Cybera has joined the NLNOG RING: a global tool for network testing (and debugging)

Last fall, Cybera joined the NLNOG RING, a global community of network operators that enables fast network debugging. The RING platform essentially provides a trusted network of virtual machines, allowing individual operators to quickly run tests and analyses to pinpoint routing issues.

Cybera is one of only a handful of Canadian network operators that have joined the NLNOG RING. Its organizers are keen to see more sign on.

In this post, we talk to Martin Pels, Infrastructure Engineer for RIPE NCC (the regional internet registry for Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia), and volunteer with the NLNOG RING. He provides more details on how this group got started, and the benefits they offer to all kinds of network operators.

What’s the history behind the NLNOG RING?

The NLNOG used to consist of just a chat channel and a mailing list for a group of network operators in The Netherlands (similar to NANOG in North America).

The RING began with a specific discussion on the chat. One operator was having a problem with his network reaching other networks, and he was continually asking the group for information (such as asking others to run trace commands, etc). This went on for two weeks, and people were getting fed up with how long it was taking.

Someone suggested that we each provide a server inside our network to the group, so that individuals could run these commands themselves.

I liked the idea, and jumped in to help set it up, as did three others. We started work in 2010, and launched in 2011 with 10 Dutch ISPs participating. Through word-of-mouth and conference presentations, we gained interest from other countries, and were able to open it up later in 2011 to others.

Now we have over 500 different machines in over 50 countries.

NLNOG RING map of participants
So, what kind of tests are people using the RING for?

Mostly network troubleshooting. For example, if I have a problem reaching your network in Canada, I can run traceroutes from my end of the connection, and also login to your RING nodes, to see how it looks from your side.

One person who saw great benefits from using the RING was having problems with an IP address that was blocked. They were able to use the RING to pin down the exact locations from where it could not be reached. You can’t easily do that if you don’t have access to other networks.

Another thing people are using it for is CDN [Content Delivery Networks] testing. If you have a website hosted on a CDN, it may respond differently depending on where in the world you’re trying to reach it from. So, you can run a test from every country, and see what the response looks like, i.e. if the website gives the same output.

Are there other platforms that can also do this kind of testing?

There are others, yes, but they are aimed at continuous measurements. And you are really limited to the ecosystem, which are usually credit-based, and with limited commands that you can run.

Our platform isn’t for measurements. You log in when you need it, run some tests, and log out.

What’s great is the user has flexibility — you get a Linux shell and can run any commands you want.

Besides helping network operators with their troubleshooting, are there any other accomplishments of the NLNOG RING that you’re proud of?

From the beginning, we told people that IPv6 was mandatory to join. That actually got a few operators to finally roll out IPv6, so I’m quite happy with that.

What plans do you have to evolve the RING?

We’re set up for virtually unlimited growth, which means there’s no bottlenecks we’re dealing with now. Which is great, because there are still many networks that have not joined!

Going forward, we’re looking to provide more statistics, including setting up measurements between nodes to see a history of communication performances between servers. We’re also working on more self-management options, as it takes a lot of time for our volunteers to configure servers for new network operators that are joining.

What kinds of network operators are you looking to join?

Anyone that has an AS [autonomous system] number, operates BGP [Border Gateway Protocol], and is multi-homed. We’re open to commercial, non-profit, or research networks.

For more information on the NLNOG RING, and how to join, visit the organization’s website.

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