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Understanding the NorthStar Controller

The Juniper Networks NorthStar Controller is an SDN controller that enables granular visibility and control of IP/MPLS tunnels in large service provider and enterprise networks. Network operators can use the NorthStar Controller to optimize their network infrastructure through proactive monitoring, planning, and explicit routing of large traffic loads dynamically based on user-defined constraints.

The NorthStar Controller provides network managers with a powerful and flexible traffic engineering solution with some important features:

  • Complex inter-domain path computation and network optimization

  • Comprehensive network planning, capacity, and topology analysis

  • Ability to address multilayer optimization with multiple user-defined constraints

  • Specific ordering and synchronization of paths signaled across routed network elements

  • Global view of the network state for monitoring, management, and proactive planning

  • Ability to receive an abstracted view of an underlying transport network and utilize the information to expand its packet-centric applications

  • Active/standby high availability (HA) cluster

  • System and network monitoring

The NorthStar Controller relies on the Path Computation Element Protocol (PCEP)to instantiate a path between the PCC routers. The path setup itself is performed through RSVP-TE signaling, which is enabled in the network and allows labels to be assigned from an ingress router to the egress router. Signaling is triggered by ingress routers in the core of the network. The PCE client runs on the routers by using a version of the Junos operating system (Junos OS) that supports PCEP.

The NorthStar Controller provisions PCEP in all PE devices (PCCs) and uses PCEP to retrieve the current status of the existing tunnels (LSPs) that run in the network. By providing a view of the global network state and bandwidth demand in the network, the NorthStar Controller is able to compute optimal paths and provide the attributes that the PCC uses to signal the LSP.


NorthStar supports functions related to LSPs and links for both physical and logical systems. However, for logical systems, real-time updates to the topology are not possible because there is no PCEP for logical systems. Instead, you can perform periodic Netconf collection for updated logical topology information.

The following sections describe the architecture, components, and functionality of the NorthStar Controller:

Architecture and Components

Based on the Path Computation Element (PCE) architecture as defined in RFC 5440, the NorthStar Controller provides a stateful PCE that computes the network paths or routes based on a network graph and applies computational constraints. A Path Computation Client (PCC) is a client application that requests the PCE perform path computations for the PCC’s external label-switched paths (LSPs). The Path Computation Element Protocol (PCEP) enables communication between a PCC and the NorthStar Controller to learn about the network and LSP path state and communicate with the PCCs. The PCE entity in the NorthStar Controller calculates paths in the network on behalf of the PCCs, which request path computation services. The PCCs receive and then apply the paths in the network.

The stateful PCE implementation in the NorthStar Controller provides the following functions:

  • Allows online and offline LSP path computation

  • Triggers LSP reroute when there is a need to reoptimize the network

  • Changes LSP bandwidth when an application demands an increase in bandwidth

  • Modifies other LSP attributes on the router, such as explicit route object (ERO), setup priority, and hold priority

A TCP-based PCEP session connects a PCC to an external PCE. The PCC initiates the PCEP session and stays connected to the PCE for the duration of the PCEP session. During the PCEP session, the PCC requests LSP parameters from the stateful PCE. When receiving one or more LSP parameters from the PCE, the PCC resignals the TE LSP. When the PCEP session is terminated, the underlying TCP connection is closed immediately, and the PCC attempts to reestablish the PCEP session.

The PCEP functions include the following:

  • LSP tunnel state synchronization between a PCC and a stateful PCE— When an active stateful PCE connection is detected, a PCC synchronizes an LSP state with the PCE. PCEP enables a fast and timely synchronization of the LSP state to the PCE.

  • Delegation of control over LSP tunnels to a stateful PCE—An active stateful PCE controls one or more LSP attributes for computing paths, such as bandwidth, path (ERO), and priority (setup and hold). PCEP enables such delegation of LSPs.

  • Stateful PCE control of timing and sequence of path computations within and across PCEP sessions—An active stateful PCE modifies one or more LSP attributes, such as bandwidth, path (ERO), and priority (setup and hold). PCEP communicates these new LSP attributes from the PCE to the PCC, after which the PCC resignals the LSP in the specified path.

Interaction Between the PCC and the PCE

For the NorthStar Controller, the PCC runs in a new Junos OS daemon, the Path Computation Client Process (PCCD), which interacts with the PCE and with the Routing Protocol Process (RPD) through an internal Junos OS IPC mechanism. Figure 1 shows the interaction among the PCE, PCCD, and RPD.

Figure 1: PCCD as Relay/Message Translator Between the PCE and RPDPCCD as Relay/Message Translator Between the PCE and RPD

The PCCD is stateless so it does not keep any state other than current outstanding requests, and does not remember any state for established LSPs. The PCCD requests the state after the response comes back from the PCE and then forwards the response to the RPD. Because the PCCD is stateless, the RPD only needs to communicate with the PCCD when the LSP is first created. After the RPD receives the results from the PCCD, the results are stored (even across RPD restarts), and the RPD does not need to communicate with the PCCD again until the LSP is rerouted (when the LSP configuration is changed or the LSP fails).

Dynamic Path Provisioning

To provide dynamic path provisioning, each ingress label-edge router (LER) must be configured as a Path Computation Client (PCC). Through PCEP, each PCC informs the NorthStar Controller (PCE server) asynchronously about the state of LSPs, including LSP operational state, admin state, and protection in-use events. The LSP state update and LSP provisioning depend on the TCP/PCEP connection state. If the TCP connection goes down as a result of connection flaps or PCC failure, the NorthStar Controller waits approximately 60 seconds for PCC reconnection then removes the LSP state.