REconfiguration matters

Network configuration and management is an important problem for all network operators. IP networks are implemented by using a large number of switches and routers from different vendors. All these devices must be configured by the operators to maximise the performance of the network. In some networks, configuration files contain several tens of thousands of lines per device. Managing all these configurations is costly in large networks. Some researchers have worked on analysing the complexity of these networks and proposing abstractions to allow operators to better configure their network. Still, network configuration and management is often closer to an art than to science.

Researchers often consider the network configuration problem as a design problem. Starting from a blank sheet, how can a network operator define his/her objectives and then derive the configuration files that meet these objectives. This is not how networks are operated. Network operators almost never have the opportunity to design and configure a network from scratch. This only happens in new datacenters or new entreprise networks. In their recent work, Laurent Vanbever, Stefano Vissicchio and other colleagues have addressed a slightly different but much more relevant problem : network REconfiguration. There are only two letters of difference between network configuration and network REconfiguration, but these two letters reflect one of the important sources of complexity in managing a network and introducting new services. Once a network has been configured, it must remain in operation 24h per day, 365 days per year. Network equipment can remain in operation for 5-10 years and during their period their role in the network changes. All these changes must be done with as few impact as possible on the network.

To better understand the difficulty of reconfiguring a network, it is interesting to have a brief look at earlier papers that deal with similar problems. A decade ago, routing sessions had to be reset for each policy change or when the operating system of the router had to be upgraded. Aman Shaikh and others have shown that it is possible to update the control plane of a router without disrupting the dataplane [Shaikh:2006:AID:1143396.1143403]. Various graceful shutdown and graceful restart techniques have been proposed and implemented for the major control plane protocols. Another simple example of a reconfiguration problem is when operators need to change the OSPF weight associated to one link. This can happen for traffic engineering or maintenance purposes. This change triggers an OSPF convergence than can cause transient loops. Pierre Francois and others have proposed techniques that allow these simple reconfigurations to occur without causing transient forwarding problems [Francois:2007:ATL:1373476.1373482][4215601]. Another step to aid network reconfiguration was the shadow configuration paper [Alimi:2008:SCN:1402946.1402972] that shows how to run different configurations in the same network at a given time.

During the last years, several network Reconfiguration problems have been addressed. The first problem is the migration from one configuration of a link-state routing protocol (e.g. OSPF without areas) to another link-state routing protocol (e.g. IS-IS with areas). At first glance, this problem could appear to be simple. However, network operators who have performed such a transition have spent more than half a year to plan the transition and analyse all the problems that could occur. [Vanbever:2011:SNI:2018436.2018473] provides first a theoretical framework that shows the problems that could occur during such a reconfiguration. It shows that it is possible to avoid transient forwarding problems during the reconfiguration by using a ships-in-the night approach and updating the configuration of the routers in a specific order. Unfortunately, finding this ordering is an NP-complete problem. However, the paper proposes heuristics that find a suitable ordering and applies it to real networks and provides measurements from a prototype reconfigurator that manages an emulated network.

A second problem are the BGP reconfigurations. Given the complexity of BGP, it is not surprising that BGP reconfigurations are more difficult than IGP reconfigurations. [6195595] first shows that signalling and forwarding correctness that are usually used to very iBGP configuration are not sufficient properties. Dissemination correctness must be ensured in addition to these two properties. :cite:`6327628`_ analyses several iBGP reconfiguration problems and identifies some problematic configurations. To allow an iBGP reconfiguration, this paper proposes and evaluates a BGP multiplexer that combined with encapsulation enables iBGP reconfigurations. The proposed solution provably enables lossless BGP reconfigurations by leveraging existing technology to run multiple isolated control-planes in parallel.

This work on REconfiguration has already lead up to some follow-up work. For example, [Reitblatt:2012:ANU:2342356.2342427] has proposed techniques that use tagging to allow software-defined networks to support migrations in a seamless manner. We can expect to rad more papers that deal with REconfiguration problems in the coming years.

[AWY08]Richard Alimi, Ye Wang, and Y. Richard Yang. Shadow configuration as a network management primitive. SIGCOMM Comput. Commun. Rev., 38(4):111–122, August 2008. URL:, doi:10.1145/1402946.1402972.
[FSB07]P. Francois, M. Shand, and O. Bonaventure. Disruption free topology reconfiguration in ospf networks. In INFOCOM 2007. 26th IEEE International Conference on Computer Communications. IEEE, volume, 89 –97. may 2007. URL:, doi:10.1109/INFCOM.2007.19.
[FB07]Pierre Francois and Olivier Bonaventure. Avoiding transient loops during the convergence of link-state routing protocols. IEEE/ACM Trans. Netw., 15(6):1280–1292, December 2007. URL:, doi:10.1109/TNET.2007.902686.
[RFR+12]Mark Reitblatt, Nate Foster, Jennifer Rexford, Cole Schlesinger, and David Walker. Abstractions for network update. In Proceedings of the ACM SIGCOMM 2012 conference on Applications, technologies, architectures, and protocols for computer communication, SIGCOMM ‘12, 323–334. New York, NY, USA, 2012. ACM. URL:, doi:10.1145/2342356.2342427.
[SDV06]Aman Shaikh, Rohit Dube, and Anujan Varma. Avoiding instability during graceful shutdown of multiple ospf routers. IEEE/ACM Trans. Netw., 14(3):532–542, June 2006. URL:, doi:10.1109/TNET.2006.876152.
[VVP+11]Laurent Vanbever, Stefano Vissicchio, Cristel Pelsser, Pierre Francois, and Olivier Bonaventure. Seamless network-wide igp migrations. In Proceedings of the ACM SIGCOMM 2011 conference, SIGCOMM ‘11, 314–325. New York, NY, USA, 2011. ACM. URL:, doi:10.1145/2018436.2018473.
[VCVB12]S. Vissicchio, L. Cittadini, L. Vanbever, and O. Bonaventure. Ibgp deceptions: more sessions, fewer routes. In INFOCOM, 2012 Proceedings IEEE, volume, 2122 –2130. march 2012. URL:, doi:10.1109/INFCOM.2012.6195595.