University head tracks internet performance

Imagine you're in Auckland and you want to set up a videoconference between yourself, San Diego, Dublin and Delhi. You click on your PC and request 2Mb/s links between the four locations for half an hour.

Imagine you’re in Auckland and you want to set up a videoconference between yourself, San Diego, Dublin and Delhi. You click on your PC and request 2Mb/s links between the four locations for half an hour. The system sets up the connection for the required time, monitors the traffic flow to ensure you get adequate service, and bills you.

That’s the future envisaged by Auckland University’s Nevil Brownlee, who now devotes half his working year to research on internet traffic measurement at the University of California. Brownlee, director of technology development at Auckland, is 50% employed by The Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA), based at the University of California’s supercomputer centre in San Diego. CAIDA, is an independent research group comprising government organisations, large ISPs and equipment vendors.

Brownlee says there is tremendous commercial interest in being able to measure internet traffic. “Bandwidth is a commodity market and telcos are looking for ways to differentiate themselves. Offering well-defined QoS [quality of service] is a way to do that, but you need a way to verify you’re providing what the customer is paying for.” In the past four years there has been a corresponding surge of interest in developing “internet accounting” systems which measure traffic flow and bill users accordingly, he says.

This year Brownlee is measuring the performance and response times of the world’s root nameservers. These 13 nameservers are the foundation on which the global domain name system (DNS) is built, so it’s important they perform well, he says.

Last year, as part of his sabbatical leave from Auckland, Brownlee was involved in setting up the CAIDA Metrics Working Group. It aims to educate IT managers about network measurement, to define a set of metrics and to provide a requirements document for network hardware vendors so that such measurements become widely and easily accessible.

Brownlee’s interest in internet traffic management goes back to 1989 when Auckland University was first connected to the internet [through Waikato University's gateway] and had to recover the costs. He also worked on the Realtime Traffic Flow Measurement Working standard for the internet.

Brownlee says New Zealand has a high profile in internet traffic measurement research. Waikato University’s, WAND (Waikato Advanced Network Dynamics) group has produced a series of network monitoring cards which are used for research projects worldwide.

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