In this chapter we discuss methods and techniques to simulate the operations of computer network systems and network applications in real-world environment. Simulation is one of the most widely used techniques in network design and management to predict the performance of a network system or network application before the network is physically built or the application is rolled out.
A network system is a set of network elements, such as routers, switches, links, users, and applications working together to achieve some tasks. The scope of a simulation study may only be a system that is part of another system as in the case of subnetworks. The state of a network system is the set of relevant variables and parameters that describe the system at a certain time that comprise the scope of the study. For instance, if we are interested in the utilisation of a link, we want to know only the number of bits transmitted via the link in a second and the total capacity of the link, rather than the amount of buffers available for the ports in the switches connected by the link.
Instead of building a physical model of a network, we build a mathematical model representing the behaviour and the logical and quantitative relations between network elements. By changing the relations between network elements, we can analyse the model without constructing the network physically, assuming that the model behaves similarly to the real system, i.e., it is a valid model. For instance, we can calculate the utilisation of a link analytically, using the formula , where is the amount of data sent at a certain time and is the capacity of the link in bits per second. This is a very simple model that is very rare in real world problems. Unfortunately, the majority of real world problems are too complex to answer questions using simple mathematical equations. In highly complex cases simulation technique is more appropriate.
Simulation models can be classified in many ways. The most common classifications are as follows:
Static and dynamic simulation models: A static model characterises a system independently of time. A dynamic model represents a system that changes over time.
Stochastic and deterministic models: If a model represents a system that includes random elements, it is called a stochastic model. Otherwise it is deterministic. Queueing systems, the underlying systems in network models, contain random components, such as arrival time of packets in a queue, service time of packet queues, output of a switch port, etc.
Discrete and continuous models: A continuous model represents a system with state variables changing continuously over time. Examples are differential equations that define the relationships for the extent of change of some state variables according to the change of time. A discrete model characterises a system where the state variables change instantaneously at discrete points in time. At these discrete points some event or events may occur, changing the state of the system. For instance, the arrival of a packet at a router at a certain time is an event that changes the state of the port buffer in the router.
In our discussion, we assume dynamic, stochastic, and discrete network models. We refer to these models as discrete-event simulation models.
Due to the complex nature of computer communications, network models tend to be complex as well. The development of special computer programs for a certain simulation problem is a possibility, but it may be very time consuming and inefficient. Recently, the application of simulation and modelling packages has become more customary, saving coding time and allowing the modeller to concentrate on the modelling problem in hand instead of the programming details. At first glance, the use of such network simulation and modelling packages, as COMNET, OPNET, etc., creates the risk that the modeller has to rely on modelling techniques and hidden procedures that may be proprietary and may not be available to the public. In the following sections we will discuss the simulation methodology on how to overcome the fear of this risk by using validation procedures to make sure that the real network system will perform the same way as it has been predicted by the simulation model.