Project brief - iThena Explained

in #boinc28 days ago

Project brief (Pb) is a series continued by me where I will be talking about scientific projects apart of the BOINC network in simple terms.

Now this isn't a lecture on hierarchically deterministic routing protocols, it's a simple and super fun experience in learning about what's out there and what you could be supporting with just the click of a button!

Join me live on BOINC Radio at January 31st 4:00pm EST!

Who am I?

I'm Delta! An Australian programmer, technologist, blockchain expert, self-proclaimed physicist and co-host of the BOINC Radio podcast!

I like to communicate things to people in the simplest way possible and teach people about the most interesting things that this universe has to offer.

You can find me on Discord where I hang out in the BOINC Network server.

What's happening this Episode?

On January 31st I will be explaining the BOINC project iThena.

We all use the internet almost every day at this point whether directly or indirectly, and not many people take the time out to learn how the Internet actually works.

In order for us to be able to communicate globally, telecommute, read the news of the world, get notified about important events and even now sometimes just drive a car, we need to have robust and fast internet infrastructure - And this is what iThena is analysing.

What is the Internet anyway?

Internet stands for interconnected network - and that's basically it, we can stop right there if we wanted to.

Example of an internet

The Internet is made up of 3 common types of hardware:

  • Hosts (your computer, web servers, IP-connected phones, etc)
  • Routers (hardware responsible for finding the best route to send data)
  • Switches (hardware that connects multiple hosts to the same network)

The purpose of the Internet is to connect all devices to each other in some organised way so that anyone around the world can type something into their address bar - have their computer send a request through their home broadband - through the local switch - then through the country's fibre network - out over the pacific ocean and straight into their search-engine's servers... Then this process repeats on the way back...

Routing

In this segment, we are going to focus on routing because that's the key thing iThena does. The aim being to route as many routes on the internet as possible, but I think we should figure out what a "route" actually is...

Example of a route

Much like roads, internet routes are basically a way to get a message from one place to another. In the example above, if router A receives a message to go to PC B (which has an address of 1.2.3.4), it will forward the message to router B because it has used a routing protocol to determine which routers know where to send messages to particular addresses. It will then repeat this process with router B and router C.

Why didn't it choose to send the message to router E?

Because in routing protocols, usually there is a measurement of how fast each route is, and if one is better than another, it will typically choose the better one to get your data across faster. If you look closely, choosing router E would mean 4 router "hops" instead of 3 hops by choosing B.

This is very simplified, but it is all we need to understand to know what iThena does. Knowing all of these routes is a very good way to analyse the effectiveness of network infrastructure, and here is an example of the end product iThena produces:

Map of iThena's routing dataset

see the live visualisation

By having such data, you can figure out which parts of the network are taking too much load, where there is too little load, where efficiencies can be made, know about live outages and thus promote better maintenance of network infrastructure.

But is it safe?

For most people running this project, yes, it is completely safe.

iThena may become a risk to your security if you run services on your local network such as a web server, SQL databases or even gaming servers such as Minecraft. Even with these services running, the only risk you have is exposing your IP address to random nodes on the internet, no actual harm is done. And if you are running services like that, it is likely you understand the basic security principles to protect them.

Join me live for more explanations on the Internet and routing, and have your opportunity to ask questions!

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