Port Exhaustion

When you have devices on an internal network that access the Internet via NAT, your firewall with perform what’s called “Port Address Translation”, or PAT.

When a device sends IP packets, it has both a source and destination port. The destination port is whatever service you’re access (like 443 for HTTPS), and the OS is typically in charge of selecting a source port, though an application (like Teams) may specific source ports to use.

Since you’ll have a number of systems behind your firewall, there’s the possibility that some of them will select the same source port to use in a conversation. This is especially true with an application like Teams that allows a source port range to be selected to facilitate QoS. PAT translates these source ports (whether or not they’re conflicting) to an unused port on the firewalls outside IP.

Problems can arise, however, if there is sufficient traffic on your LAN to use up all of the ports on the outside of your firewall. This can be because of a specific application using numerous ports, numerous applications running on a system, the overall number of systems on the LAN, or usually some combination of all three. This is called port exhaustion, as the supply of available ports is exhausted. Any modern enterprise or business class firewall will let you monitor the number of ports being used, and the good ones will generate an alarm. If you’re encountering port exhaustion, the most practical solution is to add IP addresses to the pool of IP addresses that the firewall can use.

If this isn’t possible, a much less favourable solution is to adjust timeout values on the firewall. Be aware that this can lead to poor application performance as connections need to be re-established for the application to run, rather than being left open.

Finally, you can use this article for guidance on planning the number of users/applications/devices per IP address. Note that these are only guidance, and different applications will use ports differently. Monitoring is key!

1 thought on “Port Exhaustion

  1. Pingback: Microsoft Teams tech-note – sindum.dk

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