A Modular Machine Learning System for Flow-Level Traffic Classification in Large Networks Academic Article uri icon


  • The ability to accurately and scalably classify network traffic is of critical importance to a wide range of management tasks of large networks, such as tier-1 ISP networks and global enterprise networks. Guided by the practical constraints and requirements of traffic classification in large networks, in this article, we explore the design of an accurate and scalable machine learning based flow-level traffic classification system, which is trained on a dataset of flow-level data that has been annotated with application protocol labels by a packet-level classifier. Our system employs a lightweight modular architecture , which combines a series of simple linear binary classifiers, each of which can be efficiently implemented and trained on vast amounts of flow data in parallel, and embraces three key innovative mechanisms, weighted threshold sampling, logistic calibration , and intelligent data partitioning , to achieve scalability while attaining high accuracy. Evaluations using real traffic data from multiple locations in a large ISP show that our system accurately reproduces the labels of the packet level classifier when runs on (unlabeled) flow records, while meeting the scalability and stability requirements of large ISP networks. Using training and test datasets that are two months apart and collected from two different locations, the flow error rates are only 3% for TCP flows and 0.4% for UDP flows. We further show that such error rates can be reduced by combining the information of spatial distributions of flows, or collective traffic statistics , during classification. We propose a novel two-step model, which seamlessly integrates these collective traffic statistics into the existing traffic classification system. Experimental results display performance improvement on all traffic classes and an overall error rate reduction by 15%. In addition to a high accuracy, at runtime, our implementation easily scales to classify traffic on 10Gbps links.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Jin, Y. u., Duffield, N., Erman, J., Haffner, P., Sen, S., & Zhang, Z.

citation count

  • 61

complete list of authors

  • Jin, Yu||Duffield, Nick||Erman, Jeffrey||Haffner, Patrick||Sen, Subhabrata||Zhang, Zhi-Li

publication date

  • March 2012