Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mapping the Internet

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One of my computer hobbies is distributed computing.  Distributed computing is a technique that allows a project go give volunteers a piece of software to run on their computer which will allow them to participate in the project. This piece of software will download data commonly referred to as a work unit.  It will use the volunteers computer to process the work unit, and then upload the results to the project.  The volunteer can choose how many computers to run this software on, and they can decide how much time to allocate to it.  Most projects award points for completed work and allows the formation of teams.  Both of these add a level of fun for the volunteer and leads to some dedicating great amounts of computing power that they probably wouldn't have purchased and continue to power without that carrot.

There are large number of distributing computing projects active on the Internet.  Folding@Home uses a custom client to conduct research in various biological areas such as Alzheimer's Disease.  Seti@Home uses the more common BOINC client to analyze radio signals captured by a large radio telescope for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.  A user over at [H]ardForum maintains a comprehensive list of active distributing projects covering a wide range of research topics.

A project that I feel would be of interest to network and security engineers is The DIMES Project, which is ran by Tel Aviv University.  This is an ambitious project looking to "study the structure and topology of the Internet, with the help of a volunteer community."  In a nutshell, the project runs a small application on the volunteers computer that uses ping and traceroute from you to known hosts on the Internet to discover previously unidentified hosts.  Like other projects, volunteers are able to create a user account to track their contributions, can install the client on as many computers as they please, and can join a team for friendly competition.  What is really interesting about this project is that the client uses little to no CPU, instead it only consumes Internet bandwidth (stated at about 1KB/s per client).  This allows the client to run simultaneously with clients from other projects without interference.
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