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RFC 7015

Flow Aggregation for the IP Flow Information Export (IPFIX) Protocol

Pages: 49
Proposed Standard
Part 1 of 2 – Pages 1 to 23
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Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)                       B. Trammell
Request for Comments: 7015                                    ETH Zurich
Category: Standards Track                                      A. Wagner
ISSN: 2070-1721                                              Consecom AG
                                                               B. Claise
                                                     Cisco Systems, Inc.
                                                          September 2013

  Flow Aggregation for the IP Flow Information Export (IPFIX) Protocol


This document provides a common implementation-independent basis for the interoperable application of the IP Flow Information Export (IPFIX) protocol to the handling of Aggregated Flows, which are IPFIX Flows representing packets from multiple Original Flows sharing some set of common properties. It does this through a detailed terminology and a descriptive Intermediate Aggregation Process architecture, including a specification of methods for Original Flow counting and counter distribution across intervals. Status of This Memo This is an Internet Standards Track document. This document is a product of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). It represents the consensus of the IETF community. It has received public review and has been approved for publication by the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG). Further information on Internet Standards is available in Section 2 of RFC 5741. Information about the current status of this document, any errata, and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at
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Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2013 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
   Provisions Relating to IETF Documents
   ( in effect on the date of
   publication of this document.  Please review these documents
   carefully, as they describe your rights and restrictions with respect
   to this document.  Code Components extracted from this document must
   include Simplified BSD License text as described in Section 4.e of
   the Trust Legal Provisions and are provided without warranty as
   described in the Simplified BSD License.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction ....................................................3 1.1. IPFIX Protocol Overview ....................................4 1.2. IPFIX Documents Overview ...................................5 2. Terminology .....................................................5 3. Use Cases for IPFIX Aggregation .................................7 4. Architecture for Flow Aggregation ...............................8 4.1. Aggregation within the IPFIX Architecture ..................8 4.2. Intermediate Aggregation Process Architecture .............12 4.2.1. Correlation and Normalization ......................14 5. IP Flow Aggregation Operations .................................15 5.1. Temporal Aggregation through Interval Distribution ........15 5.1.1. Distributing Values across Intervals ...............16 5.1.2. Time Composition ...................................18 5.1.3. External Interval Distribution .....................19 5.2. Spatial Aggregation of Flow Keys ..........................19 5.2.1. Counting Original Flows ............................21 5.2.2. Counting Distinct Key Values .......................22 5.3. Spatial Aggregation of Non-key Fields .....................22 5.3.1. Counter Statistics .................................22 5.3.2. Derivation of New Values from Flow Keys and Non-key fields .....................................23 5.4. Aggregation Combination ...................................23 6. Additional Considerations and Special Cases in Flow Aggregation ....................................................24 6.1. Exact versus Approximate Counting during Aggregation ......24 6.2. Delay and Loss Introduced by the IAP ......................24 6.3. Considerations for Aggregation of Sampled Flows ...........24 6.4. Considerations for Aggregation of Heterogeneous Flows .....25 7. Export of Aggregated IP Flows Using IPFIX ......................25 7.1. Time Interval Export ......................................25 7.2. Flow Count Export .........................................25 7.2.1. originalFlowsPresent ...............................26
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           7.2.2. originalFlowsInitiated .............................26
           7.2.3. originalFlowsCompleted .............................26
           7.2.4. deltaFlowCount .....................................26
      7.3. Distinct Host Export ......................................27
           7.3.1. distinctCountOfSourceIPAddress .....................27
           7.3.2. distinctCountOfDestinationIPAddress ................27
           7.3.3. distinctCountOfSourceIPv4Address ...................27
           7.3.4. distinctCountOfDestinationIPv4Address ..............28
           7.3.5. distinctCountOfSourceIPv6Address ...................28
           7.3.6. distinctCountOfDestinationIPv6Address ..............28
      7.4. Aggregate Counter Distribution Export .....................28
           7.4.1. Aggregate Counter Distribution Options Template ....29
           7.4.2. valueDistributionMethod Information Element ........29
   8. Examples .......................................................31
      8.1. Traffic Time Series per Source ............................32
      8.2. Core Traffic Matrix .......................................37
      8.3. Distinct Source Count per Destination Endpoint ............42
      8.4. Traffic Time Series per Source with Counter Distribution ..44
   9. Security Considerations ........................................46
   10. IANA Considerations ...........................................46
   11. Acknowledgments ...............................................46
   12. References ....................................................47
      12.1. Normative References .....................................47
      12.2. Informative References ...................................47

1. Introduction

The assembly of packet data into Flows serves a variety of different purposes, as noted in the requirements [RFC3917] and applicability statement [RFC5472] for the IP Flow Information Export (IPFIX) protocol [RFC7011]. Aggregation beyond the Flow level, into records representing multiple Flows, is a common analysis and data reduction technique as well, with applicability to large-scale network data analysis, archiving, and inter-organization exchange. This applicability in large-scale situations, in particular, led to the inclusion of aggregation as part of the IPFIX Mediation Problem Statement [RFC5982], and the definition of an Intermediate Aggregation Process in the Mediator framework [RFC6183]. Aggregation is used for analysis and data reduction in a wide variety of applications, for example, in traffic matrix calculation, generation of time series data for visualizations or anomaly detection, or data reduction for long-term trending and storage. Depending on the keys used for aggregation, it may additionally have an anonymizing effect on the data: for example, aggregation operations that eliminate IP addresses make it impossible to later directly identify nodes using those addresses.
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   Aggregation, as defined and described in this document, covers the
   applications defined in [RFC5982], including Sections 5.1 "Adjusting
   Flow Granularity", 5.4 "Time Composition", and 5.5 "Spatial
   Composition".  However, Section 4.2 of this document specifies a more
   flexible architecture for an Intermediate Aggregation Process than
   that envisioned by the original Mediator work [RFC5982].  Instead of
   a focus on these specific limited use cases, the Intermediate
   Aggregation Process is specified to cover any activity commonly
   described as "Flow aggregation".  This architecture is intended to
   describe any such activity without reference to the specific
   implementation of aggregation.

   An Intermediate Aggregation Process may be applied to data collected
   from multiple Observation Points, as it is natural to use aggregation
   for data reduction when concentrating measurement data.  This
   document specifically does not address the protocol issues that arise
   when combining IPFIX data from multiple Observation Points and
   exporting from a single Mediator, as these issues are general to
   IPFIX Mediation; they are therefore treated in detail in the
   Mediation Protocol document [IPFIX-MED-PROTO].

   Since Aggregated Flows as defined in the following section are
   essentially Flows, the IPFIX protocol [RFC7011] can be used to
   export, and the IPFIX File Format [RFC5655] can be used to store,
   aggregated data "as is"; there are no changes necessary to the
   protocol.  This document provides a common basis for the application
   of IPFIX to the handling of aggregated data, through a detailed
   terminology, Intermediate Aggregation Process architecture, and
   methods for Original Flow counting and counter distribution across
   intervals.  Note that Sections 5, 6, and 7 of this document are

1.1. IPFIX Protocol Overview

In the IPFIX protocol, { type, length, value } tuples are expressed in Templates containing { type, length } pairs, specifying which { value } fields are present in data records conforming to the Template, giving great flexibility as to what data is transmitted. Since Templates are sent very infrequently compared with Data Records, this results in significant bandwidth savings. Various different data formats may be transmitted simply by sending new Templates specifying the { type, length } pairs for the new data format. See [RFC7011] for more information. The IPFIX Information Element Registry [IANA-IPFIX] defines a large number of standard Information Elements that provide the necessary { type } information for Templates. The use of standard elements enables interoperability among different vendors' implementations.
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   Additionally, non-standard enterprise-specific elements may be
   defined for private use.

1.2. IPFIX Documents Overview

"Specification of the IP Flow Information Export (IPFIX) Protocol for the Exchange of Flow Information" [RFC7011] and its associated documents define the IPFIX protocol, which provides network engineers and administrators with access to IP traffic Flow information. IPFIX has a formal description of IPFIX Information Elements, their names, types, and additional semantic information, as specified in the IPFIX Information Model [RFC7012]. The IPFIX Information Element registry [IANA-IPFIX] is maintained by IANA. New Information Element definitions can be added to this registry subject to an Expert Review [RFC5226], with additional process considerations described in [RFC7013]. "Architecture for IP Flow Information Export" [RFC5470] defines the architecture for the export of measured IP Flow information out of an IPFIX Exporting Process to an IPFIX Collecting Process and the basic terminology used to describe the elements of this architecture, per the requirements defined in "Requirements for IP Flow Information Export" [RFC3917]. The IPFIX protocol document [RFC7011] covers the details of the method for transporting IPFIX Data Records and Templates via a congestion-aware transport protocol from an IPFIX Exporting Process to an IPFIX Collecting Process. "IP Flow Information Export (IPFIX) Mediation: Problem Statement" [RFC5982] introduces the concept of IPFIX Mediators, and defines the use cases for which they were designed; "IP Flow Information Export (IPFIX) Mediation: Framework" [RFC6183] then provides an architectural framework for Mediators. Protocol-level issues (e.g., Template and Observation Domain handling across Mediators) are covered by "Operation of the IP Flow Information Export (IPFIX) Protocol on IPFIX Mediators" [IPFIX-MED-PROTO]. This document specifies an Intermediate Process for Flow aggregation that may be applied at an IPFIX Mediator, as well as at an original Observation Point prior to export, or for analysis and data reduction purposes after receipt at a Collecting Process.

2. Terminology

Terms used in this document that are defined in the Terminology section of the IPFIX protocol document [RFC7011] are to be interpreted as defined there.
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   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
   document are to be interpreted as described in [RFC2119].

   In addition, this document defines the following terms:

   Aggregated Flow:  A Flow, as defined by [RFC7011], derived from a set
      of zero or more Original Flows within a defined Aggregation
      Interval.  Note that an Aggregated Flow is defined in the context
      of an Intermediate Aggregation Process only.  Once an Aggregated
      Flow is exported, it is essentially a Flow as in [RFC7011] and can
      be treated as such.

   Intermediate Aggregation Process:  an Intermediate Aggregation
      Process (IAP), as in [RFC6183], that aggregates records, based
      upon a set of Flow Keys or functions applied to fields from the

   Aggregation Interval:  A time interval imposed upon an Aggregated
      Flow.  Intermediate Aggregation Processes may use a regular
      Aggregation Interval (e.g., "every five minutes", "every calendar
      month"), though regularity is not necessary.  Aggregation
      intervals may also be derived from the time intervals of the
      Original Flows being aggregated.

   Partially Aggregated Flow:  A Flow during processing within an
      Intermediate Aggregation Process; refers to an intermediate data
      structure during aggregation within the Intermediate Aggregation
      Process architecture detailed in Section 4.2.

   Original Flow:  A Flow given as input to an Intermediate Aggregation
      Process in order to generate Aggregated Flows.

   Contributing Flow:  An Original Flow that is partially or completely
      represented within an Aggregated Flow.  Each Aggregated Flow is
      made up of zero or more Contributing Flows, and an Original Flow
      may contribute to zero or more Aggregated Flows.

   Original Exporter:  The Exporter from which the Original Flows are
      received; meaningful only when an IAP is deployed at a Mediator.

   The terminology presented herein improves the precision of, but does
   not supersede or contradict the terms related to, Mediation and
   aggregation defined in the Mediation Problem Statement [RFC5982] and
   the Mediation Framework [RFC6183] documents.  Within this document,
   the terminology defined in this section is to be considered
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3. Use Cases for IPFIX Aggregation

Aggregation, as a common data reduction method used in traffic data analysis, has many applications. When used with a regular Aggregation Interval and Original Flows containing timing information, it generates time series data from a collection of Flows with discrete intervals, as in the example in Section 8.1. This time series data is itself useful for a wide variety of analysis tasks, such as generating input for network anomaly detection systems or driving visualizations of volume per time for traffic with specific characteristics. As a second example, traffic matrix calculation from Flow data, as shown in Section 8.2 is inherently an aggregation action, by spatially aggregating the Flow Key down to input or output interface, address prefix, or autonomous system (AS). Irregular or data-dependent Aggregation Intervals and key aggregation operations can also be used to provide adaptive aggregation of network Flow data. Here, full Flow Records can be kept for Flows of interest, while Flows deemed "less interesting" to a given application can be aggregated. For example, in an IPFIX Mediator equipped with traffic classification capabilities for security purposes, potentially malicious Flows could be exported directly, while known-good or probably-good Flows (e.g., normal web browsing) could be exported simply as time series volumes per web server. Aggregation can also be applied to final analysis of stored Flow data, as shown in the example in Section 8.3. All such aggregation applications in which timing information is not available or not important can be treated as if an infinite Aggregation Interval applies. Note that an Intermediate Aggregation Process that removes potentially sensitive information as identified in [RFC6235] may tend to have an anonymizing effect on the Aggregated Flows as well; however, any application of aggregation as part of a data protection scheme should ensure that all the issues raised in [RFC6235] are addressed, specifically Sections 4 ("Anonymization of IP Flow Data"), 7.2 ("IPFIX-Specific Anonymization Guidelines"), and 9 ("Security Considerations"). While much of the discussion in this document, and all of the examples, apply to the common case that the Original Flows to be aggregated are all of the same underlying type (i.e., are represented with identical Templates or compatible Templates containing a core set Information Elements that can be freely converted to one another), and that each packet observed by the Metering Process associated with the Original Exporter is represented, this is not a necessary assumption. Aggregation can also be applied as part of a
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   technique using both aggregation and correlation to pull together
   multiple views of the same traffic from different Observation Points
   using different Templates.  For example, consider a set of
   applications running at different Observation Points for different
   purposes -- one generating Flows with round-trip times for passive
   performance measurement, and one generating billing records.  Once
   correlated, these Flows could be used to produce Aggregated Flows
   containing both volume and performance information together.  The
   correlation and normalization operation described in Section 4.2.1
   handles this specific case of correlation.  Flow correlation in the
   general case is outside the scope of this document.

4. Architecture for Flow Aggregation

This section specifies the architecture of the Intermediate Aggregation Process and how it fits into the IPFIX architecture.

4.1. Aggregation within the IPFIX Architecture

An Intermediate Aggregation Process could be deployed at any of three places within the IPFIX architecture. While aggregation is most commonly done within a Mediator that collects Original Flows from an Original Exporter and exports Aggregated Flows, aggregation can also occur before initial export, or after final collection, as shown in Figure 1. The presence of an IAP at any of these points is, of course, optional.
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   |  IPFIX Exporter        +----------------+ |
   |                        | Metering Proc. | |
   | +-----------------+    +----------------+ |
   | | Metering Proc.  | or |      IAP       | |
   | +-----------------+----+----------------+ |
   | |           Exporting Process           | |
   | +-|----------------------------------|--+ |
       |                                  |
   +===|===========================+      |
   |   |  Aggregating Mediator     |      |
   + +-V-------------------+       |      |
   | | Collecting Process  |       |      |
   + +---------------------+       |      |
   | |         IAP         |       |      |
   + +---------------------+       |      |
   | |  Exporting Process  |       |      |
   + +-|-------------------+       |      |
   +===|===========================+      |
       |                                  |
   |   | Collector                        |     |
   | +-V----------------------------------V-+   |
   | |         Collecting Process           |   |
   | +------------------+-------------------+   |
   |                    |        IAP        |   |
   |                    +-------------------+   |
   |  (Aggregation      |   File Writer     |   |
       for Storage)     +-----------|-------+   |
                             |    IPFIX File    |

                 Figure 1: Potential Aggregation Locations

   The Mediator use case is further shown in Figures A and B in

   Aggregation can be applied for either intermediate or final analytic
   purposes.  In certain circumstances, it may make sense to export
   Aggregated Flows directly after metering, for example, if the
   Exporting Process is applied to drive a time series visualization, or
   when Flow data export bandwidth is restricted and Flow or packet
   sampling is not an option.  Note that this case, where the
   Aggregation Process is essentially integrated into the Metering
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   Process, is basically covered by the IPFIX architecture [RFC5470]:
   the Flow Keys used are simply a subset of those that would normally
   be used, and time intervals may be chosen other than those available
   from the cache policies customarily offered by the Metering Process.
   A Metering Process in this arrangement MAY choose to simulate the
   generation of larger Flows in order to generate Original Flow counts,
   if the application calls for compatibility with an Intermediate
   Aggregation Process deployed in a separate location.

   In the specific case that an Intermediate Aggregation Process is
   employed for data reduction for storage purposes, it can take
   Original Flows from a Collecting Process or File Reader and pass
   Aggregated Flows to a File Writer for storage.

   Deployment of an Intermediate Aggregation Process within a Mediator
   [RFC5982] is a much more flexible arrangement.  Here, the Mediator
   consumes Original Flows and produces Aggregated Flows; this
   arrangement is suited to any of the use cases detailed in Section 3.
   In a Mediator, Original Flows from multiple sources can also be
   aggregated into a single stream of Aggregated Flows.  The
   architectural specifics of this arrangement are not addressed in this
   document, which is concerned only with the aggregation operation
   itself.  See [IPFIX-MED-PROTO] for details.

   The data paths into and out of an Intermediate Aggregation Process
   are shown in Figure 2.
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   packets --+               IPFIX Messages      IPFIX Files
             |                     |                  |
             V                     V                  V
   +==================+ +====================+ +=============+
   | Metering Process | | Collecting Process | | File Reader |
   |                  | +====================+ +=============+
   | (Original Flows  |            |                  |
   |    or direct     |            |  Original Flows  |
   |   aggregation)   |            V                  V
   + - - - - - - - - -+======================================+
   |           Intermediate Aggregation Process (IAP)        |
             | Aggregated                  Aggregated |
             | Flows                            Flows |
             V                                        V
   +===================+                       +=============+
   | Exporting Process |                       | File Writer |
   +===================+                       +=============+
             |                                        |
             V                                        V
       IPFIX Messages                            IPFIX Files

           Figure 2: Data Paths through the Aggregation Process

   Note that as Aggregated Flows are IPFIX Flows, an Intermediate
   Aggregation Process may aggregate already Aggregated Flows from an
   upstream IAP as well as Original Flows from an upstream Original
   Exporter or Metering Process.

   Aggregation may also need to correlate Original Flows from multiple
   Metering Processes, each according to a different Template with
   different Flow Keys and values.  This arrangement is shown in Figure
   3; in this case, the correlation and normalization operation
   described in Section 4.2.1 handles merging the Original Flows before
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   packets --+---------------------+------------------+
             |                     |                  |
             V                     V                  V
   +====================+ +====================+ +====================+
   | Metering Process 1 | | Metering Process 2 | | Metering Process n |
   +====================+ +====================+ +====================+
             |                     |  Original Flows  |
             V                     V                  V
   | Intermediate Aggregation Process  +  correlation / normalization |
             | Aggregated                  Aggregated |
             | Flows                            Flows |
             V                                        V
   +===================+                       +=============+
   | Exporting Process |                       | File Writer |
   +===================+                       +=============+
             |                                        |
             +------------> IPFIX Messages <----------+

   Figure 3: Aggregating Original Flows from Multiple Metering Processes

4.2. Intermediate Aggregation Process Architecture

Within this document, an Intermediate Aggregation Process can be seen as hosting a function composed of four types of operations on Partially Aggregated Flows, as illustrated in Figure 4: interval distribution (temporal), key aggregation (spatial), value aggregation (spatial), and aggregate combination. "Partially Aggregated Flows", as defined in Section 2, are essentially the intermediate results of aggregation, internal to the Intermediate Aggregation Process.
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           Original Flows  /   Original Flows requiring correlation
   |             |   Intermediate    |    Aggregation    |   Process   |
   |             |                   V                   V             |
   |             |   +-----------------------------------------------+ |
   |             |   |   (optional) correlation and normalization    | |
   |             |   +-----------------------------------------------+ |
   |             |                          |                          |
   |             V                          V                          |
   |  +--------------------------------------------------------------+ |
   |  |                interval distribution (temporal)              | |
   |  +--------------------------------------------------------------+ |
   |           | ^                         | ^                |        |
   |           | |  Partially Aggregated   | |                |        |
   |           V |         Flows           V |                |        |
   |  +-------------------+       +--------------------+      |        |
   |  |  key aggregation  |<------|  value aggregation |      |        |
   |  |     (spatial)     |------>|      (spatial)     |      |        |
   |  +-------------------+       +--------------------+      |        |
   |            |                          |                  |        |
   |            |   Partially Aggregated   |                  |        |
   |            V          Flows           V                  V        |
   |  +--------------------------------------------------------------+ |
   |  |                     aggregate combination                    | |
   |  +--------------------------------------------------------------+ |
   |                                       |                           |
                                   Aggregated Flows

    Figure 4: Conceptual Model of Aggregation Operations within an IAP

   Interval distribution:  a temporal aggregation operation that imposes
      an Aggregation Interval on the Partially Aggregated Flow.  This
      Aggregation Interval may be regular, irregular, or derived from
      the timing of the Original Flows themselves.  Interval
      distribution is discussed in detail in Section 5.1.

   Key aggregation:  a spatial aggregation operation that results in the
      addition, modification, or deletion of Flow Key fields in the
      Partially Aggregated Flows.  New Flow Keys may be derived from
      existing Flow Keys (e.g., looking up an AS number (ASN) for an IP
      address), or "promoted" from specific non-key fields (e.g., when
      aggregating Flows by packet count per Flow).  Key aggregation can
      also add new non-key fields derived from Flow Keys that are
      deleted during key aggregation: mainly counters of unique reduced
      keys.  Key aggregation is discussed in detail in Section 5.2.
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   Value aggregation:  a spatial aggregation operation that results in
      the addition, modification, or deletion of non-key fields in the
      Partially Aggregated Flows.  These non-key fields may be "demoted"
      from existing key fields, or derived from existing key or non-key
      fields.  Value aggregation is discussed in detail in Section 5.3.

   Aggregate combination:  an operation combining multiple Partially
      Aggregated Flows having undergone interval distribution, key
      aggregation, and value aggregation that share Flow Keys and
      Aggregation Intervals into a single Aggregated Flow per set of
      Flow Key values and Aggregation Interval.  Aggregate combination
      is discussed in detail in Section 5.4.

   Correlation and normalization:  an optional operation that applies
      when accepting Original Flows from Metering Processes that export
      different views of essentially the same Flows before aggregation.
      The details of correlation and normalization are specified in
      Section 4.2.1, below.

   The first three of these operations may be carried out any number of
   times in any order, either on Original Flows or on the results of one
   of the operations above, with one caveat: since Flows carry their own
   interval data, any spatial aggregation operation implies a temporal
   aggregation operation, so at least one interval distribution step,
   even if implicit, is required by this architecture.  This is shown as
   the first step for the sake of simplicity in the diagram above.  Once
   all aggregation operations are complete, aggregate combination
   ensures that for a given Aggregation Interval, set of Flow Key
   values, and Observation Domain, only one Flow is produced by the
   Intermediate Aggregation Process.

   This model describes the operations within a single Intermediate
   Aggregation Process, and it is anticipated that most aggregation will
   be applied within a single process.  However, as the steps in the
   model may be applied in any order and aggregate combination is
   idempotent, any number of Intermediate Aggregation Processes
   operating in series can be modeled as a single process.  This allows
   aggregation operations to be flexibly distributed across any number
   of processes, should application or deployment considerations so

4.2.1. Correlation and Normalization

When accepting Original Flows from multiple Metering Processes, each of which provides a different view of the Original Flow as seen from the point of view of the IAP, an optional correlation and normalization operation combines each of these single Flow Records
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   into a set of unified Partially Aggregated Flows before applying
   interval distribution.  These unified Flows appear as if they had
   been measured at a single Metering Process that used the union of the
   set of Flow Keys and non-key fields of all Metering Processes sending
   Original Flows to the IAP.

   Since, due to export errors or other slight irregularities in Flow
   metering, the multiple views may not be completely consistent;
   normalization involves applying a set of corrections that are
   specific to the aggregation application in order to ensure
   consistency in the unified Flows.

   In general, correlation and normalization should take multiple views
   of essentially the same Flow, as determined by the configuration of
   the operation itself, and render them into a single unified Flow.
   Flows that are essentially different should not be unified by the
   correlation and normalization operation.  This operation therefore
   requires enough information about the configuration and deployment of
   Metering Processes from which it correlates Original Flows in order
   to make this distinction correctly and consistently.

   The exact steps performed to correlate and normalize Flows in this
   step are application, implementation, and deployment specific, and
   will not be further specified in this document.

5. IP Flow Aggregation Operations

As stated in Section 2, an Aggregated Flow is simply an IPFIX Flow generated from Original Flows by an Intermediate Aggregation Process. Here, we detail the operations by which this is achieved within an Intermediate Aggregation Process.

5.1. Temporal Aggregation through Interval Distribution

Interval distribution imposes a time interval on the resulting Aggregated Flows. The selection of an interval is specific to the given aggregation application. Intervals may be derived from the Original Flows themselves (e.g., an interval may be selected to cover the entire time containing the set of all Flows sharing a given Key, as in Time Composition, described in Section 5.1.2) or externally imposed; in the latter case the externally imposed interval may be regular (e.g., every five minutes) or irregular (e.g., to allow for different time resolutions at different times of day, under different network conditions, or indeed for different sets of Original Flows). The length of the imposed interval itself has trade-offs. Shorter intervals allow higher-resolution aggregated data and, in streaming applications, faster reaction time. Longer intervals generally lead
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   to greater data reduction and simplified counter distribution.
   Specifically, counter distribution is greatly simplified by the
   choice of an interval longer than the duration of longest Original
   Flow, itself generally determined by the Original Flow's Metering
   Process active timeout; in this case, an Original Flow can contribute
   to at most two Aggregated Flows, and the more complex value
   distribution methods become inapplicable.

   |                |                |                |
   | |<--Flow A-->| |                |                |
   |        |<--Flow B-->|           |                |
   |          |<-------------Flow C-------------->|   |
   |                |                |                |
   |   interval 0   |   interval 1   |   interval 2   |

              Figure 5: Illustration of Interval Distribution

   In Figure 5, we illustrate three common possibilities for interval
   distribution as applies with regular intervals to a set of three
   Original Flows.  For Flow A, the start and end times lie within the
   boundaries of a single interval 0; therefore, Flow A contributes to
   only one Aggregated Flow.  Flow B, by contrast, has the same duration
   but crosses the boundary between intervals 0 and 1; therefore, it
   will contribute to two Aggregated Flows, and its counters must be
   distributed among these Flows; though, in the two-interval case, this
   can be simplified somewhat simply by picking one of the two intervals
   or proportionally distributing between them.  Only Flows like Flow A
   and Flow B will be produced when the interval is chosen to be longer
   than the duration of longest Original Flow, as above.  More
   complicated is the case of Flow C, which contributes to more than two
   Aggregated Flows and must have its counters distributed according to
   some policy as in Section 5.1.1.

5.1.1. Distributing Values across Intervals

In general, counters in Aggregated Flows are treated the same as in any Flow. Each counter is independently calculated as if it were derived from the set of packets in the Original Flow. For example, delta counters are summed, the most recent total count for each Original Flow taken then summed across Flows, and so on. When the Aggregation Interval is guaranteed to be longer than the longest Original Flow, a Flow can cross at most one Interval boundary, and will therefore contribute to at most two Aggregated Flows. Most common in this case is to arbitrarily but consistently choose to account the Original Flow's counters either to the first or to the last Aggregated Flow to which it could contribute.
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   However, this becomes more complicated when the Aggregation Interval
   is shorter than the longest Original Flow in the source data.  In
   such cases, each Original Flow can incompletely cover one or more
   time intervals, and apply to one or more Aggregated Flows.  In this
   case, the Intermediate Aggregation Process must distribute the
   counters in the Original Flows across one or more resulting
   Aggregated Flows.  There are several methods for doing this, listed
   here in roughly increasing order of complexity and accuracy; most of
   these are necessary only in specialized cases.

   End Interval:  The counters for an Original Flow are added to the
      counters of the appropriate Aggregated Flow containing the end
      time of the Original Flow.

   Start Interval:  The counters for an Original Flow are added to the
      counters of the appropriate Aggregated Flow containing the start
      time of the Original Flow.

   Mid Interval:  The counters for an Original Flow are added to the
      counters of a single appropriate Aggregated Flow containing some
      timestamp between start and end time of the Original Flow.

   Simple Uniform Distribution:  Each counter for an Original Flow is
      divided by the number of time intervals the Original Flow covers
      (i.e., of appropriate Aggregated Flows sharing the same Flow
      Keys), and this number is added to each corresponding counter in
      each Aggregated Flow.

   Proportional Uniform Distribution:  This is like simple uniform
      distribution, but accounts for the fractional portions of a time
      interval covered by an Original Flow in the first and last time
      interval.  Each counter for an Original Flow is divided by the
      number of time _units_ the Original Flow covers, to derive a mean
      count rate.  This rate is then multiplied by the number of time
      units in the intersection of the duration of the Original Flow and
      the time interval of each Aggregated Flow.

   Simulated Process:  Each counter of the Original Flow is distributed
      among the intervals of the Aggregated Flows according to some
      function the Intermediate Aggregation Process uses based upon
      properties of Flows presumed to be like the Original Flow.  For
      example, Flow Records representing bulk transfer might follow a
      more or less proportional uniform distribution, while interactive
      processes are far more bursty.

   Direct:  The Intermediate Aggregation Process has access to the
      original packet timings from the packets making up the Original
      Flow, and uses these to distribute or recalculate the counters.
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   A method for exporting the distribution of counters across multiple
   Aggregated Flows is detailed in Section 7.4.  In any case, counters
   MUST be distributed across the multiple Aggregated Flows in such a
   way that the total count is preserved, within the limits of accuracy
   of the implementation.  This property allows data to be aggregated
   and re-aggregated with negligible loss of original count information.
   To avoid confusion in interpretation of the aggregated data, all the
   counters in a given Aggregated Flow MUST be distributed via the same

   More complex counter distribution methods generally require that the
   interval distribution process track multiple "current" time intervals
   at once.  This may introduce some delay into the aggregation
   operation, as an interval should only expire and be available for
   export when no additional Original Flows applying to the interval are
   expected to arrive at the Intermediate Aggregation Process.

   Note, however, that since there is no guarantee that Flows from the
   Original Exporter will arrive in any given order, whether for
   transport-specific reasons (i.e., UDP reordering) or reasons specific
   to the implementation of the Metering Process or Exporting Process,
   even simpler distribution methods may need to deal with Flows
   arriving in an order other than start time or end time.  Therefore,
   the use of larger intervals does not obviate the need to buffer
   Partially Aggregated Flows within "current" time intervals, to ensure
   the IAP can accept Flow time intervals in any arrival order.  More
   generally, the interval distribution process SHOULD accept Flow start
   and end times in the Original Flows in any reasonable order.  The
   expiration of intervals in interval distribution operations is
   dependent on implementation and deployment requirements, and it MUST
   be made configurable in contexts in which "reasonable order" is not
   obvious at implementation time.  This operation may lead to delay and
   loss introduced by the IAP, as detailed in Section 6.2.

5.1.2. Time Composition

Time Composition, as in Section 5.4 of [RFC5982] (or interval combination), is a special case of aggregation, where interval distribution imposes longer intervals on Flows with matching keys and "chained" start and end times, without any key reduction, in order to join long-lived Flows that may have been split (e.g., due to an active timeout shorter than the actual duration of the Flow). Here, no Key aggregation is applied, and the Aggregation Interval is chosen on a per-Flow basis to cover the interval spanned by the set of Aggregated Flows. This may be applied alone in order to normalize split Flows, or it may be applied in combination with other aggregation functions in order to obtain more accurate Original Flow counts.
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5.1.3. External Interval Distribution

Note that much of the difficulty of interval distribution at an IAP can be avoided simply by configuring the original Exporters to synchronize the time intervals in the Original Flows with the desired aggregation interval. The resulting Original Flows would then be split to align perfectly with the time intervals imposed during interval imposition, as shown in Figure 6, though this may reduce their usefulness for non-aggregation purposes. This approach allows the Intermediate Aggregation Process to use Start Interval or End Interval distribution, while having equivalent information to that available to direct interval distribution. | | | | |<----Flow D---->|<----Flow E---->|<----Flow F---->| | | | | | interval 0 | interval 1 | interval 2 | Figure 6: Illustration of External Interval Distribution

5.2. Spatial Aggregation of Flow Keys

Key aggregation generates a new set of Flow Key values for the Aggregated Flows from the Original Flow Key and non-key fields in the Original Flows or from correlation of the Original Flow information with some external source. There are two basic operations here. First, Aggregated Flow Keys may be derived directly from Original Flow Keys through reduction, or they may be derived by the dropping of fields or precision in the Original Flow Keys. Second, Aggregated Flow Keys may be derived through replacement, e.g., by removing one or more fields from the Original Flow and replacing them with fields derived from the removed fields. Replacement may refer to external information (e.g., IP to AS number mappings). Replacement may apply to Flow Keys as well as non-key fields. For example, consider an application that aggregates Original Flows by packet count (i.e., generating an Aggregated Flow for all one-packet Flows, one for all two-packet Flows, and so on). This application would promote the packet count to a Flow Key. Key aggregation may also result in the addition of new non-key fields to the Aggregated Flows, namely, Original Flow counters and unique reduced key counters. These are treated in more detail in Sections 5.2.1 and 5.2.2, respectively. In any key aggregation operation, reduction and/or replacement may be applied any number of times in any order. Which of these operations are supported by a given implementation is implementation and application dependent.
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   Original Flow Keys

   | src ip4 | dst ip4 | src port | dst port | proto | tos |
        |         |         |          |         |      |
     retain   mask /24      X          X         X      X
        |         |
        V         V
   | src ip4 | dst ip4 /24 |

   Aggregated Flow Keys (by source address and destination /24 network)

          Figure 7: Illustration of Key Aggregation by Reduction

   Figure 7 illustrates an example reduction operation, aggregation by
   source address and destination /24 network.  Here, the port,
   protocol, and type-of-service information is removed from the Flow
   Key, the source address is retained, and the destination address is
   masked by dropping the lower 8 bits.

   Original Flow Keys

   | src ip4 | dst ip4 | src port | dst port | proto | tos |
        |         |         |          |         |      |
        V         V         |          |         |      |
   +-------------------+    X          X         X      X
   | ASN lookup table  |
        |         |
        V         V
   | src asn | dst asn |

   Aggregated Flow Keys (by source and destination ASN)

                 Figure 8: Illustration of Key Aggregation
                       by Reduction and Replacement

   Figure 8 illustrates an example reduction and replacement operation,
   aggregation by source and destination Border Gateway Protocol (BGP)
   Autonomous System Number (ASN) without ASN information available in
   the Original Flow.  Here, the port, protocol, and type-of-service
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   information is removed from the Flow Keys, while the source and
   destination addresses are run though an IP address to ASN lookup
   table, and the Aggregated Flow Keys are made up of the resulting
   source and destination ASNs.

5.2.1. Counting Original Flows

When aggregating multiple Original Flows into an Aggregated Flow, it is often useful to know how many Original Flows are present in the Aggregated Flow. Section 7.2 introduces four new Information Elements to export these counters. There are two possible ways to count Original Flows, which we call conservative and non-conservative. Conservative Flow counting has the property that each Original Flow contributes exactly one to the total Flow count within a set of Aggregated Flows. In other words, conservative Flow counters are distributed just as any other counter during interval distribution, except each Original Flow is assumed to have a Flow count of one. When a count for an Original Flow must be distributed across a set of Aggregated Flows, and a distribution method is used that does not account for that Original Flow completely within a single Aggregated Flow, conservative Flow counting requires a fractional representation. By contrast, non-conservative Flow counting is used to count how many Contributing Flows are represented in an Aggregated Flow. Flow counters are not distributed in this case. An Original Flow that is present within N Aggregated Flows would add N to the sum of non- conservative Flow counts, one to each Aggregated Flow. In other words, the sum of conservative Flow counts over a set of Aggregated Flows is always equal to the number of Original Flows, while the sum of non-conservative Flow counts is strictly greater than or equal to the number of Original Flows. For example, consider Flows A, B, and C as illustrated in Figure 5. Assume that the key aggregation step aggregates the keys of these three Flows to the same aggregated Flow Key, and that start interval counter distribution is in effect. The conservative Flow count for interval 0 is 3 (since Flows A, B, and C all begin in this interval), and for the other two intervals is 0. The non-conservative Flow count for interval 0 is also 3 (due to the presence of Flows A, B, and C), for interval 1 is 2 (Flows B and C), and for interval 2 is 1 (Flow C). The sum of the conservative counts 3 + 0 + 0 = 3, the number of Original Flows; while the sum of the non-conservative counts 3 + 2 + 1 = 6.
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   Note that the active and inactive timeouts used to generate Original
   Flows, as well as the cache policy used to generate those Flows, have
   an effect on how meaningful either the conservative or non-
   conservative Flow count will be during aggregation.  In general,
   Original Exporters using the IPFIX Configuration Model SHOULD be
   configured to export Flows with equal or similar activeTimeout and
   inactiveTimeout configuration values, and the same cacheMode, as
   defined in [RFC6728].  Original Exporters not using the IPFIX
   Configuration Model SHOULD be configured equivalently.

5.2.2. Counting Distinct Key Values

One common case in aggregation is counting distinct key values that were reduced away during key aggregation. The most common use case for this is counting distinct hosts per Flow Key; for example, in host characterization or anomaly detection, distinct sources per destination or distinct destinations per source are common metrics. These new non-key fields are added during key aggregation. For such applications, Information Elements for distinct counts of IPv4 and IPv6 addresses are defined in Section 7.3. These are named distinctCountOf(KeyName). Additional such Information Elements should be registered with IANA on an as-needed basis.

5.3. Spatial Aggregation of Non-key Fields

Aggregation operations may also lead to the addition of value fields that are demoted from key fields or are derived from other value fields in the Original Flows. Specific cases of this are treated in the subsections below.

5.3.1. Counter Statistics

Some applications of aggregation may benefit from computing different statistics than those native to each non-key field (e.g., flags are natively combined via union and delta counters by summing). For example, minimum and maximum packet counts per Flow, mean bytes per packet per Contributing Flow, and so on. Certain Information Elements for these applications are already provided in the IANA IPFIX Information Elements registry [IANA-IPFIX] (e.g., minimumIpTotalLength). A complete specification of additional aggregate counter statistics is outside the scope of this document, and should be added in the future to the IANA IPFIX Information Elements registry on a per- application, as-needed basis.
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5.3.2. Derivation of New Values from Flow Keys and Non-key fields

More complex operations may lead to other derived fields being generated from the set of values or Flow Keys reduced away during aggregation. A prime example of this is sample entropy calculation. This counts distinct values and frequency, so it is similar to distinct key counting as in Section 5.2.2; however, it may be applied to the distribution of values for any Flow field. Sample entropy calculation provides a one-number normalized representation of the value spread and is useful for anomaly detection. The behavior of entropy statistics is such that a small number of keys showing up very often drives the entropy value down towards zero, while a large number of keys, each showing up with lower frequency, drives the entropy value up. Entropy statistics are generally useful for identifier keys, such as IP addresses, port numbers, AS numbers, etc. They can also be calculated on Flow length, Flow duration fields, and the like, even if this generally yields less distinct value shifts when the traffic mix changes. As a practical example, one host scanning a lot of other hosts will drive source IP entropy down and target IP entropy up. A similar effect can be observed for ports. This pattern can also be caused by the scan-traffic of a fast Internet worm. A second example would be a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) flooding attack against a single target (or small number of targets) that drives source IP entropy up and target IP entropy down. A complete specification of additional derived values or entropy Information Elements is outside the scope of this document. Any such Information Elements should be added in the future to the IANA IPFIX Information Elements registry on a per-application, as-needed basis.

5.4. Aggregation Combination

Interval distribution and key aggregation together may generate multiple Partially Aggregated Flows covering the same time interval with the same set of Flow Key values. The process of combining these Partially Aggregated Flows into a single Aggregated Flow is called aggregation combination. In general, non-Key values from multiple Contributing Flows are combined using the same operation by which values are combined from packets to form Flows for each Information Element. Delta counters are summed, flags are unioned, and so on.

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