SDN-enabled Session Continuity for Wireless Networks

SDN-enabled Session Continuity for Wireless
Wei-Wen Chen, Li-Hsing Yen, Chia-Lin Chuo, Ting-Hsuan Heish and Chien-Chao Tseng
Department of Computer Science
National Chiao Tung University
Hsinchu, Taiwan, R.O.C.,,,,
Abstract All active sessions of an ordinary host will be broken
if the host changes its IP address as a result of migrating to a new
subnet. Traditional solutions toward this problem either need
modifying mobile hosts or create tunnels that cause inefficient triangle routing. SDN-based mobility schemes, on the other hand, focus on handover latency reduction or fast packet redirection after
handover. There is no SDN-based approach that handles autonomous IP address changes by mobile hosts. As a remedy, we propose SDN-enabled Session Continuity (SDN-SC), as an SDN based
mobility management mechanism that retains session for hosts
roaming across subnets in an SDN network. Particularly, SDN-SC
suppresses possible address re-configurations with techniques
such as gateway spoofing and DHCP lease renewal for mobile
hosts away from home. We studied the performance of SDN-SC
and compared it with that of MIPv4 and PMIPv6. The results
show that SDN-SC outperforms both MIPv4 and PMIPv6 in terms
of handover latency.
Keywords Session Continuity, Mobility Management, Software
Defined Network (SDN), Handover Delay
A large network in the Internet is typically divided into multiple subnets to facilitate network management and traffic engineering. In such a multi subnet network, IP address plays dual
roles. IP address as a routing locator is used in the network
layer to locate nodes in the network. IP address as a node identifier is used in the transport layer to identify a participant or an
endpoint of a networking application.
Particularly, IP address as a node identifier is embedded in
and thus tightly coupled with session identifiers. A session
identifier uniquely identifies a session established between two
end hosts in the Internet. A session identifier should be valid
throughout the lifetime of the session. However, when a roaming host changes its attachment to the Internet, it might change
its IP address as well for IP address being used as a routing
locator. Such a change effectively breaks all on-going sessions
associated with the previous IP address. Therefore, we need a
session continuity scheme that preserves all active sessions for
roaming hosts despite possible changes of IP addresses.
The key to session continuity is to decouple the dual roles
of IP address. IP address as a node identifier should be always
respected for session continuity. On the other hand, IP address
as a routing locator can be changed when mobile host changes
locations. MIPv4 [1] is a mobility management scheme that
takes home IP address as node identifier. When a mobile host
enters a new routing domain, it needs to allocate a care-of address in that domain as a routing locator. The problem with
address should be tunneled to its care-of address. This creates
inefficient triangle routings. Furthermore, the allocation of
care-of address might involve executing dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP) and duplicate address detection (DAD)
procedures, which leads to long handover delays. MIPv6 [2]
needs neither tunneling nor the execution of DHCP and DAD.
However, it (as well as MIPv4) demands protocol modifications
on mobile devices, which may not be viable. On the other hand,
PMIPv6 [3] is a network based mobility management scheme
that needs modifying only network devices. However, it is still
associated with drawbacks such as tunnel usage overhead and
triangle routing paths.
In this paper, we are interested in adopting Software Defined Network (SDN) [4] technology for routing. SDN is an
emerging networking architecture that decouples control plane
from data plane. In SDN, a centralized controller has the visibility over both the networking topology and the exact attached
points of all end devices. Therefore, it is capable to track the
location and arrange traffic flows for each mobile host. More
importantly, SDN no longer relies on IP address as the sole routing directive, making it a promising solution to support host
mobility yet maintain session continuity.
We propose SDN enabled Session Continuity (SDN SC) as
a network based mobility management mechanism that retains
sessions for hosts roaming across subnets. The design of SDNSC ensures the following two properties. First, mobile hosts
need not be aware of the proposed scheme. It is SDN-SC that
takes care of location tracking and packet delivery. Second, mobile hosts retain their IP addresses even when they are away
from their home subnets. These two properties are essential to
session continuity but pose the main design challenges because
mobile hosts may autonomously detect the need to change their
IP addresses. SDN-SC suppresses possible address re-configurations with techniques such as gateway spoofing and DHCP
lease renewal for mobile hosts away from home. Unlike conventional network-based schemes, SDN SC uses direct end-toend routes instead of tunnels to deliver packets to mobile hosts
undergone handovers. This feature avoids potential inefficient
triangle routings.
Handover Delay
Host Modification
Anchor Point
discovery and re-authentication procedures. The controller designates one light AP to serve a mobile host, and manages the
state of the AP to enable such a service.
A comparison among SDN-SC and several existing approaches is presented in Table I.
The rest of this paper is organized as follows. Section II presents background information and related works. Section III details the proposed scheme. Numerical results are reported in
Section IV. Finally, Section V concludes the paper.
SDN has been commonly associated with the OpenFlow
(OF) [5] protocol, which is a south-bound protocol used between the controller and all switches being managed. The controller knows the topology of the whole network and the exact
attached points of all end devices. For this reason, a controller
can easily
Packet delivery in SDN is based on flows, and flows are basically created via reactive flow creation. When an OF-enabled
switch receives a packet with a matching flow, the switch handles (probably forwards) that packet based on the instruction in
the flow table. If there is no match for this packet in the flow
table, the switch sends this packet to the controller with a
packet-in message. The controller creates a flow for this packet,
inserts appropriate flow entries to all switches along the route,
and sends back a packet-out message to let the switch continue
its forwarding.
Figure 1 shows the network architecture of SDN-SC. There
is an SDN controller that manages all OF devices in the target
network. These devices include a border gateway (BGW) that
connects the network to the rest of the Internet, several subnet
gateways (SGWs), one for each subnet, and other OF switches.
The BGW and all SGWs are connected by wired or wireless
links and collectively form a backbone network. Within each
subnet, mobile hosts are assumed to use IEEE 802.11 links to
connect to IEEE 802.11 access points (APs), which are then
connected to the SGW via Ethernet. APs are used as native
layer-two devices that simply bridge the Ethernet and 802.11
Sen and Sivalingam [6] proposed an SDN framework for
seamless mobility management. The framework deploys many
light APs in the network. When an IEEE 802.11 device attaches
to a light AP, the AP processes only Beacon and Probe frames.
Other frames such as authentication and association are handled
directly by SDN controller. All light APs are configured with
the same Service Set Identifier (SSID) and Basic Service Set
Identifier (BSSID) to enable seamless handover. In fact, such a
configuration creates an illusion to a mobile host that there is
only one AP in the whole network so it does not invoke AP
Fig. 1. SDN-SC netwrok architecture
This design significantly shortens handover delay, but it
also poses considerable overhead on the controller. The design
also relies on the availability of light APs. To avoid possible
packet loss during a handover, this method needs creating a tunnel between the home AP and the new AP. The tunnel may
cause the triangle routing problem.
Lin et al. [7] proposed Mobility SDN (M-SDN) to reduce
traffic pause time due to handovers. M-SDN installs N-casting
rules in relevant switches to prepare post-handover traffic flows
for all potential handover targets. In this way, a mobile host can
immediately receive redirected packets right after a layer-two
handover. M-SDN also supports handovers across SDN domains. There is a location server that detects inter-SDN domain
handover and informs controllers in all the potential target domains to prepare post-handover traffic flows.
Although M-SDN as well as other SDN approaches [8, 9]
effectively reduces the latency of packet redirection after a
handover, these approaches ignore the possibility that mobile
hosts may autonomously change their IP addresses for several
reasons. Besides increasing overall handover delay, such an address change will effectively break all active sessions. For this
reason, suppressing the occurrence of address change is as important as packet redirection for a seamless handover that ensures session continuity.
SDN-SC provides four major functions: packet delivery, location tracking, packet redirection and suppression of IP reconfiguration. Packet delivery is done with aggregated routes.
Location tracking tracks the location of each mobile host so as
to create specific flows for each host. Packet redirection modifies routes for all active inter-subnet flows in a mobile host following a layer-two handover of that host. Suppression of IP reconfiguration prevents possible IP address changes activated by
mobile hosts so as to achieve session continuity. This section
details these functions.
A. Aggregated Routes
The problem with basic reactive flow creation in SDN is
scalability. Every time a new session comes in, the controller
creates a new flow and installs needed flow rules to all associated devices. When the number of sessions becomes huge, there
will be considerable flow rules in the backbone network which
places significant burden on the controller as well as switches.
the packet-in message, the controller will perform a location
update. If the MAC address of the mobile host is new to the
controller, the controller will insert a location tuple for this
newly attached host. Otherwise, SDN-SC will update an existing tuple with the same MAC address. The controller will also
generate a Movement Detected event to other function modules
of SDN-SC to take appropriate actions.
Our solution to this problem is to proactively create aggregated routes. We partition the whole address space into blocks
and assign one block to each subnet. Flows for packet delivery
within a subnet are still reactively created because intra-subnet
packet delivery is based on MAC addresses for which no aggregated routes can be created. If the packet-in message corresponds to a broadcast ARP request looking for the MAC ad-
Therefore, the key to a correct and timely location update is
to trigger a packet-in message right after a mobile host attaches
to an AP. After the initial configuration, the first packet issued
by the mobile host will usually be a broadcast ARP request that
gateway. For
mobile host that has undergone a handover, the first packet will
usually be a unicast ARP request or router solicitation for previous gateway detection (discussed later). In both cases, no
matching flow can be found in the SGW and thus will trigger a
location update.
SGW that forwards the packet-in message to return the MAC
the ARP request was received) to the host. This effectively asFor inter-subnet packet delivery, the controller proactively
installs flow rules that implement traditional IP prefix routing
all SGWs in the backbone network. When hosts are in their
home subsets, this implementation delivers packets destined to
these hosts from any other SGW to the SGW of the destina. This approach significantly reduces the number of
flow rules in the backbone network. However, we should additionally deal with packet delivery for mobile hosts that are out
of their home networks. This is exactly what the location tracking function does.
B. Location Tracking
Any mobile host that joins the network should first attach to
an IEEE 802.11 AP. Each AP is connected to some port of an
SGW via Ethernet. Therefore, to locate a mobile host which attaches to some AP, the controller needs to know the Datapath
Identifier (DPID) of the SGW and the port number of the SGW
port to which the AP is connected. These two data, together
with the MAC address of the mobile host, form a location tuple
that allows the controller to uniquely locate and identify a roaming host. The problem is how to keep track of one location tuple
for each mobile host.
After attaching to an AP, a new mobile host attempts configuring its address settings by broadcasting a DHCP discover
message. This and subsequent messages do not cause the SGW
to inform the controller with a packet-in message. Therefore,
the initial configuration will not immediately create a location
tuple in the controller. It is subsequent packets that triggers a
location update.
After the initial configuration, the mobile host may issue
various types of packets. Most intra-subnet unicast packets can
be forwarded either by the AP or the SGW (if the packets match
some flow in the SGW). Inter-subnet packets that match existing flows (for IP prefix routing) can also be handled without
difficulty. On the other hand, packets that do not match any
flow in the SGW will trigger a packet-in message sending to the
controller. The message will be attached
address and ingress port number (among others). On receiving
C. Packet Redirection
Besides location update, SDN-SC also needs to perform
packet redirection, i.e., modifying routes for all active intersubnet flows after a layer-two handover of a mobile host. To
this end, SDN-SC maintains a session record for each host. A
session record keeps track of all active inter-subnet sessions.
Recall that every new session triggers a pack-in message to the
controller because the new session does not match any existing
flow. Upon such events, SDN-SC updates the associated session record. When SDN-SC receives a Movement Detected
event, it calculates new routes for all active sessions and installs
relevant rules. These rules are specific to the mobile host, i.e.,
exceptions to the default aggregated routes.
When an OF switch detects that the condition of some flow
rule has not been matched for an extended period of time, the
switch deletes the corresponding rule and informs the controller
of that deletion by Flow_Removed OF message. On receiving
that message, SDN-SC removes the associated session from the
session record.
D. Suppressing IP Re-configuration
As we do not modify the behaviors of mobile host, it is chalaway from home. There are many occasions for an ordinary
host to autonomously configure a new IP address and related
network-layer settings for its IEEE 802.11 interface. We discuss these occasions and possible treatments as follows.
Initial Configuration. A host should configure its IP settings
before its packets can be delivered throughout the network. We
assume that the IP settings are dynamically configured through
DHCP protocol. Initial configuration is essential and causes no
problem to session continuity.
Change of Service Set Identifier (SSID). When a mobile host
switches from one AP to another with a different SSID, the mobile host may be forced to change its IP settings via DHCP even
if these two APs belong to the same subnet [10]. To avoid possible change of SSIDs, we configure all APs with the same
Failure of Previous Gateway Detection. Although all APs
are configured with the same SSID, they have different BSSIDs
(i.e., MAC addresses). Therefore, mobile hosts can detect the
change of APs. For that reason, the first action performed by a
mobile host after a layer-two handover is usually 1 previous
gateway detection which checks the reachability of the serving
gateway in the current subnet. For IPv4, previous gateway detection is realized by a unicast ARP request that looks for the
MAC address of the configured default gateway. For IPv6, previous gateway detection is realized by a router solicitation message with the expectation of a router advertisement message in
return. If the two APs belong to different subnets, the detection
surely fails because neither the unicast ARP request nor the
router solicitation message can cross subnets. The failure of the
previous gateway detection will cause a layer-three handover,
i.e., change of IP settings.
To prevent possible failure of the previous gateway detection, SDN-SC implements gateway spoofing. After being informed of a Movement Detected event and knowing that the
packet-in message is a unicast ARP request, SDN-SC sends
back a packet-out message to the SGW to instruct the SGW to
return an ARP response to the mobile host. This action makes
the mobile host believe that its default gateway is still reachable
and thus prevents the host from initiating a new address configuration.
Failure of DHCP Lease Time Update. All IP settings configured through a DHCP are associated with respective lease
durations. Before the expiration of the current lease (usually at
halfway through the lease period), the host should request renewal and extension of the lease from the DHCP server. This is
done through a unicast DHCP request message. If the host receives an acknowledgement (DHCP Ack) before the current
lease expires, the host can keep its settings. Otherwise, the host
should re-configure its IP settings and may possibly change its
IP address.
To make the host believe that the DHCP server grants its
request, SDN-SC sends back DHCP Ack to the host. Besides,
SDNserver to extend the lease. Furthermore, because DHCP messages are delivered via UDP which may get lost, SDN-SC establishes a TCP connection for the delivery of DHCP-related
packets between the controller and each SGW. There is still a
small probability that the request for lease update fails because
TCP connections end at SGWs rather than hosts and DHCP
E. Implementation Details
The software architecture of SDN-SC is shown in Fig. 2.
We implemented SDN-SC as an App running on Ryu controller.
The App cooperates with an official Topology App which retrieves network topology data. We augmented the Topology
App with the proposed location tracking function. The modified
Topology App will notify the SDN-SC App of a Movement Detected event when it detects a host movement.
This is implementation dependent.
Fig. 2. Software Architecture of SDN-SC
The SDN-SC App has its own event queue that stores events
from the data path, the Topology App, and itself. Running as an
event loop thread, the SDN-SC App repeatedly picks one event
from the event queue and calls one of the following three event
handlers: Packet_In, Flow_Removed and Host_Modify. The
event handler may then call other function modules.
The Packet_In handler processes packet-in messages and
calls an appropriate function module. If the packet-in message
corresponds to DHCP-related packets, the handler calls Lease
Time Proxy DHCP module, which prevents potential failures of
DHCP lease renewal. If the message corresponds to ARP packets, the handler calls Proxy ARP module, which implements
gateway spoofing. All other packet-in messages are processed
by the Packet Forwarding module, which, for each new session,
creates a flow and adds an entry to the session record.
The Flow_Removed handler processes Flow_Removed
messages. It removes obsolete flow rules and deletes associated
entry from the corresponding session record.
The Host_Modify handler takes care of Movement Detected
events and invokes Packet Re-Routing module. The module implements packet redirection.
We conducted experiments to compare SDN-SC with
MIPv4 and PMIPv6. We are primarily concerned with the latency caused by each scheme.
A. MIPv4 vs. SDN-SC
We used OpenNet [11] to simulate the experimental environment as shown in Figures 3 and 4. In all simulations, a mobile node (MN) used a TCP connection to send 8 Mb data to a
corresponding node (CN). During the transmission, the MN experienced one to four inter-subnet handovers. We varied the
number of handovers to investigate several time metrics. The
results were obtained based on TCP dump data collected at the
CN with Wireshark. We measured the performance of MIPv4
and SDN-SC in terms of handover delay, effective transmission
time and total file transmission time.
Fig. 6. Handover Delay: MIPv4 vs.SDN-SC
Fig. 3. Experimental Environment - MIPv4
Fig. 7. Effective Transmission Time: MIPv4 vs. SDN-SC
Fig. 4. Experimental Environment
Handover delay (HD) is the length of the duration measured
at the CN that starts from the receipt of the last packet before
handover to the receipt of the first packet after handover. Effective transmission time (ETT) measures the total time actually
spent in packet transmission. Total file transmission time
(TFTT) is the time between the receipts of the first and the last
packets at the CN. Figure 5 shows the components that comprise the TFTT for a session between the CN and the MN that
undergoes two handovers. The components include the ETT before the first handover (ETT1), the first HD (HD1), the ETT
after but before the second handover (ETT2), the second HD
(HD2) and the ETT after the second handover (ETT3). Figures
6 to 8 show the results of HD, ETT, and TFTT, respectively.
Observe that SDN-SC outperforms MIPv4 in all settings.
Fig. 8. Total File Transmission Time: MIPv4 vs. SDN-SC
B. PMIPv6 vs. SDN-SC
As we found no implementation of PMIPv6, we analyzed
first all the tasks to be done for handovers in PMIPv6 and SDNSC, respectively. The results are shown in Table II. The main
difference between PMIPv6 and SDN-SC is that PMIPv6 needs
no flow rule installation and SDN-SC needs no explicit location
update message.
L3H Detection
Fig. 5. The components of TFTT
Location Update
Flow Rule Installation
First Packet
(Router solicitation)
(Unicast ARP)
(Done by L3H Detection)
(Tunnel & Anchor point forward)
(Flow rule match & Direct route)
measured the data transmission time. The data transmission
time of PMIPv6 and SDN-SC is shown in Fig. 10. As expected,
SDN-SC has a shorter data transmission time than PMIPv6. The
difference is more significant with a larger data size.
Fig. 9. Experimental Environment: PMIPv6 vs. SDN-SC
Flow Rule Installation
First Packet Delivery
L3H Detection
Location Update
Figure 9 shows the experimental environments for PMIPv6
and SDN-SC, respectively. We ignored
time and focused on link delay. The link delay of each link is
shown in Fig. 9. With this setting, Table III shows the delays
incurred by the tasks of PMIPv6 and SDN-SC, respectively. For
the sum of delays caused by layer-two handover (L2H), layerthree handover (L3H) detection and location update phases, the
result of PMIPv6 is identical to that of SDN-SC.2 Therefore, the
relative performance of these two schemes only depends on
data transmission time, i.e., the time to the delivery of the first
packet after location update (for SDN-SC, the time for flow installation also counts.)
Fig. 10. Data Transmission Time: PMIPv6 vs. SDN-SC
We used OpenNet to simulate the network environment
shown in Fig. 9. In simulations, MN created a TCP connection
to send data to CN. We varied the amount of data sent and used
qperf [12] to measure data transmission time after location update. Although we do not have PMIPv6 implementation, we
created a tunnel to simulate packet deliver in PMIPv6 and thus
Here we ignore the delay incurred by AAA authentication in
We have proposed SDN-enabled Session Continuity (SDNSC) to retain sessions for hosts roaming across subnets in an
SDN network. SDN-SC is a network-based mobility management scheme that ensures session continuity and provides direct
routes. Unlike previous SDN-enabled mobility approaches
which only focus on packet redirection, SDN-SC particularly
suppresses autonomous IP re-configurations. When compared
with existing schemes, MIPv4 and PMIPv6, numerical results
indicate that SDN-SC yielded the lowest latency.
Future extensions of this work include actual implementation of PMIPv6 for performance comparison and investigating
the impact of the Flow Rule Installation Time on performance.
We shall study additional performance metrics like packet loss
rate. We also consider reducing the number of flow rules by
using non-direct routes. Finally, M-SDN may be integrated
with SDN-SC to predict handover targets and pre-install flow
This work was supported in part by Ministry of Science and
Technology under the contract numbers MOST 105-2622-8009-008 and MOST 104-2221-E-009-021-MY3.
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