Getting a better understanding of the Internet via the lenses of RIPE Atlas

The Internet is probably the most complex system to have been built by humans. All the devices and software that compose the Internet interact in various ways. Most of the times, these interactions are positive and allow to improve the network performance. However, some interactions can cause losses of connectivity, decreased performance or other types of problems.

Understanding all the factors that affect the performance of the Internet is complex. One way to approach the problem is to collect measurements about various metrics such as delay, bandwidth or paths through the network. Several research projects and companies are currently collecting large amounts of data about the Internet.

A very interesting project is RIPE Atlas . RIPE is a non-profit organisation mainly composed of network operators whose objective is to allocate IP addresses in Europe. In addition to this address allocation activity, they allow carry various projects that are useful for their members. Atlas is one of their recent projects. To obtain a better understanding on the performance and the connectivity of Internet nodes, RIPE engineers have developed a very small network probe that contains an embedded operating system, has an Ethernet plug an is powered via USB. A photo of the Atlas probe is available here.

This embedded system has low power and low performance, but it can be deployed at a large scale. As of this writing, more than 1800 probes are connected to the Internet and new ones are added on a daily basis. This large number of nodes places RIPE in a very good position to obtain very good data about the performance of the network since they can run various types of measurements including ping and traceroute. As of this writing, Atlas is mainly used to check network connectivity since Atlas hosts can request their own measurements. In this future, it can be expected that Atlas hosts will be able to program various forms of measurements and RIPE has developed a credit system that allows hosts to obtain credits based on the number of Atlas probes that they host.

Atlas already cover a large fraction of the Internet. In can check on the probes that have been activated near your location. If you live in an area without Atlas probes and have permanent Internet connectivity, you can apply on