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November 25, 2008

New Software Targets Online Problems In Real Time

Internet network performance issues are not only bothersome to users, but they are also pricey to businesses and network operators. Nevertheless, because the Internet has no built-in monitoring method, numerous network troubles often fly under the radar.

Although slow playback on streaming video is incredibly frustrating to users, it can turn away thousands of possible customers from the site issuing the feed. As the Internet grows daily, these network blunders, or anomalies, are twice as common and exasperating.

To address the situation, researchers at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University have created a better way to find and report these difficulties in real time through their Network Early Warning System.

Establishing the presence of network irregularities is imperative because the Internet has no general monitoring system. Existing monitoring systems attempt to locate network anomalies and can find issues that may lead to presentation problems, but cannot determine whether individual users are in fact having problems with the site.

Nevertheless, millions of Internet users obviously create data traffic that naturally provides data to see if the network is operating or not. By giving out high-level information about their occurrences, these users may be able to proficiently and precisely notice where problems happen in real time.

So Fabián Bustamante, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and doctoral scholar David Choffnes are developing this examination to create a participatory advance to sensing, finding and reporting network problems: the Network Early Warning System, or NEWS.

"You can think of it as crowd sourcing network monitoring," said Bustamante.

Although the idea behind NEWS is simple, Bustamante and Choffnes conquered numerous design tests to convey the idea to Internet-scale deployment. By retrieving data about network circumstances from everyday Internet traffic, NEWS spotlights the issues that directly affect users and accomplishes this without needing any additional information and possibly useless network-measurement traffic.

NEWS integrates facts about "normal" actions for network applications to avoid false alarms and verifies supposed issues by running it by other close users.

NEWS is at present applied as an addition to a well-liked BitTorrent client. By producing warnings about troubles in the network, the software lets users guarantee that they receive the exact Internet service they pay for.

This was encouragement enough for 12,000 users to install the software in its beta-testing phase. The researchers are currently creating a portal for network providers to be alerted about the network problems notified to them by other users.

Bustamante and Choffnes, who in the past issued the popular Ono extension for BitTorrent, are relating the NEWS approach to construct other innovative ideas.

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