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Foundation Topics

Queuing Overview

Queuing is the process of sequencing packets before they leave a router interface. Normally, packets leave the router in the order they arrived. This first-in, first-out (FIFO) process does not give any special attention to voice or mission-critical traffic through the router. Today's networks may require special sequencing to ensure that important packets get through the router in a timely fashion. Cisco routers have a variety of queuing techniques that may be used to improve traffic throughput.

Along with a discussion of traffic queuing, this chapter also addresses the topic of compression. Compression is a somewhat misunderstood tool. Although compression has a number of situations in which it is useful, it has just as many circumstances in which it is detrimental.

The misconception that queuing is a necessary part of any router configuration is a topic that needs to be dealt with up front. As mentioned, any queuing strategy results in higher delay in the network, because of a higher per-packet processor requirement. In other words, each traffic type must be sorted out and dealt with according to the defined parameters of the queue. This is the trade-off for assuring that your critical traffic passes through the router. In an oversimplified view, queuing is simply sorting packets into some new sequence before they leave any particular interface.

Queuing is only necessary when the existing traffic flow is having problems getting through the router. If all traffic is going through properly and no packet drops are occurring, leave it alone. Simply put, in the absence of congestion, do not implement a queuing strategy and leave the default setting alone. Depending on the interface type and speed, a queuing strategy might already be in place. Again, if it works, do not change it. That point cannot be stressed enough.

It is also important to remember that regardless of the queuing method that is employed, in most cases, it never actually functions unless the egress interface is busy. If an interface is not stressed, and there is no outbound packet congestion, then the queuing strategy is not applied (LLQ is the exception to this rule). It you want the queuing policy to work at all times, you must adjust the outbound hardware buffers to make it appear that the interface is always busy.

The concept of queuing is shown in Figure 15-1. In this diagram, packets are arriving at an interface at various intervals. Some are considered more important than others, but the router is not capable of distinguishing this by itself. Also, the flow of packets toward the interface is greater than the interface can empty out on the other side.

Figure 1Figure 15-1 Queuing Concepts

Figure 15-1 shows that the voice packet arrived last, yet exits first. Also, small, interactive packets such as Telnet packets have the next highest priority. And finally, the generic web packets are sent through the router. Without a defined queuing mechanism, packets would be sent FIFO. In Figure 15-1, FIFO would not be a good option, because the voice and Telnet packets would suffer.

There are two advanced types of queuing discussed in detail later in this chapter:

  • Class-Based Weighted Fair Queuing (CBWFQ)

  • Low-Latency Queuing (LLQ)

Before CBWFQ is explored, the concepts leading up to it need to be reviewed. Thus, First-In, First-Out (FIFO queuing, Fair Queuing (FQ), and Weighted Fair Queuing (WFQ) are briefly covered. This background information makes it much easier to understand CBWFQ. LLQ is a natural follow-on to, and actually an extension of, CBWFQ.

Queuing is most effectively implemented on WAN links. Bursty traffic and low data rates can combine to create a congestive situation that can require administrative oversight to correct. Depending on the maximum transmission units (MTUs) of the surrounding media, queuing is most effective when applied to links with T1 (1.544 Mbps) or E1 (2.048 Mbps) bandwidth speeds or lower. In fact, any serial interfaces on a Cisco router use WFQ by default if the throughput (clockrate) is less than or equal to 2 Mbps.

If congestion is temporary, queuing can be a proper remedy to the situation. If the congestion is chronic, queuing can compound the issue by introducing additional delay. If congestion is a constant issue, then it might be time to accept the fact that a bandwidth upgrade (and possibly a router upgrade) is in order. Although a circuit or hardware upgrade will cost considerably more than implementing a policy change, there are times when there is no other choice.

The establishment of a queuing policy assists the network administrator with handling individual traffic types. The goal, typically, is to maintain the stability of the overall network, even in the face of numerous traffic needs and types. Unfortunately, a lot of time can be spent supporting traffic types that are not in line with company goals. Some administrators will transport all traffic, regardless of whether it is really necessary. Sometimes, it might be difficult to create or enforce a policy of policing traffic (throwing out stuff that does not belong). Thus, queuing is necessary to sequence the important traffic first, and maybe leave the less important stuff to the back of the line.

Queuing is an organization policy. It decides the order that packets leave any given interface. Queuing does not increase bandwidth. It simply works within the parameters of an interface and best utilizes those parameters. Note that different queuing strategies have different opinions on the term "best."

Once the decision has been made to implement a queuing strategy, you must decide which queuing strategy should be utilized. Figure 15-1 serves as a fundamental map to assist in that decision. As shown in the figure, you must determine whether the level of congestion constitutes a condition that requires queuing. Once you make that determination, another decision awaits. How strictly should the control of the queuing policy be enforced? Are the defaults OK, or should a more granular approach be applied?

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