What Is a Differentiated Service?

Malcolm Tatum

In computing, a differentiated service is a type of design strategy that makes it possible to segregate network traffic into several different categories or classes. This approach can be very helpful in terms of understanding the nature of the traffic on a given network as well as allocating resources so each class can be managed with the greatest degree of efficiency. Software design patterns will often allow for some sort of differentiated service application, allowing several different types or classes of traffic to run on a single network without creating any type of transfer issues.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

There are a number of classes commonly associated with a differentiated service. Among the ones that are typical for most networks are local Internet Protocol or IP addresses, any client IP addresses used in the network, and the schedule associated with the network used to process inbound and outbound information. Elements such as the type of application ports employed with the network as well as protocol settings relevant to different transfers of data within the network would also be considered a differentiated service.

Typically, all traffic that conforms to the same basic protocols will enjoy the same category or classification. By qualifying the type of traffic used in different applications and to perform various tasks, the process of allocating resources in a manner that does not lead to performance issues with other running applications is kept to a minimum. For this reason, many networks are designed to recognize both class and the performance of the programs making use of those classes. When a differentiated service is operating at the highest performance level possible, the overall functionality of the network or system is likely to remain quite high.

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One key benefit of a differentiated service approach is that hardware and software included in the network can continue to function without regard to what is happening with other classes or categories of service. This means that routers will continue to function normally regardless of what is happening with other applications also running as part of the network. While this benefit is significant, a differentiated service setup is not without some potential liabilities. For example, it is sometimes difficult to identify exactly how different routers are relating to one another, meaning that it may not be possible to completely recover details about how the information packets are managed at both the point of origin and the point of termination. If there is some type of issue with the passing of the data packets, this could create some additional drain on resources which might slow down some activities for a brief period of time.

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