Emulation and Realtime Scheduler

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Emulation and Realtime Scheduler

There are two large pieces to the emulation and realtime scheduler project. Not too surprisingly they are the emulation part and the realtime scheduler part.

Realtime Scheduler

The purpose of the realtime scheduler is to cause the progression of the simulation clock to occur synchronously with respect to some external time base. Without the presence of an external time base (wall clock), simulation time jumps instantly from one simulated time to the next.

In order to create a realtime scheduler, to a first approximation you just want to cause simulation time jumps to consume real time. We propose doing this using a combination of sleep- and busy- waits. Sleep-waits cause the calling process (thread) to yield the processor for some amount of time. Even though this specified amount of time can be passed to nanosecond resolution, it is actually converted to an OS-specific granularity. In Linux, the granularity is called a Jiffy. Typically this resolution is insufficient for our needs (on the order of a ten milliseconds), so we round down and sleep for some smaller number of Jiffies. The process is then awakened after the specified number of Jiffies has passed. At this time, we have some residual time to wait. This time is generally smaller than the minimum sleep time, so we busy-wait for the remainder of the time. This means that the thread just sits in a for loop consuming cycles until the desired time arrives. After the combination of sleep- and busy-waits, the elapsed realtime (wall) clock should agree with the simulation time of the next event and the simulation proceeds.


Using the realtime scheduler you can create an N second simulation that will consume N seconds of real time. This is not a terrifically useful feature by itself. To make it useful you need to connect the simulation to the real world that is proceeding according to that realtime clock. In the case of network emulation, this means connecting ns-3 to a at least one real device.

We are providing ns-3 net devices that will look like a usual ns-3 simulated device from the top, but will connect to a real physical network underneath using a packet (raw) socket. By itself this presents little challenge, but one are of concern is the requirement that a process be running as suid root in order to read and write the required sockets. The brute force and awkwardness solution is to simply run the simulation as root. Another option is to use chown and chmod the executable to suid root. This doesn't require the root login, but you still have a rather large application running as root. If one is concerned primarily with limiting the amount of code running as root, but not security, we could provide a net-device smaller process that can read and write raw sockets that runs as root, to which the larger simulation connects. This has the drawback of opening a giant security hole. If you have any opinions or strong requirements in this respect, please let me know.

Emulation plus Realtime Scheduler

If you consider how an ns-3 simulation might drive a physical net device, it is straightforward. When you want the physical net device to drive the simulation, you need to be able to allow the net device to schedule events in the simulator. Since the basic model for sockets is synchronous, we will need to have a thread reading data from a physical net device in real time. We also want to have at least one thread executing the simulation. It seems clear that we are going to have a multithreaded solution. This means we needed to serialize the scheduler.

Also. since there is going to be a need for the net device thread to affect the main scheduler thread we are going to have some form of inter-thread communication. Typically, the scheduler will be sleeping waiting to synchronize with real time. IF a net device receives a packet, we need to be able to schedule a new packet reception event and to wake the scheduler and force it to re-evaluate what it needs to do. This will most likely mean the scheduler will have to execute the newly scheduled event (and derived events) and then go back to sleep waiting for the next event time.

A useful OS construct for doing exactly this kind of wait is a timed conditional wait. Posix Threads (pthreads) implements this functionality as pthread_cond_timedwait. We use the condition as a request for interruption by a realtime device. If a pthread_cond_timedwait is requested, a sleep-wait is performed for a specified time. If the condition does not become true during that time (a timeout) then the function call will return and we will have accomplished our needed sleep-wait. If an external (to the simulation proper) device sets the condition, then the sleep-wait will return early. The scheduler then wakes up and re-evaluates its next action.

Since multiple threads are wandering around in the scheduler, we need to be careful about protecting shared data structures of course.

We have added the required kernel thread and synchronization classes to ns-3-dev as of July, 2008.

Higher Order Effects

Since we are attempting to run our simulations at realtime, and have already committed to a multithreaded environment, we have plenty of need and new opportunity for performance optimizations. Others (Mahrenholz et al.) have considered the kinds of optimizations that can be done so I won't duplicate this here, but at this stage of the game we consider them higher order effects that we'll worry about when the time comes.

Current Status

The basic project is complete. The realtime simulator was part of the ns-3.2 release. The EmuNetDevice was part of the ns-3.3 release. The TapBridge was part of the ns-3.4 release. We did a demo of the EmuNetDevice at Sigcomm in 2008 with this topology:


There is a HOWTO describing how to set up the virtual machines here. You can find the sigcomm demo repository here.

There are two use cases we've defined so far: using ns-3 nodes and stacks but substituting real net devices and real networks in a simulation; and the converse which is using an ns-3 simulated network between real nodes and stacks.

Craigdo 23:53, 27 March 2009 (UTC)