Measurement Lab, a Google-Backed Bandwidth Cop, Needs Help

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 30, 2009

Yesterday, on WebWorkerDaily, I wrote about Measurement Lab. It's a partly Google-backed initiative to give Internet users and researchers free measurement tools that can help quantify what kinds of service they’re getting from ISPs, and much more. One of its goals is to help identify instances where ISPs are throttling bandwidth, and it collects a number of free, quick diagnostic tools for making these determinations.  This project has a number of backers, and strikes me as a perfect opportunity for the open source community to contribute tools and diagnostic applications to the effort.

Measurement Lab, or M-Lab, was founded by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, the PlanetLab Consortium, Google, and academic researchers. As you can see on the right of the organization’s Welcome page, it’s broken up into one area for “Users” and one for “Researchers.” Google's Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet, has already put up a blog post about the initiative, and there already is a call for others to get involved.

In testing M-Lab, I found it to be a firmly beta project. I got error messages when I went to run the project's 20-second Network Diagnostic Tool, and the only servers you can ping at the moment to test your throughput are located in San Francisco. (That matters because geographical distance can mean lower throughput.) Still, with Google and other big players behind this effort, it could start to result in accurate geographically-specific measurements of where bandwidth problems are cropping up, and lead to how to solve them.

The open source and freeware arenas already include many tools that might be good for M-Lab to make use of. Apache Jmeter is a Java desktop application designed to load test functional behavior and measure performance for everything from applications to FTP servers. QCheck is a popular freeware tool for measuring throughput, wireless performance, and more. Then there are tools such as T-Booster, designed to improve broadband performance. T-Booster is based on more than one open source component. Which other applications am I missing?

It would be good to see M-Lab collect many kinds of measurement tools and help keep a watchful eye on bandwidth for everyone, especially instances where ISPs may be engaging in irresponsible practices. M-Lab is clearly beta at the moment, but I'm betting help is on the way.