Google launched a new public service aimed at testing your ISP's practices and performance. The Internet community has been struggling with the thorny topic of Net neutrality. What has been missing from the heated debate is hard data. Now you can get your own data and let your measurements be added to the common database in the cloud. The site called M-Lab hosts three cool test tools with more coming. It is also a repository of information and pointers to other performance measurement tools.
The official M-Lab tests are all supplied by researchers and operate on the PlanetLab network. M-Lab is a place from which you can conveniently launch and operate the measurements. The first set of tools includes:
Network Diagnostic Tool – supplied by Richard Carlson from Internet2. Network Diagnostic Tool (NDT) provides a sophisticated speed and diagnostic test. An NDT test reports more than just the upload and download speeds–it also attempts to determine what, if any, problems limited these speeds, differentiating between computer configuration and network infrastructure problems.
Glasnost – supplied by Krishna Gummadi and Marcel Dischinger from the Max Planck Institute. Glasnost attempts to detect whether your Internet access provider is performing application-specific traffic shaping. Currently, you can test if your ISP is throttling or blocking BitTorrent.
Network Path and Application Diagnosis – supplied by Matt Mathis at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. NPAD diagnoses some of the common problems affecting the last network mile and end-users' systems. These are the most common causes of all performance problems on wide area network paths.
DiffProbe (coming soon) – supplied by Constantine Dovrolis, Partha Kanuparthy from Georgia Tech. DiffProbe attempts to detect if an Internet access provider is classifying certain kinds of traffic as “low priority,” providing it with an inferior level of service. DiffProbe actively and non-intrusively probes the network path and tries to diagnose the nature and extent of traffic discrimination.
NANO (coming soon) – supplied by Nick Feamster, Mukarram bin Tariq, Murtaza Motiwala, and Mostafa Ammar also at Georgia Tech. NANO attempts to detect whether an ISP is degrading the performance of a certain subset of users, applications, or destinations.
These tools all load some software on your machine either as an applet within the browser or as software that must be installed. Furthermore, many of the tests force you to give the software a hole in your Windows firewall (or any other firewall) since they are attempting unusual connections into the Internet. We believe that you can trust these test agents since they have been checked out by Google.
This is a convenient place to find and try a variety of very interesting test tools that provide sophisticated results. You have to check the statistics or “more info” tabs to see some of the better details. Network World readers will surely find some of them useful.
But now to the first goal of the M-Lab. The website says that this all about gathering data to ensure transparency about how the Internet works. The FAQ page tells us, “When you run a test, you will also provide valuable data back to researchers.” That means when you run these tests, the “researchers” see the accumulated data gathered from all testers. We wonder how one gets access to that data and if the project will itself be transparent so it lets the public see the data as well.