Report from the
ISMA Network Visualization Workshop


Introduction and Goals

On April 15-16, 1999 CAIDA hosted an Internet Statistics and Metrics Analysis (ISMA) workshop on Network Visualization. The meeting engaged researchers and practitioners experienced in both the visualization and networking fields in discussions aimed at identifying:

Participation at the workshop was by invitation-only based on individuals' current involvement in these topics. Approximately 55% of attendees were from the research and education fields; the remainder represented Internet service providers (ISPs), network access points (NAPs), or vendors. The meeting was held at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) on the campus of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and was sponsored by the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA) and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under grant number ANI-9996248.


Findings and Conclusions

Visualization techniques, while mature in some disciplines, are only recently making inroads into the dynamic and complex Internet environment. Examples of techniques from other disciplines, including physical and biological sciences, cartography, and air traffic and utility control sectors, offer promising techniques to address visual analysis requirements of Internet operators, researchers, and users. Visualization tools currently available in the Internet sector tend to be in their nascent stages of development and deployment, sometimes with an unfortunate gap between visualization R&D and the needs of ISPs. Most current tools are home-grown by ISP staff and employ simple plotting and graphing utilities for display of trend and related data. Flashier visualization tools that do not directly address a problem perceived by the ISPs are not used.

For example, the Multi-Router Traffic Grapher (MRTG) tool was cited as a useful visualization tool for ISPs. Its simplicity, cross platform functionality, and web interface, and the fact that it is free, are key factors to its popularity. Perhaps most attractive is its flexibility: it can be used to graph utilization of network segments, but it is just as useful for graphing NNTP transfer error occurrences on a news server. These sorts of powerful, narrowly-scoped tools that can be adapted to many purposes are really what ISPs, and perhaps IS organizations in general, can really use. Commercial offerings, such as Hewlett Packard's OpenView, are generally expensive often fail to address backbone ISP requirements for flexibility and comprehensive network/data coverage. According to ISP and NAP representatives at the workshop, the visualization tools that they require would include functionality to: