The University Record, December 10, 1997

NSF awards $1.5 million for internet performance study

By Susan Harris
Merit Network Inc.

There might be new hope for tracking down delays and traffic jams on the worldwide Internet. Merit Network Inc. has received a $1.6 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study Internet performance. The three-year grant was awarded to Merit's and the University's Internet Performance Measurement and Analysis project (IPMA).

The project will develop technologies and deploy probe machines across the Internet to help monitor performance and track down network brown-outs and outages. The project is a joint effort between Merit and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

The rapid growth of the Internet has left telephone companies and Internet service providers scrambling to meet demand, IPMA officials note. "Often, the pace of growth and new complexity at the heart of the network make it extremely difficult to uncover problems. The IPMA project hopes to help providers add gauges and monitors to the internal 'plumbing' of the network. These tools will help pinpoint traffic bottlenecks and serve as early warnings of network problems."

IPMA's tools, to be available on the World Wide Web, are primarily designed for network operators, but they will also help ordinary users visualize the ups and downs of network traffic over the course of a day, a week or several months. Some of the tools under development include NetNow, which measures loss and delay inside a service provider's backbone, ASExplorer, which visualizes the stability of "core" sections of the Internet, and IPN, which tracks provider outages and downtime.

According to IPMA project director Farnam Jahanian, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, "it's a tremendous opportunity for us-a chance to use the tools we're developing to study the impact of growth and change on the network." The Internet has experienced explosive growth in both size and topological complexity. Today's Internet is so complex, in fact, that it is difficult to get an overall view of network performance.

"One of IPMA's goals," Jahanian continues, "is to collect data on traffic patterns that are common to many parts of the network. That information will significantly advance academic and industry efforts to develop new solutions for high-speed networking."

Merit President Eric Aupperle says that "with a better understanding of how the Internet performs day-to-day, we'll have a much firmer basis for integrating new tools and technologies as they emerge in the United States and worldwide."

The IPMA project maintains close ties with major Internet Service Providers such as MCI and AOL, as well as with leading vendors of Internet hardware and software, to share applications of new technology. The project also works closely with the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis and the National Laboratory for Applied Network Research to create a shared measurement infrastructure for the U.S. Internet.

The IPMA project's home page can be found at http://www.merit.edu/ipma.