RIPE Atlas

On Thursday I got a notification slip in my snail-mail box about a packet that was waiting for me at the post office. It was registered mail, sent from Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Registered mail is interesting, since the sender actual cares if you receive the package or not. Amsterdam is also interesting, considering all the different things that you can receive from that particular city. The thing was that I couldn’t remember having bought anything recently that would be dispatched from Amsterdam.

Could I have been doing some drunken internet shopping? It has only happened once before, and it’s a long time ago. I watched an excellent movie, Deep Rising, after coming home from a long night out and decided I just had to buy it on DVD. It was impossible to come by in Norway, but luckily I managed to dig it up in an obscure American online store. A few weeks later the DVD arrived in the mail. With P&P, import tax and an unfortunate exchange rate, the price of the thing easily exceeded three times the normal price of a DVD. And after seeing the movie again I learned a hard lesson in life: Drunken internet shopping is a really bad idea. The movie was crap.

If I had been riding the plastic VISA dragon again, this registered packet from Amsterdam could potentially contain anything. Maybe it was a tiny prostitute or some dope1? Should I worry about plain clothes cops hiding in the snowdrift outside the post office?

As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. Of course. What I received was my RIPE Atlas probe. RIPE NCC is an independent, not-for-profit membership organisation that supports the infrastructure of the Internet through technical coordination and it’s located in - you guessed it - Amsterdam.

With the Atlas, RIPE is building the next generation active Internet measurement system. It is currently in the prototype stage and will eventually scale up to thousands of measurement nodes distributed around the globe. A probe is a tiny hardware device that runs measurements in the RIPE Atlas system and reports these measurements to the data collection components. I’ve now connected one of the nodes to my network to feeds the Atlas with relevant measurement data. Or all my passwords and credit card numbers.

I’m not doing this only to do RIPE a favor. I’m suspecting the my ISP has overbooked their bandwidth capacity considerably in my area: Last week I was at home sick for a day and around noon I started a download that sped through at maximum speed. As one should expect, since I do, you know, pay for that speed. In the evening, however, downloads tend to just crawl along. The most likely culprit is someone with way too much warez to share. I suspect the downstairs neighbors; I’m pretty sure I can hear the PSU fans of a server when I walk past their front door.

With the Atlas probe I’m hoping to extract some measurements that show ping values skyrocket and bandwidth measurements plummet in the evening. It’s nice to have some sort of data when sending that angry (but polite) old-cranky-man e-mail to the ISP. And if I don’t get the data I want from the probe, I’m still contributing to the RIPE Atlas. If you also want to connect a probe to your network, you can use this form.

  1. Just to clarify; I’ve never order neither (tiny) prostitutes nor dope (on the internet). ↩︎


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