Diagnosing the Health of the Internet

Real-time maps showing the "health" of the Internet, including its speed, traffic numbers and the rate of attacks, are now freely available to the public from Akamai, which operates a distributed computing platform that handles much of the world's Web traffic.

If you logged on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. EST, you would have found that Venezuela was the most frequent target of online attacks, the United Kingdom accounted for more data requests than any U.S. state, and that Atlanta had the slowest Internet connection in the world. Only 15 minutes later, Los Angeles took over the title of slowest city on the Web.

In addition to the free publicity Akamai gets by making this data public, the vendor wants to show people that the Internet "is actually far more complicated and in many ways more problematic than people really realize," says Robert Blumofe, vice president of Akamai networks and operations.

Akamai's distributed computing platform accelerates online content and applications for its customers. The vendor says it has deployed more than 25,000 servers in more than 750 cities so content providers can "bypass the inherent bottlenecks that exist as part of the Internet's infrastructure." At some times, 20 percent of the world's Web traffic is handled by Akamai's system, the vendor says.

Because traffic, speed and attack rates change frequently, Akamai needs constant updates to route traffic in the most efficient manner.

"We move things around and change the paths we use on the Internet literally second by second," Blumofe says. "Almost none of this data is being collected just for the sheer joy or academic purposes. Pretty much every piece of data is there for a reason, because it informs our system and makes our traffic management work better."

Akamai's real-time Internet monitoring data became available to the public for the first time last month. The data depicts only the Web traffic processed by Akamai, not traffic for the entire Internet.

A Web surfer who logged onto Akamai's site around 2:30 p.m. EST Thursday would have found that the worldwide rate of online attacks was 20 percent below normal. With 455 attacks in 24 hours, Venezuela was the most victimized region. California led the United States with 41 attacks over 24 hours. Measurements are based primarily on Trojans and worms that randomly scan IP addresses to look for new computers to infect.

Overall Web traffic was 34 percent above normal around 2:30 p.m. High-volume areas included the United Kingdom, which accounted for 8.1 percent of data requests. California logged 7.4 percent of requests and France accounted for 4.3 percent.

Akamai measures latency, or speed, with tests involving Web connections, downloads and Internet Control Message Protocol pings. By scrolling across a picture of a world map, the Akamai tool allows you to find the 10 slowest cities at any given time. Atlanta was the slowest in the world at 2:30 p.m. EST, with latency (the average round-trip speed when sending one packet of data between Atlanta and any other major city) of 76 milliseconds. The speed of the Internet changes rapidly, though. Fifteen minutes later, Los Angeles was even slower.

This unpredictability is not surprising when one realizes the Internet is composed of thousands of networks, each having tens of thousands of routing devices that can be overloaded at any given time, Blumofe says. The behavioral patterns of users change minute by minute as well based on what news stories are breaking or hit songs are being released, he notes.

Web surfers who want to dive even deeper into Akamai's monitoring data can download free desktop widgets that show e-commerce traffic levels by continent, and global consumption of music and news by geographic region.

This story, "Diagnosing the Health of the Internet" was originally published by Network World.

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