Macroscopic Internet visualization and measurement

k claffy
Brad Huffaker

(current version of software)
(current version of code)

Visualization of the Internet beyond the purview of a single provider has become a challenging task that has received little attention from the research community. We have developed a tool for visualizing the infrastructure of multiple backbone providers simultaneously, and for updating and correcting information that may be invalid or out of date. The tool's accuracy unimitigatably relies on the cooperation of providers in keeping the information accurate. The tool also includes a module for determining performance or routing information about components of the infrastructure amenable to measurement.

Goal I: macroscope

Visualization of the Internet beyond the purview of a single provider has become challenging and received little attention from the research community. Commercial Internet service providers grow increasingly hesitant to voluntarily publish topology or peering information about their network, and those that do so have no standard format to use, leaving the maps that do exist fairly incomparable with each other.

We have developed a tool for visualizing the infrastructure of multiple U.S. backbone providers simultaneously. We divided each backbone infrastructure into a group of nodes (POPs) and pipes between these nodes, drawing them based on their geographical location on a map of the world.

At the same time, the evolution of cooperative research networks, currently framed by the NSF's new connections to the vBNS and cooperating U.S. federal agencies, has given rise the desire for being able to share performance information across infrastructures, perhaps even commerical ones. We are also developing a module that will allow one to request performance or routing information across arbitrary points of the infrastructure amenable to measurement. Our first step was to create not only a database of backbone topologies, but also the latitude and longitude information for each one. Even though we limited our scope to a small number of NSPs (the largest ones), completely representing all of even this subset at once leaves an image too congested to be meaningful.

We approached this problem using a Java applet as an interactive front-end, through which the user can click on a backbone to direct the applet to add or remove it to the map in real-time. Since the user likely only wants to see a specific subset of the data at any given time (perhaps for use in determining peering possibilities), this flexibility in presentation offers clearer understanding of the data subsets of interest, and allows the user to control the complexity.

For the commerical backbone topology we used data from the web site, which many of our backbone contacts indicated was significantly inaccurate, but was all we had to start with. The research backbone topology was gathered from a number of sources. Due to the great difference in representation across these sources, many assumptions were made. While this is regretable it was also unaviodable. Indeed, infrastructure is now so rapid that any database would have been obsolete before we had even finished the interface, so an important component of our tool would be a mechanism for accepting updates from backbone infrastructure representatives.

Figure 1: Simultaneously viewing several backbones, as indicated in the lower left frame, and also identified there by color and point of contact. The link over which the mouse sits reflects its city pair and associated ISP in the right frame.

We also allow the user to remove the background map (Figure 2), in case it obsructs a desired view.

Figure 2: View without the background map.