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Diagnosing the Internet's ills.

Doctors fire X rays into a patient, collect them as they emerge, and then use computers to piece together information on the health of internal organs. Researchers are now developing an analogous scheme to visualize what is going on within the vast, international network of computer networks and telecommunications links known as the Internet.

Daniel McRobb, Tracie E. Monk, and Kimberly C. Claffy of the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA), based at the University of California's San Diego Supercomputer Center, describe their Internet tomography project in a paper available at the NATURE Web site ( tomog.html).

Made up of researchers from academia, government, and industry, CAIDA represents a significant effort to track data traffic (SN: 10/17/98, p. 255), map usage patterns, and depict the Internet's structure.

The Internet can be thought of as a rapidly growing organism, the researchers say. With new connections among the backbone networks made hourly, "it is critical for the evolution of the Internet that insights into its overall health ... are obtained," the team asserts.

Claffy's team has developed a computer program called skitter to send small, standard packets of data from six sources in the United States to more than 29,000 destinations around the world. The scientists collect data on the round-trip time and path followed as each packet hops from computer to computer to get to its destination.

Computer mapping of that information allows the researchers to visualize how the parts of the Internet are connected at a given time. "One of the useful features is the identification of critical Internet components," says Dave Plonka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Preliminary images of the Internet's structure reveal that a surprisingly small number of backbone networks carry the bulk of the data, Claffy and her colleagues report. Future plans include increasing the number of sources and destinations and refining visualization techniques.
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Author:Peterson, Ivars
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jan 16, 1999
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