Virtually the Same: Comparing Physical and Virtual Testbeds

Jonathan Crussell, Thomas M Kroeger, Aaron Brown, Cynthia Phillips

Network designers, planners, and security professionals increasingly rely on large-scale virtual testbeds to emulate networks and make decisions about real-world deployments. However, there has been limited research on how well these virtual testbeds match their physical counterparts. Specifically, does the virtualization that these testbeds depend on actually capture real-world behaviors sufficiently well to support decisions? As a first step, we perform simple experiments on both physical and virtual testbeds to begin to understand where and how the testbeds differ. We set up a web service on one host and run ApacheBench against this service from a different host, instrumenting each system during these tests. We define an initial repeatable methodology to quantitatively compare testbeds. Specifically, we compare the testbeds at three levels of abstraction: application, operating system (OS) and network. For the application level, we use the ApacheBench results. For OS behavior, we compare patterns of system call orderings using Markov chains. This provides a unique visual representation of the workload and OS behavior in our testbeds. We also drill down into read-system-call behaviors and show how at one level both systems are deterministic and identical, but as we move up in abstractions that consistency declines. Finally, we use packet captures to compare network behaviors and performance. We reconstruct flows and compare per-flow and per-experiment statistics. We find that the behavior of the workload in the testbeds is similar but that the underlying processes to support it do vary. The low-level network behavior can vary widely in packetization depending on the virtual network driver. While these differences can be important, and knowing about them will help experiment designers, the core application and OS behaviors still represent similar processes.

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