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In OCP, efficient packet delivery is crucial for maintaining smooth communication between applications. However, packets might occasionally get dropped due to various factors, such as network congestion, misconfigured systems, or hardware limitations. Detecting and diagnosing these packet drops is essential for optimizing network performance and maintaining a high quality of service. This situation is where eBPF (extended Berkeley Packet Filter) comes into play as a powerful real-time network performance analysis tool. This blog looks at how Network Observability using eBPF can help detect and understand packet drops, enabling network administrators and engineers to address network issues proactively.

Detecting packet drops with eBPF

eBPF enables developers to set up tracepoints at key locations within the network stack. These tracepoints can help intercept packets at specific events, such as when they are received, forwarded, or transmitted. By analyzing the events around packet drops, you can gain insight into the reasons behind them. Network Observability uses the tracepoint/skb/kfree_skb tracepoint hook to detect when packets are dropped, determine why packets drop, and reconstruct the flow by enriching it with drop metadata such as packets and bytes statistics. For TCP, only the latest TCP connection state and the TCP connection flags are added. The packet drops eBPF hook supports the TCP, UDP, SCTP, ICMPv4, and ICMPv6 protocols. There are two main categories for packet drops. The first category, core subsystem drops, covers most host drop reasons; for the complete list, please refer to drop-reason. Second, there are OVS-based drops, a recent kernel enhancement. For reference, please check out the following link OVS-drop-reason.

Kernel support

The drop cause tracepoint API is a recent kernel feature only available from the RHEL 9.2 kernel and later. Older kernels will ignore this feature if it is configured.

How to enable packet drops

By default, packet drops detection is disabled because it requires privileged access to the host kernel. To enable the feature, create a FlowCollector object with the following fields enabled in the eBPF config section:

apiVersion: flows.netobserv.io/v1beta1
kind: FlowCollector
metadata:
  name: cluster
spec:
  agent:
    type: EBPF
    ebpf:
      privileged: true
      features:
      - PacketDrop

 

A quick tour of the UI

Once you enable the PacketDrop feature, the OCP console plugin automatically adapts to provide additional filters and show information across Netflow Traffic page views.

Open the OCP Console and move to the Administrator view -> Observe -> Network Traffic page.

A new query option is now available to filter flows by their drop status:

drop filter query option

  • Fully dropped shows the flows that have 100% dropped packets.
  • Containing drops shows the flows having at least one packet dropped.
  • Without drops shows the flows having 0% dropped packets.
  • All shows all of the above.

Two new filters, Packet drop TCP state and Packet drop latest cause, are available in the common section:

drop state & cause filters

The first one allows you to set the TCP state filter:

state filter

  • A _LINUX_TCP_STATES_H number like 1, 2, 3
  • A _LINUX_TCP_STATES_H TCP name like ESTABLISHED, SYN_SENT, SYN_RECV

The second one lets you pick causes to filter on:

cause filter

  • A _LINUX_DROPREASON_CORE_H number like 2, 3, 4
  • A _LINUX_DROPREASON_CORE_H SKB_DROP_REASON name like NOT_SPECIFIED, NO_SOCKET, PKT_TOO_SMALL

Overview

New graphs are introduced in the advanced options -> manage panels popup:

advanced options

  • Top X flow dropped rates stacked
  • Total dropped rate
  • Top X dropped state
  • Top X dropped cause
  • Top X flow dropped rates stacked with total

Select the desired graphs to render them in the Overview panel:

drop_graphs1

drop_graphs2

drop_graphs3

Note that you can compare the top drops against total dropped or total traffic in the last graph using the kebab menu drop graph option.

drop_graph_options

Traffic flows

The table view shows the number of bytes and packets sent in green and the related numbers dropped in red. Additionally, you can get details about the drop in the side panel that brings you to the proper documentation.

drop table

Topology

Last but not least, the topology view displays edges containing drops in red. That's useful, especially when digging on a specific drop reason between two resources.

drop_topology

Potential use-case scenarios

NO_SOCKET drop reason: There might be packet drops observed due to the destination port not being reachable. This can be emulated by running a curl command on a node to an unknown port:

while : ; do curl <another nodeIP>:<unknown port>; sleep 5; done

 

The drops can be observed on the console as seen below:

NO_SOCKET drop table

NO_SOCKET drop overview

OVS_DROP_LAST_ACTION drop reason: OVS packet drops can be observed on RHEL 9.2 and above. It can be emulated by running the iperf command with network-policy set to drop on a particular port. These drops can be observed on the console as seen below:

OVS drop table

OVS drop topology

OVS drop overview

Resource impact of using PacketDrop

The performance impact of using PacketDrop enabled with the Network Observability operator is noticeable on the flowlogs-pipeline (FLP) component using ~22% and ~9% more vCPU and memory, respectively, compared to the baseline. The impact on other components is not significant (less than a 3% increase).

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Netobserv is an open source project available on GitHub. Feel free to share your ideas, use cases, or ask the community for help.