Mappers: The Internet Looks Like a Jellyfish

A team of Israeli researchers have created a new map of the Internet that reveals the worldwide network in more detail than ever before.

“The Internet evolves in a distributed manner, and therefore its structure is unknown,” Shai Carmi, a physicist at Bar-Ilan University who participated in the research, told TechNewsWorld. “The goal of this project was to get a better understanding.”

Rather than relying on a few large computers for analysis, as previous efforts have done, the project at Bar-Ilan instead used distributed computing, enlisting the help of about 10,000 volunteers around the globe.

Millions of ‘Pings’ Per Day

Volunteers downloaded specialized agent software that works by sending “pings” across the Internet and recording the route traveled. The software has been running for more than two years, Carmi said; between 3 and 6 million measurements are collected each day, and measurements repeat themselves weekly.

“The problem was that previous attempts to measure the Internet have used only a few observation points and therefore could not discover all the existing links,” Carmi explained. “Our research used a different approach and helped to discover many new links unknown before.”

The new map was published in the July 3 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A ‘Jellyfish’ Model

At its most coarsely grained level, known as the “Autonomous Systems level,” the Internet contains about 20,000 nodes. In analyzing the connections among those nodes, the Bar-Ilan team found that the Internet has three principal components, comparable pictorially to a diagram of a jellyfish, Carmi explained.

In the center, what Carmi calls the “Internet nucleus,” are about 100 nodes — “heavily connected and worldwide, distributed, large, international Internet service providers that form the heart of the network,” he explained.

At the next level are a peer-connected component of about 15,000 nodes, which can communicate even without the help of the nucleus, he added.

Finally, akin to a jellyfish’s tentacles at the outer level is “an isolated component of about 5,000 nodes that become disconnected if the nucleus is not working.”

Focus on the Middle

The result is not just a better understanding of the Internet’s structure today, but also a way to predict and track changes over time. Perhaps more importantly, the new map will help researchers develop more efficient routing practices, Carmi said.

In fact, the middle, peer-connected component may have the greatest potential for routing efficiency, he explained. Because the nodes in this component, which includes about 70 percent of the Internet Autonomous Systems, are capable of communicating without going through the nucleus, they hold particular promise for alleviating Internet traffic slowdowns, he said.

“This suggests that some traffic does not have to be routed to the nucleus,” Carmi explained, “and thus may help in preventing congestion.”

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