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A Brief Tutorial on ATM

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                        A Brief Tutorial on ATM             (DRAFT)

                        Zahir Ebrahim

                        March 5, 1992

0.0 Preamble

This tutorial is an attempt to qualitatively present the ATM concepts,
and to introduce it gently to readers unfamiliar with the subject.
The purpose of this writeup is to bring interested readers up to speed
on what the heck is this "ATM". There are also some "opinions" presented
in this writeup. Please feel to disagree. And if I may have mis-stated
some fact or something is in error, I would be happy to learn about it.

If the reader is interested in knowing the exact bit locations
in the ATM header, or how to design and implement an ATM interface card,
or other facts and figures about interconnect speeds etc, he/she is
directed towards the copious ATM standards committees documents where
the latest and greatest information is available in the most
excruciating detail.

1.0 What is this acronym ATM ?

ATM stands for (no not automated teller machines) "Asynchronous Transfer
Mode". It is primarily driven by telecommunications companies and is a
proposed telecommunications standard for Broadband ISDN.

2.0 Motivation for ATM

In order to understand what ATM is all about, a brief introduction
to STM is in order. ATM is the complement of STM which stands for
"Synchronous Transfer Mode". STM is used by telecommunication backbone
networks to transfer packetized voice and data across long distances. It
is a circuit switched networking mechanism, where a connection is
established between two end points before data transfer commences, and
torn down when the two end points are done. Thus the end points allocate
and reserve the connection bandwidth for the entire duration, even when
they may not actually be transmitting the data. The way data is
transported across an STM network is to divide the bandwidth of the STM
links (familiar to most people as T1 and T3 links) into a fundamental
unit of transmission called time-slots or buckets. These buckets are
organized into a train containing a fixed number of buckets and are
labeled from 1 to N. The train repeats periodically every T timeperiod,
with the buckets in the train always in the same position with the same
label. There can be up to M different trains labeled from 1 to M, all
repeating with the time period T, and all arriving within the time
period T. The parameters N, T, and M are determined by standards
committees, and are different for Europe and America. For the trivia
enthusiasts, the timeperiod T is a historic legacy of the classic
Nyquist sampling criteria for information recovery. It is derived from
sampling the traditional 4Khz bandwidth of analog voice signals over
phone lines at twice its frequency or 8Khz, which translates to a
timeperiod of 125 usec. This is the most fundamental unit in almost all
of telecommunications today, and is likely to remain with us for a long

On a given STM link, a connection between two end points is assigned a
fixed bucket number between 1 and N, on a fixed train between 1 and M,
and data from that connection is always carried in that bucket number on
the assigned train. If there are intermediate nodes, it is possible that
a different bucket number on a different train is assigned on each STM
link in the route for that connection. However, there is always one
known bucket reserved a priori on each link throughout the route. In
other words, once a time-slot is assigned to a connection, it generally
remains allocated for that connections sole use throughout the life time
of that connection.

To better understand this, imagine the same train arriving at a station
every T timeperiod. Then if a connection has any data to transmit, it
drops its data into its assigned bucket(time-slot) and the train
departs. And if the connection does not have any data to transmit, that
bucket in that train goes empty. No passengers waiting in line can get
on that empty bucket. If there are a large number of trains, and a large
number of total buckets are going empty most of the time (although
during rush hours the trains may get quite full), this is a significant
wastage of bandwidth, and limits the number of connections that can be
supported simultaneously. Furthermore, the number of connections can
never exceed the total number of buckets on all the different trains
(N*M). And this is the raison-d'etre for ATM.

3.0 Advent of ATM

The telecommunications companies are investigating fiber optic cross
country and cross oceanic links with Gigabit/sec speeds, and would like
to carry in an integrated way, both real time traffic such as voice and
hi-res video which can tolerate some loss but not delay, as well as non
real time traffic such as computer data and file transfer which may
tolerate some delay but not loss. The problem with carrying these
different characteristics of traffic on the same medium in an integrated
fashion is that the peak bandwidth requirement of these traffic sources
may be quite high as in high-res full motion video, but the duration for
which the data is actually transmitted may be quite small. In other
words, the data comes in bursts and must be transmitted at the peak rate
of the burst, but the average arrival time between bursts may be quite
large and randomly distributed. For such bursty connections, it would be
a considerable waste of bandwidth to reserve them a bucket at their peak
bandwidth rate for all times, when on the average only 1 in 10 bucket
may actually carry the data. It would be nice if that bucket could be
reused for another pending connection. And thus using STM mode of
transfer becomes inefficient as the peak bandwidth of the link, peak
transfer rate of the traffic, and overall burstiness of the traffic
expressed as a ratio of peak/average, all go up. In the judgement of the
industry pundits, this is definitely the indicated trend for multimedia
integrated telecommunications and data communications demands of global
economies in the late 90's and early 21st century.

Hence ATM is conceived. It was independently proposed by Bellcore, the
research arm of AT&T in the US, and several giant telecommunications
companies in Europe, which is why there may be two possible standards in
the future. The main idea here was to say, instead of always identifying
a connection by the bucket number, just carry the connection identifier
along with the data in any bucket, and keep the size of the bucket small
so that if any one bucket got dropped enroute due to congestion, not too
much data would get lost, and in some cases could easily be recovered.
And this sounded very much like packet switching, so they called it
"Fast packet switching with short fixed length packets."  And the fixed
size of the packets arose out of hidden motivation from the
telecommunications companies to sustain the same transmitted voice
quality as in STM networks, but in the presence of some lost packets on
ATM networks.

Thus two end points in an ATM network are associated with each other via
an identifier called the "Virtual Circuit Identifier" (VCI label)
instead of by a time-slot or bucket number as in a STM network. The VCI
is carried in the header portion of the fast packet. The fast packet
itself is carried in the same type of bucket as before, but there is no
label or designation for the bucket anymore. The terms fast packet,
cell, and bucket are used interchangeably in ATM literature and refer to
the same thing.

4.0 Statistical Multiplexing

Fast packet switching is attempting to solve the unused bucket problem
of STM by statistically multiplexing several connections on the same
link based on their traffic characteristics. In other words, if a large
number of connections are very bursty (i.e. their peak/average ratio is
10:1 or higher), then all of them may be assigned to the same link in
the hope that statistically they will not all burst at the same time.
And if some of them do burst simultaneously, that that there is
sufficient elasticity that the burst can be buffered up and put in
subsequently available free buckets. This is called statistical
multiplexing, and it allows the sum of the peak bandwidth requirement of
all connections on a link to even exceed the aggregate available
bandwidth of the link under certain conditions of discipline. This was
impossible on an STM network, and it is the main distinction of an ATM

5.0 The ATM discipline and future challenges

The discipline conditions under which statistical multiplexing can work
efficiently in an ATM network are an active area of research and
experimentation in both academia and industry. It has also been a
prodigious source of technical publications and considerable
speculations. Telecommunications companies in the US, Europe, and Japan
as well as several research organizations and standards committees are
actively investigating how BEST to do statistical multiplexing in such a
way that the link bandwidth in an ATM network is utilized efficiently,
and the quality of service requirements of delay and loss for different
types of real time and non real time as well as bursty and continuous
traffics are also satisfied during periods of congestion. The reason why
this problem is so challenging is that if peak bandwidth requirement of
every connection is allocated to it, then ATM just degenerates into STM
and no statistical advantage is gained from the anticipated bursty
nature of many of the future broadband integrated traffic profiles.

Thus the past few years publications in "IEEE Journal of Selected Areas
in Communications" and the "IEEE Network and Communications Magazines"
are filled with topics of resource allocation in broadband networks,
policing metering and shaping misbehaving traffic and congestion
avoidance and control in ATM networks, and last but not least,
multitudinous mathematical models and classifications speculating what
the broadband integrated traffic of the future might actually look like,
and how it might be managed effectively in a statistics based
nondeterministic traffic transportation system such as an ATM network.
The more adventurous readers desirous of learning more about ATM
networks are encouraged to seek out these and the standards committees
Fortunately however, these are problems that the service providers and
ATM vendors like the telecommunications companies have to solve, and not
the users. The users basically get access to the ATM network through
well defined and well controlled interfaces called "User Network
Interface" (UNI), and basically pump data into the network based on
certain agreed upon requirements that they specify to the network at
connection setup time. The network will then try to ensure that the
connection stays within those requirements and that the quality of
service parameters for that connection remain satisfied for the entire
duration of the connection.

6.0 Who are the standards bodies investigating ATM ?

In the US, ATM is being supported and investigated by T1S1 subcommittee
(ANSI sponsored). In Europe, it is being supported and investigated by
ETSI. There are minor differences between the two proposed standards,
but may converge into one common standard, unless telecommunications
companies in Europe and America insist on having two standards so that
they can have the pleasure of supporting both to inter-operate. The
differences however are minor and do not impact the concepts discussed
here. The international standards organization CCITT has also dedicated
a study group XVIII to Broadband ISDN with the objective of merging
differences and coming up with a single global worldwide standard for
user interfaces to Broadband networks. No conclusions yet.

7.0 Types of User Network Interfaces (UNI) for ATM

It is envisioned that the ATM network service providers may offer
several types of interfaces to their networks. One interface that is
likely to be popular with companies that build routers and bridges for
local area networks is a Frame based interface. One or more of the IEEE
802.X or FDDI frames may be supported at the UNI, with frame to ATM cell
conversion and reassembly being done inside the UNI at the source and
destination end points respectively. Thus a gateway host on a local area
network might directly connect its ethernet, token ring, fddi, or other
LAN/MAN interface to the UNI, and thus bridge two widely separated LANs
with an ATM backbone network. This will preserve the existing investment
in these standards and equipments, and enable a gradual transition of
the ATM networks into the market place.

An alternate interface likely to be more popular in the longer run, and
for which the concept of Broadband-ISDN really makes sense, is direct
interface at the UNI with standard ATM cells. Such a streaming interface
can hook subscriber telecom, datacom, and computer equipment directly to
the network, and allow orders of magnitude greater performance and
bandwidth utilization for integrated multimedia traffic of the future.
Thus it is by no accident that the IEEE 802.6 packet for the MAC layer
of the Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) DQDB protocol (Distributed Queue
Dual Bus) looks very much like an ATM cell.

It is quite likely that companies may crop up (if they have not already
done so) to design ATM multiplexers for interface to the UNI of a larger
ATM backbone network. Especially if the CCITT succeeds in standardizing
an interface definition for UNI, it will be an additional boon to this
market. The multiplexers with multiple taps on the user side can connect
to one fat ATM pipe at the network side. Such a multiplexer would hide
the details of ATM network interface from the user, and provide simple,
easy to use, low cost ATM cell taps to hook the user equipment into.

Companies with investment in existing STM networks such as T1 and T3
backbones, are likely to want a direct T3 interface to the UNI, thus
allowing them to slowly integrate the newer ATM technology into their
existing one. Thus it is possible to see a flurry of small startups in
the future rushing to make large T3 multiplexers for connecting several
T3 pipes into one large ATM pipe at the UNI.

Typically, an ATM network will require a network management agent or
proxy to be running at every UNI which can communicate and exchange
administrative messages with the user attachments at the UNI for
connection setup, tear down, and flow control of the payload using some
standard signalling protocol. A direct user attachment at the UNI is
likely to cost more and be more complex, then a user attachment to
something which in turns interfaces to the UNI.

8.0 What does an ATM packet look like

An ATM cell or packet as specified by T1S1 sub-committee is 53 bytes. 5
bytes comprise the header, and 48 bytes are payload. The header and
payload are specified as follows:

<------------- 5 bytes ---------------->|<---------- 48 bytes --------- >|
| VCI Label | control | header checksum | optional adaptation | payload |
|  24 bits  | 8 bits  |   8 bits        |   layer 4 bytes     |44 or 48 |

The 48 bytes of payload may optionally contain a 4 byte ATM adaptation
layer and 44 bytes of actual data, or all 48 bytes may be data, based on
a bit in the control field of the header. This enables fragmentation and
reassembly of cells into larger packets at the source and destination
respectively.  (Since the header definition may still be in flux, it is
possible that presense or absence of an adaptation layer information may
not be explicitly indicated with a bit in the header, but rather
implicitly derived from the VCI label). The control field may also
contain a bit to specify whether this is a flow control cell or an
ordinary cell, an advisory bit to indicate whether this cell is dropable
in the face of congestion in the network or not, etc.

The ETSI definition of an ATM cell is similar, 53 bytes cell size, 5
byte header, 48 bytes data. However the difference is in number of bits
for the VCI field, number of bits in the header checksum, and semantics
and number of some of the control bits.

For a more detailed specification of the ATM header, see the appropriate
standards committees documents.

9.0 Connections on an ATM network

As in STM networks, where a datum may undergo a time-slot-interchange
between two intermediate nodes in a route, the VCI label in an ATM cell
may also undergo a VCI label interchange at intermediate nodes in the
route. Otherwise, the connections in the ATM network look remarkably
similar to STM networks.

An Example:

Assume an ATM network with nodes in NY, ATLANTA, DALLAS, and SF. Say
that Chuck while vacationing in NY decides to play Aviator with his
buddies in Mtn view who are still grinding away on MPsniff. Also assume
that we have ATM cell interfaces at UNI's in both NY and SF. This is
what can happens: Chuck's portable $3K laptop makes a connection request
to the UNI in NY. After an exchange of connection parameters between his
laptop and the UNI (such as destination, traffic type, peak and average
bandwidth requirement, delay and cell loss requirement, how much money
he has got left to spend, etc}, the UNI forwards the request to the
network. The software running on the network computes a route based on
the cost function specified by Chuck, and figures out which links on
each leg of the route can best support the requested quality of service
and bandwidth. Then it sends a connection setup request to all the nodes
in the path enroute to the destination node in SF.

Lets say that the route selected was NY--AT--DA--SF. Each of the four
nodes might pick an unused VCI label on their respective nodes and
reserve it for the connection in the connection lookup tables inside
their respective switches. Say, NY picks VC1. It will send it to AT. AT
in turn picks VC2, associates it with VC1 in its connection table, and
forwards VC2 to DA. DA picks VC3 and associates it with VC2 in its
connection tables and forwards VC3 to SF. SF picks VC4 and associates it
with VC3 in its connection tables, and pings the addressed UNI to see if
it would accept this connection request. Fortunately, the UNI finds
Chuck's buddies and returns affirmative. So SF hands the UNI and Chuck's
friends VC4 as a connection identifier for this connection. SF then acks
back to DA. DA acks back to AT and sends it VC3. AT puts VC3 in its
connection tables to identify the path going in the reverse direction,
and acks to NY sending it VC2. NY associates VC2 in its connection
tables with VC1, and acks the originating UNI with VC1. The UNI hands
chuck's laptop VC1 and connection is established.

Chuck identifies the connection with VCI label VC1, and his buddies
identify the connection with VCI label VC4.  The labels get translated
at each node to the next outgoing label like so:

             NY     AT     DA     SF
      Chuck -> VC1 -> VC2 -> VC3 -> VC4 -> buddies
      Chuck <- VC1 <- VC2 <- VC3 <- VC4 <- buddies

Other scenarios are also possible and would depend on a vendor's
implementation of the ATM network.

When Chuck has had enough playing Aviator and wants to get back to some
serious scuba diving off the Atlantic coast, the connection is torn
down, and the VCI labels are resued for other connections.

10.0 What Assumptions can a user attachment make for a VCI label ?

As is probably obvious from the above example, none. The VCI labels are
owned by network nodes, and get randomized quite quickly as connections
come and go. A VCI label is handed to a user attachment only as an
opaque cookie, and not much can be assumed about its spatial
distribution other than quite random.

It may be possible to have certain reserved VCI labels similar in
concept to "well known port definitions of UDP and TCP", as identifiers
for special well known services that may be provided by the network.
However very little can be assumed about the dynamically assigned VCI
labels for most user related connections.

A service provider is unlikely to accede to any special request by any
one service requester to allocate it a chunk of VCI labels, unless the
network itself is owned by the service requester. Furthermore, the
address space of the VCI labels is limited to 24 bits and only designed
to identify the connections between two points on a single link. The
address space would disappear rather quickly if customers started to
requisition portions of the VCI label for their own semantics.

If there is a specific need to assume semantics for the VCI label
outside of the ATM network, i.e. require it to be within a certain range
on the user attachments at the UNI, it is probably best to provide a
lookup table in hardware inside the user attachments which can map the
pretty much randomized VCI label assigned by the network to n bits of a
new label to which the user attachment can assign its own semantics to
its silicon's content.

11.0 What Protocol layer is ATM ?

As is probably evident by now, ATM is designed for switching short fixed
length packets in hardware over Gigabit/sec links across very large
distances. Thus its place in the protocol stack concept is somewhere
around the data link layer. However it does not cleanly fit in to the
abstract layered model, because within the ATM network itself, end-to-
end connection, flow control, and routing are all done at the ATM cell
level. So there are a few aspects of traditional higher layer functions
present in it. In the OSI reference model, it would be considered layer
2 (where layer 1 is the physical layer and layer 2 is the datalink layer
in the internet protocol stack). But it is not very important to assign
a clean layer name to ATM, so long as it is recognized that it is a
hardware implemented packet switched protocol using 53 byte fixed length

What is perhaps more relevant is how will all this interact with current
TCP/IP and IP networks in general, and with applications which want to
talk ATM directly in particular. A convenient model for an ATM interface
is to consider it another communications port in the system. Thus from a
system software point of view, it can be treated like any other data
link layer port. Thus for instance, in IP networks connected via
gateways to ATM backbones, the model would be no different then it
presently is for a virtual circuit connection carried over an STM link
except that an IP packet over an ATM network would get fragmented into
cells at the transmitting UNI, and reassembled into the IP packet at the
destination UNI. Thus a typical protocol stack might look like this:

      ATM Adaptation Layer
      ATM Datalink layer
      Physical Layer (SONET STS-3c STS-12 STS-48)

Thus just like an ethernet port on a host is assigned an IP address, the
ATM port may also be assigned an IP address. Thus the IP software in a
router decides which port to send a packet to based on the IP address,
and hands the packet to the port. The port then does the right thing
with it. For an ethernet port, the ethernet header is tacked on and the
Frame transmitted in ethernet style. Similarly, for an ATM port, the IP
datagram is fragmented into cells for which an ATM adaptation layer is
specified in the standards. The fragmentation and reassembly is done in
hardware on the sending and receiving sides. A VCI label acquired via an
initial one time connection establishment phase, is placed in the header
of each cell, and the cells are drained down the fat ATM datalink layer
pipe. On the receiving side, the cells are reassembled in hardware using
the ATM adaptation layer, and the original IP packet is reformulated and
handed to the receiving host on the UNI. The adaptation layer is not a
separate header, but is actually carried in the payload section of the
ATM cell as discussed earlier.

For direct interface to an ATM cell stream from an application, new
interfaces have to be designed in the software that can provide the
application with nice and fast mechanisms for connection establishment,
data transfer, keep alive, tear down, and even application level flow
control. In this case the software processing steps may look like this:

      Application Streaming Data
      OS interface to application
      ATM virtual circuit management/signalling
      Driver interface to ATM

where the ATM virtual circuit management represents software which
understands the ATM header specifics, sets up and tears down
connections, does demultiplexing of the payload to appropriate
connections, and responds to whatever standard signalling protocol is
employed by the ATM interface at the UNI for connection management.

12.0 The Physical Layer

The physical layer specification is not explicitly a part of the ATM
definition, but is being considered by the same subcommittees. T1S1 has
standardized on SONET as the preferred physical layer, and the STS
classifications refer to the speeds of the SONET link. STS-3c is 155.5
Mbit/sec. STS-12 is 622 Mbit/sec, and STS-48 is 2.4 Gbit/sec. The SONET
physical layer specifications chalk out a world wide digital
telecommunications network hierarchy which is internationally known as
the Synchronous Digital Hierarchy (SDH). It standardizes transmission
around the bit rate of 51.84 Mbit/sec which is also called STS-1, and
multiples of this bit rate comprise higher bit rate streams. Thus STS-3
is 3 times STS-1, STS-12 is 12 times STS-1, and so on. STS-3c is of
particular interest as this is the lowest bit rate expected to carry the
ATM traffic, and is also referred to as STM-1 (Synchronous Transport
Module-Level 1). The term SONET stands for Synchronous Optical Network
and is the US terminology for SDH (since they had to differ in
something). So much for the acronym soup.

The SDH specifies how payload data is framed and transported
synchronously across fiber optic transmission links without requiring
all the links and nodes to have the same synchronized clock for data
transmission and recovery (i.e. both the clock frequency and phase are
allowed to have variations, or be plesiochronous). The intention being
that products from multiple vendors across geographical and
administrative boundaries should be able to plug and play in a standard
way and the Broadband ISDN network be a true international network. And
guess what the fundamental clock frequency is around which the SDH or
SONET framing is done ? You guessed it, 8Khz or 125 usec.

However all of this sits below the ATM layer and the ATM cells are
transported across the physical layer as opaque payload, also called the
SONET payload or the Synchronous Payload Envelope (SPE). The physical
layer is independent of the payload type, and can just as easily carry
STM cells as ATM cells. Refer to the standards documents for more

13.0 Flow control in ATM

Unlike the reactive end to end flow control mechanisms of TCP in
internetworking, the gigabits/sec capacity of ATM network generates a
different set of requirements for flow control. If flow control was left
on end to end feedback, then by the time the flow control message was
received at the source, the source would have already transmitted over
several Mbytes of data into the ATM pipe exacerbating the congestion.
And by the time the source reacted to the flow control message, the
congestion condition might have disappeared altogether unnecessarily
quenching the source. The time constant of end to end feedback in ATM
networks (actually feedback_delay * link_bandwidth product) may be so
large that solely relying on the user attachments to keep up with the
dynamic network is impractical. The congestion conditions in ATM
networks are expected to be extremely dynamic requiring fast hardware
mechanisms for relaxing the network to steady state, and necessitating
the network itself to be actively involved in quickly achieving this
steady state. Thus a simplistic approach of end to end closed loop
reactive control to congestion conditions is not considered sufficient
for ATM networks.

The present consensus among the researchers in this field is to use a
holistic approach to flow control.  They recommend employing a
collection of flow control schemes along with proper resource allocation
and dimensioning of the networks to altogether try and avoid congestion,
to try and detect congestion build up early by closely monitoring the
internal queues inside the ATM switches and reacting gradually as the
queues reach different high watermarks, and to try and control the
injection of the connection data into the network at the UNI such that
its rate of injection is modulated and metered there first before having
to go to the user attachement for a more drastic source quenching. The
concept is to exercise flow control in hardware very quickly, gradually,
and in anticipation rather than in desperation. Rate based schemes which
inject a controlled amount of data at a specified rate that is agreed
upon at connection setup time, and automatically modulate the rate based
on the past history of the connection as well as the present congestion
state of the network have seen much press lately. The network state may
be communicated to the UNI by the network very quickly by generating a
flow control cell whenever a cell is to be dropped on some node due to
congestion (i.e. the queues are getting full). The UNI may then police
the connection by changing its injection rate, or notify the user
attachment for source quenching depending on the severity level of the
congestion condition.

The major challenge during flow control is to try and only affect those
connection streams which are responsible for causing the congestion, and
not affect other streams which are well behaved. And at the same time,
allow a connection stream to utilize as much bandwidth as it needs if
there is no congestion. This topic is still an area of active research,
experimentation, and prolific publications including several PhD thesis.

14.0 Does an ATM network provide inorder delivery ?

Yes. An ATM cell may encounter congestion and suffer variable delay due
to bufferring within the ATM switches, and may even be dropped either
due to congestion control or due to header checksum error. However an
ATM connection always obeys causality, the cells in a connection (i.e.
cells with the same VCI label) arrive inorder at the destination. This
is so because there is no store and forwarding in the network, cells
travel over a single virtual circuit path, the ATM switches do not
switch the cells in the same VCI out of order, and no retransmissions is
done at any point in the ATM network.   Connectionless services are also
supported on ATM networks, but these are implemented as a higher layer
service layered over the ATM datalink layer. Thus cells in a
connectionless service may arrive out-of-order because there might be
multiple VCIs over multiple paths setup to deliver the connectionless
datagrams and cells may arrive over different paths in different order.
Thus the fragmentation reassembly engine which implements the
connectionless datagrams, and which is layered on top of the basic
connection oriented service of the ATM layer, must carry sequence
numbers in the adaptation layer in each cell and correct any reordering
of the cells at reassembly time. This is what the IEEE 802.6 protocol
for MAN does to support its connectionless service class.

15.0 Does an ATM network provide reliable delivery ?

No. There is no end-to-end reliable delivery service at the ATM layer.
The ATM layer does not do any retransmissions and there are no end-to-
end acknowledgements for what has been received. Reliable delivery
service can be implemented as a layer on top of the basic connection
oriented ATM layer, where acknowledgement of received data and
retransmission of missing data can be done for connections requiring
reliable delivery. Thus a TCP type transport layer protocol (layer 4 in
the OSI model) layered on top of the ATM layer is required for
guaranteed delivery.

16.0 Performance of an ATM interface

Unlike STM networks, ATM networks must rely on considerable user
supplied information for the traffic profile in order to provide the
connection with the desired service quality. There are some sources of
traffic which are easier to describe than others, and herein lies the
cost/performance challenge for best bandwidth utilization in an ATM

An ATM network can support many types of services. Connection oriented
as well as connection less. It can support services which may fall in
any of the four categories (loss sensitive, delay sensitive), (loss
insensitive, delay sensitive), (loss sensitive, delay insensitive), and
(loss insensitive, delay insensitive). It can further reserve and
allocate a fixed bandwidth for a connection carrying a continuous bit
stream for isochronous traffic (repeating in time such as 8khz voice
samples), allocate a bandwidth range for a variable bit stream for
plesiochronous traffic (variable frequency such as interactive
compressed video), as well as allocate no specific amount of bandwidth
and rely on statistical sharing among bursty sources. It may also
provide multiple priorities in any of the above categories. The services
can span the entire gamut from interactive such as telephony and on-line
data retrieval, to distributed such as video and stereo Hi-Fi broadcasts
and multicasts for conferencing and database updates.

Thus the performance that one might get from ones ATM connection is very
much dependent on the parameters that are specified at connection setup
time. Just because the link bandwidth may be an STS-12, does not
necessarily imply that the end to end payload bandwidth that the ATM
interface can sustain will also be STS-12. It will in fact be
considerably lower based on connection setup parameters and the quality
of service request, and whether bandwidth was reserved or statistically
multiplexed, and the load on the ATM network.

Typically, the ATM network may not permit 100% loading of any link
bandwidth, and in fact user available bandwidth may not be allowed to
exceed more than 80% of the peak bandwidth of the link. The UNI may
start policing and/or denying new connection requests on the link if
utilization exceeds this amount. Add the approx 10% overhead of the 5
byte header in the 53 byte cell, and the max sustainable payload
throughput on an ATM cell stream interface may peak at 72% of the peak
link bandwidth. And this does not include any adaptation layer overhead
if present, signalling overhead, or physical layer overheads of SDH
SONET framing and inter-cell spacing gaps.

And of course, application to application bandwidth may be even less,
unless the software datapath from the interface driver through the OS to
the application (and vice versa) is very carefully optimized. It would
hardly be received very well if the end-to-end throughput from
application to application would turn out to be no better for an ATM
port than for an ethernet or fddi port due to software overheads.

How many cells might be realistically received or transmitted at a
sustained rate on an ATM cell interface in a processor ? Hard to say for
sure as there is no existence proof as yet.

However, what can be stated is that the transmitter and receiver
performance is independent of each other. The transmitter side is
constrained by the flow control of the simultaneous connection streams
by pacing the injection rate according to the respective negotiated
class of service and bandwidth requirements. The receiver side is
constrained by asynchronous reception of cells at a variable rate, and
with bufferring capacity for a large number of simultaneous connections
each of which can be receiving data simultaneously. And if an adaptation
layer is used, then the reassembly of these cells into a higher layer
protocol data unit (PDU) must also be done in hardware by the receiver
side. Thus a lot of thought is required in designing an ATM interface to
a host system, poor design of which can cripple the system performance.

17.0 When can I have my own connection to an ATM network ?

The Broadband ISDN with ATM is an enabling technology. It will enable
new kinds of applications and new types of usage which are only in
peoples imagination today. It is a complete overhaul of the copper based
low bandwidth telecommunications technology that has existed until now,
and represents a massive investment both in research and development, as
well as deployment and integration. The software investment required to
make the ATM network work is tremendous, and many of the algorithms and
theories about how to manage the ATM network are still in their infancy
and mostly on paper. Considerable work is also required in developing
new network management paradigms and protocols to effectively control
and manage the vasts quantities of bandwidths and services that the
revolution in communication technology is promising to offer.

At the present time, there are no commercially available ATM networks in
the US (to my knowledge), though there are several ATM prototype
switches and experiments in existence. The earliest anticipated roll out
of commercial ATM switches is expected no sooner than 1995 time frame.
And full fledged deployment of ATM networks with "COST EFFECTIVE" multi-
media integrated services to end-users is still a lot farther away,
probably closer to the end of this decade. But its coming...hang on.