Google Research

PLB: Congestion Signals are Simple and Effective for Network Load Balancing

SIGCOMM (2022)


We describe our experience with PLB, a host-based load balancing design for modern networks. PLB randomly changes the paths of connections that experience congestion, preferring idle periods to minimize transport interactions. It does so by changing the IPv6 FlowLabel on the packets of a connection, which switches include as part of the ECMP flow hash. Across many hosts, this action drives down the number of hotspots in the network, while separating short RPCs from elephant flows to keep their completion time low.

We use PLB fleetwide in Google networks for TCP and PonyExpress (RDMA-like) traffic. We find it to be simple, general, and effective. It was easy to deploy, co-existing with other traffic, requiring only small transport modifications and little of switches, and needing no application changes. And it has produced large gains across the board, for multiple transports and from datacenter through backbone networks. After deploying PLB, the median utilization imbalance of busy switches in Google datacenter networks fell by 60\% and packet drops correspondingly fell by 33\%. At hosts, the tail latency (99$^{th}$ percentile) of short RPCs fell by up to 25\%.

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