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MWEB Gaming Prioritisation: The How and Why

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MWEB hosts servers for over 80 games

In this article, I will detail what goes into prioritising traffic for gaming so that it has the highest priority possible on the MWEB network. How exactly does MWEB reduce the latency you experience when playing games?

What is latency?

Simply put, latency is how long it takes a game to register a command you issued and to let you know the result. Let's take my game of preference, World of Warcraft (WoW), as an example. On average I play on the European servers with 170ms of latency. That is about the lowest it will go with current Internet connectivity technology unless I somehow move closer to the server.

When playing on my home computer, it sends a packet to the WoW server. The server then hopefully accepts it, registers what the packet information held and then sends a packet back to my PC. The exchange could be that; yes the shot that I asked to fire was fired, or no the guy I was firing at is dead, or ran out of distance. What I've explained accounts to a single round between my PC in SA to a WoW server in Europe, which takes as stated roughly 170ms.

How does MWEB prioritise gaming traffic?

The job of prioritising traffic is a never-ending one. New games are released all the time and even old established games change how they work from time to time, which can throw a spanner in the works. How we prioritise traffic at MWEB is by capturing game traffic for any particular game, then analysing the capture for all the destination IP's that the game connects too. The procedure gets done many times, as on any one particular connect you might only see one or two of the multitude of servers there are. It might sound simple but when a game like WoW or Diablo 3 has multiple servers that you can connect to, the job becomes a bit more tricky. It becomes tricky because a lot of game companies do not divulge their server IP's, but only the load-balancer that all their servers sit behind. Once we have captured what we feel is the full amount of IP's, we sent the information to the network engineer. He then adds it to our network traffic priority system, which as the name suggests prioritises traffic.

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Gaming traffic 

What impacts latency?

There are many factors that impact latency, but I will endeavour to list the few major ones.

Exchange congestion

Exchange congestion is one of the worst ones as there is very little we can do about it. Congestion happens when there is more traffic coming to the exchange from all the users than what the exchange has the backbone to handle. It forces the exchange to start playing round robin with traffic so as to handle it all. You can see how this can hurt game traffic that needs to get to its destination as quick as possible.

Torrents

Torrents cause many headaches for gamers. You might be thinking to yourself, surely torrents has a lower priority, and you would be right. But and this is a big one; we can only prioritise traffic once it reaches our network. Usually, that happens to be about two router hops after the traffic leaves your PC. That means two hops where torrents will be destroying your gaming packets due to the nature of torrents using a lot of connections. What it does is strong arms its way to the top until it reaches our network where we take it down a few notches. Unfortunately by that time your line is being swamped by packets which don't stop when you switch off the torrent program. All the requests that your PC has sent out are still being answered by the other computers, and that traffic is then sent back.

Routing

Routing doesn't often happen, but it is normally one of the more difficult ones to pinpoint. Imagine the Internet as a lot of roads. So if I am playing to Europe from Cape Town, my traffic would go from Cape Town via the WACS (West Africa Cable System) cable. Run all the way around West Africa, stopping at every landing station, before being sent on its way again. It eventually reaches London where it switches over to another cable that runs to Paris where the data centre for my server is hosted.

Now if I had a routing issue, say from specifying a DNS in my router or PC that doesn't know that is the correct way to get to Paris. If it thinks that to get to Paris my traffic needs to go to Johannesburg first, then it will be "get lost" and take a longer route to Paris, which increases my latency.

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Gaming traffic vs. Torrents 

How does MWEB handle gaming traffic prioritisation complaints?

When we get a complaint about a possible prioritisation issue, this is how we test for it.

  1. We try to replicate the complaint, for example, Bob says he is getting horrible latency issues to game A; we will go play game A and see if we get the same problem. If we do not, we narrow it down to see if it only happens at certain times of the day or all the time. We would then go back and try to replicate at the same times that Bob had problems.
  2. While we are busy with step one, we are also enabling monitoring on Bob's Internet account. We do that to see what type of traffic is being sent/received by his computer at the times that he says he has gaming issues. If we detect gaming traffic we can safely assume that the traffic is being prioritised correctly, as anything marked gaming gets the highest priority. We also look if there is any other traffic at the same time that might be using up all the bandwidth, like, for example, torrents.
  3. We also ask Bob to run a few simple tests like tracert that prints out the route that is being taken from Bob's PC to the server IP that he plays on. We then compare it to tracert from a test bench that uses all the correct settings and routing.
  4. From the tracert's we can sometimes also diagnose congestion, but this isn't always perfect, as Telkom hides the indicators from tracert's.

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Former server master, Choc_salties at the gateway to MWEB's servers

Why does MWEB prioritise gaming?

Online gamers demand the best latency and stability for their connection, and MWEB understands this. Gamers are like Formula 1 race card drivers of the internet; as those drivers push the boundries of motor vehicles, so gamers push the boundries of connectivity products. So, in satisfying gaming clients, we are confident that their endorsement of our products means that other users can feel confident that our network is robust, stable and able to handle the most demanding customers.

Closing

Prioritising gaming traffic is not simply pressing a button, and it works. It is a valuable service that we are proud to offer South Africa gamers. Even though we pride ourselves in the fact that we prioritise gaming traffic, there are always new online games coming out and new server infrastructure being rolled out by the game providers, so we may not always be aware of these changes. So if you have queries about your gaming latency then please contact us via  email, Facebook or Twitter. Always include as much information as you can to help us get your gaming back on track. The MWEB Gamezone team is here to help!

Feel free to ask any question via the comment section. MWEB offers great internet packages for gamers, so feel free to check them out.

Sonz: Twitter /MWEB GameZone: Twitter | Facebook

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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd

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