VIP Enhancements

Outline a vision of how VOLTTRON Message Bus should work

When creating VIP for VOLTTRON 3.0 we wanted to address two security concerns and one user request:

  • Security Concern 1: Agents can spoof each other on the VOLTTRON message bus and fake messages.
  • Security Concern 2: Agents can subscribe to topics that they are not authorized to subscribe to.
  • User Request 1: Several users requested means to transfer large amounts of data between agents without using the message bus.

VOLTTRON Interconnect Protocol (VIP) was created to address these issues but unfortunately, it broke the easy to use pub-sub messaging model of VOLTTRON. Additionally to use the security features of VOLTTRON in 3.0 code has become an ordeal especially when multiple platforms are concerned. Finally, VIP has introduced the requirement for knowledge of specific other platforms to agents written by users in order to be able to communicate. The rest of this memo focuses on defining the way VOLTTRON message bus will work going forward indefinitely and should be used as the guiding principles for any future work on VIP and VOLTTRON.

VOLTTRON Message Bus Guiding Principles:

  1. All communications between two or more different VOLTTRON platforms MUST go through the VIP Router. Said another way, a user agent (application) should have NO capability to reach out to an agent on a different VOLTTRON platform directly.
    All communications between two or more VOLTTRON platforms must be in the form of topics on the message bus. Agents MUST not use a distinct platform address or name to communicate via a direct connection between two platforms.
  2. VOLTTRON will use two TCP ports. One port is used to extend VIP across platforms. A second port is used for the VOLTTRON discovery protocol (more on this to come on a different document). VIP will establish bi-directional communication via a single TCP port.

  3. In order to solve the bootstrapping problem that CurveMQ has punted on, we will modify VIP to operate similar (behaviorally) to SSH.

A. On a single VOLTTRON platform, the platform’s public key will be made available via an API so that all agents will be able to communicate with the platform. Additionally, the behavior of the platform will be changed so that agents on the same platform will automatically be added to auth.json file. No more need for user to add the agents manually to the file. The desired behavior is similar to how SSH handles known_hosts. Note that this behavior still addresses the security request 1 & 2.

B. When connecting VOLTTRON platforms, VOLTTRON Discovery Protocol (VDP) will be used to discover the other platforms public key to establish the router to router connection. Note that since we BANNED agent to agent communication between two platforms, we have prevented an O(N^2) communication pattern and key bootstrapping problem.

  1. Authorization determines what agents are allowed to access what topics. Authorization MUST be managed by the VOLTTRON Central platform on a per organization basis. It is not recommended to have different authorization profiles on different VOLTTRON instances belonging to the same organization.
  2. VOLTTRON message bus uses topics such as and will adopt an information model agreed upon by the VOLTTRON community going forward. Our initial information model is based on the OpenEIS schema going forward. A different document will describe the information model we have adopted going forward. All agents are free to create their own topics but the VOLTTRON team (going forward) will support the common VOLTTRON information model and all agents developed by PNNL will be converted to use the new information model.
  3. Two connected VOLTTRON systems will exchange a list of available topics via the message router. This will allow each VIP router to know what topics are available at what VOLTTRON platform.
  4. Even though each VOLTTRON platform will have knowledge of what topics are available around itself, no actual messages will be forwarded between VOLTTRON platforms until an agent on a specific platform subscribes to a topic. When an agent subscribes to a topic that has a publisher on a different VOLTTRON platform, the VIP router will send a request to its peer routers so that the messages sent to that topic will be forwarded. There will be cases (such as clean energy transactive project) where the publisher to a topic may be multiple hops away. In this case, the subscribe request will be sent towards the publisher through other VIP routers. In order to find the most efficient path, we may need to keep track of the total number of hops (in terms of number of VIP routers).
  5. The model described in steps 5/6/7 applies to data collection. For control applications, VOLTTRON team only allows control actions to be originated from the VOLTTRON instance that is directly connected to that controlled device. This decision is made to increase the robustness of the control agent and to encourage truly distributed applications to be developed.
  6. Direct agent to agent communication will be supported by creation of an ephemeral topic under the topic hierarchy. Our measurements have shown repeatedly that the overhead of using the ZeroMQ message pub/sub is minimal and has zero impact on communications throughput.

In summary, by making small changes to the way VIP operates, I believe that we can significantly increase the usability of the platform and also correct the mixing of two communication platforms into VIP. VOLTTRON message bus will return to being a pub/sub messaging system going forward. Direct agent to agent communication will be supported through the message bus.