Washington, April 12 : A researcher of Indian origin and his colleagues at the University of Washington have designed a new online observatory to monitor temporary Internet black holes, which cause online messages like a request to visit a Web site or an outgoing e-mail to get lost along the way.
Arvind Krishnamurthy, an assistant professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the university, has revealed that the new observatory 'Hubble' maps Internet black holes, and posts information about the Internet's weak points on the Web site http://hubble.cs.washington.edu/.
"There's an assumption that if you have a working Internet connection then you have access to the entire Internet. We found that's not the case," said Ethan Katz-Bassett, a UW doctoral student in computer science and engineering.
The university's tool is inspired with the Hubble Space Telescope, which can observe black holes in deep space, and it performs a similar function for the maze of routers and fibre-optic cables that make up the Internet.
The researchers behind the project send test messages around the world to look for computers that can be reached from some but not all web users, a situation known as partial reachability. They ignore short communication blips.
A test last autumn showed that over seven per cent of computers worldwide experienced this type of error at least once during a three-week period.
"When we started this project, we really didn't expect to find so many problems. We were very surprised by the results we got," said Krishnamurthy.
His research team has now created an online global map, updated every 15 minutes, showing locations currently experiencing problems.
Hubble shows a flag on the area that's experiencing problems and lists the numerical address for the group of computers affected, and each address typically describes a few hundred to a few thousand individual computers. Hubble also reports what percentage of test probes was successful, and how long each problem has persisted.
Clicking a flag reveals which locations were and were not able to reach that machine.
The researchers hope that future versions of Hubble will try to pinpoint the cause of each black hole.
They say that tool promises to be quite useful to professional network operators who keep the Internet running smoothly.
The university team will present its work at the next week's Usenix Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation in San Francisco.