Performance Evaluation

This document presents the steps to evaluate Cilium networking performance. Our primary goal is to make the evaluation process transparent and its results easily reproducible. In this document, we focus on small-scale experiments. For larger deployments, refer to the Scalability report.

To ease reproducibility, this report is paired with a set of scripts that can be found in All scripts in this document refer to this repository. Specifically, we use Terraform and Ansible to setup the environment and execute benchmarks. We use Packet bare metal servers as our hardware platform, but the guide is structured so that it can be easily adapted to other environments.

The rest of this document is organized as follows:

  1. Setup describes the machine setup and basic software that is required for our evaluation. This includes everything that is to be executed only once regardless of the number of Cilium configurations that are to be evaluated.
  2. Evaluation discusses the methodology and tools of the evaluation.
  3. Results presents our results for three different Cilium configurations:
    1. Tunneling with VXLAN;
    2. Native Routing;
    3. Encryption with IPSec and native routing.
  4. Tuning details a few basic kernel and OS configurations which can help to reduce noise in measurements and at the same time increase performance.


Download the Cilium performance evaluation scripts:

$ git clone
$ cd cilium-perf-networking

Packet Servers

To evaluate both Encapsulation and Native-Routing, we configure the Packet machines to use a “Mixed/Hybrid” network mode, where the secondary interfaces of the machines share a flat L2 network. While this can be done on the Packet web UI, we include appropriate Terraform (version 0.13) files to automate this process.

$ cd terraform
$ terraform init
$ terraform apply -var 'packet_token=API_TOKEN' -var 'packet_project_id=PROJECT_ID'
$ terraform output ansible_inventory  | tee ../packet-hosts.ini
$ cd ../

The above will provision two servers named knb-0 and knb-1 of type c3.small.x86 and configure them to use a “Mixed/Hybrid” network mode under a common VLAN named knb. The machines will be provisioned with an ubuntu_20_04 OS. We also create a packet-hosts.ini file to use as an inventory file for Ansible.

Verify that the servers are successfully provisioned by executing an ad-hoc uptime command on the servers.

$ cat packet-hosts.ini
[master] ansible_python_interpreter=python3 ansible_user=root prv_ip= node_ip= master=knb-0
[nodes] ansible_python_interpreter=python3 ansible_user=root prv_ip= node_ip=
$ ansible -i packet-hosts.ini all -m shell -a 'uptime' | CHANGED | rc=0 >>
09:31:43 up 33 min,  1 user,  load average: 0.00, 0.00, 0.00 | CHANGED | rc=0 >>
  09:31:44 up 33 min,  1 user,  load average: 0.00, 0.00, 0.00

Next, we use the packet-disbond.yaml playbook to configure the network interfaces of the machines. This will destroy the bond0 interface and configure the first physical interface with the public and private IPs (prv_ip) and the second with the node IP (node_ip) that will be used for our evaluations (see Packet documentation and our scripts for more info).

$ ansible-playbook -i packet-hosts.ini playbooks/packet-disbond.yaml


For hardware platforms other than Packet, users need to provide their own inventory file (packet-hosts.ini) and follow the subsequent steps.

Install Required Software

Install netperf (used for raw host-to-host measurements):

$ ansible-playbook -i packet-hosts.ini playbooks/install-misc.yaml

Install kubeadm and its dependencies:

$ ansible-playbook -i packet-hosts.ini playbooks/install-kubeadm.yaml

We use kubenetbench to execute the netperf benchmark in a Kubernetes environment. kubenetbench is a Kubernetes benchmarking project that is agnostic to the CNI or networking plugin that the cluster is deployed with. In this report we focus on pod-to-pod communication between different nodes. To install kubenetbench:

$ ansible-playbook -i packet-hosts.ini playbooks/install-kubenetbench.yaml


When done with benchmarking, the allocated Packet resources can be released with:

$ cd terraform && terraform destroy -var 'packet_token=API_TOKEN' -var 'packet_project_id=PROJECT_ID'



Configure Cilium in tunneling (Encapsulation) mode:

$ ansible-playbook -e mode=tunneling -i packet-hosts.ini playbooks/install-k8s-cilium.yaml
$ ansible-playbook -e conf=vxlan -i packet-hosts.ini playbooks/run-kubenetbench.yaml

The first command configures Cilium to use tunneling (-e mode=tunneling), which by default uses the VXLAN overlay. The second executes our benchmark suite (the conf variable is used to identify this benchmark run). Once execution is done, a results directory will be copied back in a folder named after the conf variable (in this case, vxlan). This directory includes all the benchmark results as generated by kubenetbench, including netperf output and system information.

Native Routing

We repeat the same operation as before, but configure Cilium to use Native-Routing (-e mode=directrouting).

$ ansible-playbook -e mode=directrouting -i packet-hosts.ini playbooks/install-k8s-cilium.yaml
$ ansible-playbook -e conf=routing -i packet-hosts.ini playbooks/run-kubenetbench.yaml


To use encryption with native routing:

$ ansible-playbook -e kubeproxyfree=disabled -e mode=directrouting -e encryption=yes -i packet-hosts.ini playbooks/install-k8s-cilium.yaml
$ ansible-playbook -e conf=encryption-routing -i packet-hosts.ini playbooks/run-kubenetbench.yaml

Raw Performance

To have a point of reference for our results, we execute the same benchmarks between hosts without Kubernetes running. This provides an effective upper limit to the performance achieved by Cilium.

$ ansible-playbook -i packet-hosts.ini playbooks/reset-kubeadm.yaml
$ ansible-playbook -i packet-hosts.ini playbooks/run-rawnetperf.yaml

The first command removes Kubernetes and reboots the machines to ensure that there are no residues in the systems, whereas the second executes the same set of benchmarks between hosts. An alternative would be to run the raw benchmark before setting up Cilium, in which case one would only need the second command.



First, we examine bandwidth. We start with evaluating the maximum achievable transfer rate. We do this by running multiple (16, equal to the number of available CPU threads on our machines) TCP streams and measure their aggregate throughput. We use two netperf benchmarks: stream, which sends data from the client to the server; and maerts, which sends data from the server to the client.

Results are presented below. The bar labeled raw shows the performance achieved by running the server and the client directly on the host. Bars cilium-v1.8-tunnel and cilium-v1.8-routing show the performance of pod-to-pod communication when using Cilium in tunneling (VXLAN) and native-routing modes, respectively. Finally, encryption performance is shown in cilium-v1.8-ipsec-routing.

Non-encryption configurations perform very close to the limits of the system (raw). Tunneling does not perform as well as native routing, though, which we attribute to the overhead of UDP encapsulation.

TCP stream (16 streams)
TCP maerts (16 streams)

Next, we repeat the same experiments using a single TCP stream and present the results below.

TCP stream
TCP maerts

While tunneling mode performs close to raw, routing does not. This was unexpected, so we investigated the reason behind this performance degradation.

We repeated the same experiment on a simpler setup, with traffic flowing through a single veth pair on the source server, without Kubernetes or any CNI running. This Cilium-free setup, reported above as raw-veth-routing, resulted in a similar performance degradation. Since the same path is used in routing mode for Cilium, this explains a substantial part of the performance hit. Note that these results and bottlenecks apply to a single TCP stream, that is, multiple streams converge close to the NICs line rate as we have shown previously.

Given the single stream bottlenecks, we have recently been working on improving the performance of veth through new eBPF features for the latest Linux kernels. Early experiments on our development branch cilium-v1.9-routing show that we were able to overcome these issues in native routing mode. Additionally, optimizations are being worked on to improve performance beyond the results shown here.

Using a Larger MTU

Bandwidth performance can be improved by increasing the MTU when possible. It is worth noting that while increasing the MTU improves the performance of bandwidth benchmarks, it may have detrimental effects on other workloads. Results for using an MTU of 9000 (see our scripts for details) for the same experiments are shown below.

TCP stream
TCP maerts

Request/Reply Messages

Next, we examine the performance of sending small (1 byte) request and reply messages between a client and a server using the same configurations as above. Even though many studies focus on bandwidth measurements, modern applications rely heavily on message passing and this benchmark captures their behavior more accurately.

The first image shows how throughput (in transactions per second) varies as we increase the number of messages in-flight using the burst parameter of netperf (burst=0, 1, 2, 4,…,512). Note that a logarithmic scale is used for the x-axis. As in-flight packets increase, throughput also increases until the system is saturated.

TCP RR: throughput

The second image shows how median latency is affected in the same experiment. (Note that in this case, lower is better.)

TCP RR: latency

In general, Cilium performs close in terms of both latency and throughput to raw. (The initial latency spike on tunneling configuration is consistent across different measurements, and we are currently investigating its causes.)


In this report we focused on performance evaluation without dedicated system tuning, since such options are not available in all cases/platforms. The problem with this, however, is that the performance results can be significantly affected by external factors. Hence, for users that are interested in doing their own experiments to evaluate the performance of the Cilium, we advise to mitigate the effect of external factors by, for example to mention a few:

  • Compiling the kernel with CONFIG_PREEMPT_NONE=y dedicated to server workloads
  • Use tuned with a network-latency profile
  • Pin NIC interrupts to CPUs in a 1:1 mapping and stop irqbalance process

This script shows an example of the above.