control algorithm, e.g., based on system load.

   Rate-based overload control requires a SIP server to assign a rate
   cap to each of its upstream neighbors while it is activated.
   Effectively, a server needs to assign a share of its overall capacity
   to each upstream neighbor.  A server needs to ensure that the sum of
   all rate caps assigned to upstream neighbors does not substantially
   oversubscribe its actual processing capacity.  This requires a SIP
   server to keep track of the set of upstream neighbors and to adjust
   the rate cap if a new upstream neighbor appears or an existing
   neighbor stops transmitting.  For example, if the capacity of the
   server is X and this server is receiving traffic from two upstream
   neighbors, it can assign a rate of X/2 to each of them.  If a third
   sender appears, the rate for each sender is lowered to X/3.  If the
   overall rate cap is too high, a server may experience overload.  If
   the cap is too low, the upstream neighbors will reject requests even
   though they could be processed by the server.

   An approach for estimating a rate cap for each upstream neighbor is
   using a fixed proportion of a control variable, X, where X is
   initially equal to the capacity of the SIP server.  The server then
   increases or decreases X until the workload arrival rate matches the
   actual server capacity.  Usually, this will mean that the sum of the
   rate caps sent out by the server (=X) exceeds its actual capacity,
   but enables upstream neighbors who are not generating more than their
   fair share of the work to be effectively unrestricted.  In this
   approach, the server only has to measure the aggregate arrival rate.
   However, since the overall rate cap is usually higher than the actual
   capacity, brief periods of overload may occur.

9.2.  Loss-based Overload Control

   A loss percentage enables a SIP server to ask an upstream neighbor to
   reduce the number of requests it would normally forward to this
   server by a percentage X. For example, a SIP server can ask an
   upstream neighbor to reduce the number of requests this neighbor
   would normally send by 10%.  The upstream neighbor then redirects or
   rejects X percent of the traffic that is destined for this server.

   An algorithm for the sending entity to implement a loss percentage is
   to draw a random number between 1 and 100 for each request to be
   forwarded.  The request is not forwarded to the server if the random
   number is less than or equal to X.

   An advantage of loss-based overload control is that, the receiving
   entity does not need to track the set of upstream neighbors or the

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   request rate it receives from each upstream neighbor.  It is
   sufficient to monitor the overall system utilization.  To reduce
   load, a server can ask its upstream neighbors to lower the traffic
   forwarded by a certain percentage.  The server calculates this
   percentage by combining the loss percentage that is currently in use
   (i.e., the loss percentage the upstream neighbors are currently using
   when forwarding traffic), the current system utilization and the
   desired system utilization.  For example, if the server load
   approaches 90% and the current loss percentage is set to a 50%
   traffic reduction, then the server can decide to increase the loss
   percentage to 55% in order to get to a system utilization of 80%.
   Similarly, the server can lower the loss percentage if permitted by
   the system utilization.

   Loss-based overload control requires that the throttle percentage is
   adjusted to the current overall number of requests received by the
   server.  This is particularly important if the number of requests
   received fluctuates quickly.  For example, if a SIP server sets a
   throttle value of 10% at time t1 and the number of requests increases
   by 20% between time t1 and t2 (t1<t2), then the server will see an
   increase in traffic by 10% between time t1 and t2.  This is even
   though all upstream neighbors have reduced traffic by 10% as told.
   Thus, percentage throttling requires an adjustment of the throttling
   percentage in response to the traffic received and may not always be
   able to prevent a server from encountering brief periods of overload
   in extreme cases.

9.3.  Window-based Overload Control

   The key idea of window-based overload control is to allow an entity
   to transmit a certain number of messages before it needs to receive a
   confirmation for the messages in transit.  Each sender maintains an
   overload window that limits the number of messages that can be in
   transit without being confirmed.

   Each sender maintains an unconfirmed message counter for each
   downstream neighbor it is communicating with.  For each message sent
   to the downstream neighbor, the counter is increased.  For each
   confirmation received, the counter is decreased.  The sender stops
   transmitting messages to the downstream neighbor when the unconfirmed
   message counter has reached the current window size.

   A crucial parameter for the performance of window-based overload
   control is the window size.  Each sender has an initial window size
   it uses when first sending a request.  This window size can be
   changed based on the feedback it receives from the receiver.

   The sender adjusts its window size as soon as it receives the

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   corresponding feedback from the receiver.  If the new window size is
   smaller than the current unconfirmed message counter, the sender
   stops transmitting messages until more messages are confirmed and the
   current unconfirmed message counter is less than the window size.

   Note that the reception of a 100 Trying response does not provide a
   confirmation for the reception of a message. 100 Trying responses are
   often created by a SIP server very early in processing and do not
   indicate that a message has been successfully processed and cleared
   from the input buffer.  If the downstream neighbor is a stateless
   proxy, it will not create 100 Trying responses at all and instead
   pass through 100 Trying responses created by the next stateful
   server.  Also, 100 Trying responses are typically only created for
   INVITE requests.  Explicit message confirmations do not have these

   Window-based overload control is similar to rate-based overload
   control in that the total available receiver buffer space needs to be
   divided among all upstream neighbors.  However, unlike rate-based
   overload control, window-based overload control is self-limiting and
   can ensure that the receiver buffer does not overflow under normal
   conditions.  The transmission of messages by senders is clocked by
   message confirmations received from the receiver.  A buffer overflow
   can occur if a large number of new upstream neighbors arrives at the
   same time.  However, senders will eventually stop transmitting new
   requests once their initial sending window is closed.

   In window-based overload control, the number of messages a sender is
   allowed to send can frequently be set to zero.  In this state, the
   sender needs to be informed when it is allowed to send again and the
   receiver window has opened up.  However, since the sender is not
   allowed to transmit messages, the receiver cannot convey the new
   window size by piggybacking it in a response to another message.
   Instead, it needs to inform the sender through another mechanism,
   e.g., by sending a message that contains the new window size.

9.4.  Overload Signal-based Overload Control

   The key idea of overload signal-based overload control is to use the
   transmission of a 503 (Service Unavailable) response as a signal for
   overload in the downstream neighbor.  After receiving a 503 (Service
   Unavailable) response, the sender reduces the load forwarded to the
   downstream neighbor to avoid triggering more 503 (Service
   Unavailable) responses.  The sender keeps reducing the load if more
   503 (Service Unavailable) responses are received.  Note that this
   scheme is based on the use of 503 (Service Unavailable) responses
   without Retry-After header as the Retry-After header would require a
   sender to entirely stop forwarding requests.

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   A sender which has not received 503 (Service Unavailable) responses
   for a while but is still throttling traffic can start to increase the
   offered load.  By slowly increasing the traffic forwarded a sender
   can detect that overload in the downstream neighbor has been resolved
   and more load can be forwarded.  The load is increased until the
   sender again receives another 503 (Service Unavailable) response or
   is forwarding all requests it has.  A possible algorithm for
   adjusting traffic is additive increase/multiplicative decrease

   Overload Signal-based Overload Control is a sender-based overload
   control mechanism.

9.5.  On-/Off Overload Control

   On-/off overload control feedback enables a SIP server to turn the
   traffic it is receiving either on or off.  The 503 (Service
   Unavailable) response with Retry-After header implements on-/off
   overload control.  On-/off overload control is less effective in
   controlling load than the fine grained control methods above.  In
   fact, all above methods can realize on/-off overload control, e.g.,
   by setting the allowed rate to either zero or unlimited.

10.  Implicit Overload Control

   Implicit overload control ensures that the transmission of a SIP
   server is self-limiting.  It slows down the transmission rate of a
   sender when there is an indication that the receiving entity is
   experiencing overload.  Such an indication can be that the receiving
   entity is not responding within the expected timeframe or is not
   responding at all.  The idea of implicit overload control is that
   senders should try to sense overload of a downstream neighbor even if
   there is no explicit overload control feedback.  It avoids that an
   overloaded server, which has become unable to generate overload
   control feedback, will be overwhelmed with requests.

   Window-based overload control is inherently self-limiting since a
   sender cannot continue without receiving confirmations.  All other
   explicit overload control schemes described above do not have this
   property and require additional implicit controls to limit
   transmissions in case an overloaded downstream neighbor does not
   generate explicit feedback.

11.  Overload Control Algorithms

   An important aspect of the design of an overload control mechanism is

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   the overload control algorithm.  The control algorithm determines
   when the amount of traffic to a SIP server needs to be decreased and
   when it can be increased.  In terms of the model described in
   Section 4 the control algorithm takes (S) as an input value and
   generates (T) as a result.

   Overload control algorithms have been studied to a large extent and
   many different overload control algorithms exist.  With many
   different overload control algorithms available, it seems reasonable
   to suggest a baseline algorithm in a specification for a SIP overload
   control mechanism and allow the use of other algorithms if they
   provide the same protocol semantics.  This will also allow the
   development of future algorithms, which may lead to a better

12.  Message Prioritization

   Overload control can require a SIP server to prioritize requests and
   select requests that need to be rejected or redirected.  The
   selection is largely a matter of local policy of the SIP server, the
   overall network, and the services it provides.  As a general rule,
   SIP server should prioritize requests for ongoing sessions over
   requests that set up a new session.

   While there are many factors which can affect the prioritization of
   SIP requests, the Resource-Priority header field [RFC4412] is a prime
   candidate for marking the prioritization of SIP requests.  Depending
   on the particular network and the services it offers, a particular
   namespace and priority value in the RPH it could indicate i) a high
   priority request, which should be preserved if possible during
   overload, ii) a low priority request, which should be dropped during
   overload, or iii) a label, which has no impact on message
   prioritization in this network.

   Responses should not be targeted when a SIP server is trying to
   reduce load for a number of reasons.  Responses cannot be rejected
   and would have to be dropped.  This triggers the retransmission of
   the request plus the response, leading to even more load.  In
   addition, the request associated with a response has already been
   processed and dropping the response will waste the efforts that have
   been spent on the request.  Most importantly, rejecting a request
   effectively also removes the request and the response.  If no
   requests are passed along there will be no responses coming back in

   Overload control does not change the retransmission behavior of SIP.
   Retransmissions are triggered using procedures defined in RFC 3261

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   [RFC3261] and not subject to throttling.

13.  Security Considerations

   Overload control mechanisms, in general, have security implications.
   If not designed carefully they can, for example, be used to launch a
   denial of service attack.  The specific security risks and their
   remedies depend on the actual protocol mechanisms chosen for overload
   control.  They need to be addressed in a document that specifies such
   a mechanism.

14.  IANA Considerations

   This document does not require any IANA considerations.

15.  Informative References

   [Abdelal et al.]
              Abdelal, A. and W. Matragi, "Signal-Based Overload Control
              for SIP Servers", 7th Annual IEEE Consumer Communications
              and Networking Conference (CCNC-10), Las Vegas, Nevada,
              USA, January 2010.

   [Hilt et al.]
              Hilt, V. and I. Widjaja, "Controlling Overload in Networks
              of SIP Servers", IEEE International Conference on Network
              Protocols (ICNP'08), Orlando, Florida, October 2008.

   [Noel et al.]
              Noel, E. and C. Johnson, "Initial Simulation Results That
              Analyze SIP Based VoIP Networks Under Overload",
              International Teletraffic Congress (ITC'07), Ottawa,
              Canada, June 2007.

   [RFC3261]  Rosenberg, J., Schulzrinne, H., Camarillo, G., Johnston,
              A., Peterson, J., Sparks, R., Handley, M., and E.
              Schooler, "SIP: Session Initiation Protocol", RFC 3261,
              June 2002.

   [RFC4412]  Schulzrinne, H. and J. Polk, "Communications Resource
              Priority for the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)",
              RFC 4412, February 2006.

   [RFC5390]  Rosenberg, J., "Requirements for Management of Overload in
              the Session Initiation Protocol", RFC 5390, December 2008.

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   [Shen et al.]
              Shen, C., Schulzrinne, H., and E. Nahum, "Session
              Initiation Protocol (SIP) Server Overload Control: Design
              and Evaluation, Principles", Systems and Applications of
              IP Telecommunications (IPTComm'08), Heidelberg, Germany,
              July 2008.

Appendix A.  Contributors

   Many thanks for the contributions, comments and feedback on this
   document to: Mary Barnes (Nortel), Janet Gunn (CSC), Carolyn Johnson
   (AT&T Labs), Paul Kyzivat (Cisco), Daryl Malas (CableLabs), Tom
   Phelan (Sonus Networks), Jonathan Rosenberg (Cisco), Henning
   Schulzrinne (Columbia University), Nick Stewart (British
   Telecommunications plc), Rich Terpstra (Level 3), Fangzhe Chang (Bell

Authors' Addresses

   Volker Hilt
   Bell Labs/Alcatel-Lucent
   791 Holmdel-Keyport Rd
   Holmdel, NJ  07733


   Eric Noel
   AT&T Labs


   Charles Shen
   Columbia University


   Ahmed Abdelal
   Sonus Networks


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