The Future of TCP: Train-wreck or Evolution?

Stanford Clean Slate  Internet ProgramStanford University


April 1, 2008
Stanford University, Stanford, CA

Sponsored by:

The Stanford Clean Slate Internet Program
Cisco Systems
The Stanford Computer Forum

Workshop Description:

Spurred on by a widespread belief that TCP is showing its age and needs replacing - and a deeper understanding of the dynamics of congestion control - the research community has brought forward many new congestion control algorithms. There has been lots of debate about the relative merits and demerits of the new schemes; and a standardization effort is under way in the IETF.

But before the next congestion control mechanism is deployed, it will need to be deployed widely in operating systems and - in some cases - in switches and routers too. This will be a long road, requiring the buy-in of many people: Researchers, product developers and business leaders too. Our own experience of proposing new congestion control algorithms has been met with the challenge: "Show me the compelling need for a new congestion control mechanisms?", and "What will really happen to the Internet (and my business) if we keep TCP just the way it is?"

As a community, we need examples that are simple to understand, and demonstrate a compelling need for change. We call them the "Train wreck scenarios". Examples might show that distribution of video over wireless in the home will come to a halt without new algorithms. Or that P2P traffic will bring the whole network crashing down. Or that huge, high-performance data-centers need new algorithms. Whatever your favorite example, we believe that if we are collectively armed with a handful of mutually agreed examples, it will be much easier to make a business case for change. Or put another way, if we can't articulate compelling examples to industry leaders, then is the cost and risk of change worth it?

The goal of the workshop is to identify a handful of really compelling demonstrations of the impending train-wreck. The outcome will be a set of canonical examples that we will use to persuade industry of the need for change.

You can choose the way you present your demonstration: You could bring equipment and show a live-demo; you could show simulations or animations; or you could produce a video showing a real or synthetic demo. Whatever method you choose, the goal is to create a case that will persuade a mildly-technical but influential business leader of the need for change.

We will invite a panel of judges to give prizes for the most compelling examples in two categories: (1) The Overall Most Compelling Example, which will be judged on a combination of the technical merits and the presentation of the scenario, and (2) The Most Technically Compelling Example, which will be judged on its technical merit alone, without consideration of the way it is presented.

The whole purpose of the workshop it to focus on the problem, not the solutions. We are most definitely not interested in your favorite scheme, or ours. So we need some ground-rules.

  1. No-one is allowed to mention a specific mechanism, algorithm or proposal at any time during the workshop: Not in their talk, not in a panel, and not in questions to the speakers.

  2. The only mechanisms that will be allowed mention are: TCP (in its standard and deployed flavors), and idealized alternatives for purposes of demonstration. For example, comparing TCP with an oracle that provides instantaneous optimal rates to each flow.

We will video the entire workshop and all the demonstrations, and make it publicly available on the Internet. We will make any proceedings and talks available too. The goal is to open up the demonstrations for public scrutiny and feedback after the event.

The event is hosted by the Stanford Clean Slate Program and local arrangements will be made by the Stanford Computer Forum, Nick McKeown and Nandita Dukkipati. The workshop has received offers of support and funding from Cisco Systems and Microsoft.

Last updated March 30, 2008