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Measurement Lab Lets You Find Out What Your ISP ’s Throttling

In January, Google announced a new service called Measurement Lab that has a number of tools that can help you diagnose problems with your ISP connection. Occasionally, people have connection problems to the servers and unless there is something obvious on the server end, a lot of the time it’s difficult for us to troubleshoot the connection issue because there are two services that are at play, ours and your Internet Service Provider’s, and we can’t run tests on your ISP. Most folks think they can just get on the Internet and away they’ll go, but that’s not entirely the case. It’s especially not the case when you are using a remote web hosting company and are performing things that your ISP may have targeted as too resource intensive, too risky, or simply something that you wound up doing for too long by their measurements. Thanks to Google, troubleshooting your end just got a little easier.
When an Internet application doesn't work as expected or your connection seems flaky, how can you tell whether there is a problem caused by your broadband ISP, the application, your PC, or something else? It can be difficult for experts, let alone average Internet users, to address this sort of question today. Last year we asked a small group of academics about ways to advance network research and provide users with tools to test their broadband connections. Today Google, the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, the PlanetLab Consortium, and academic researchers are taking the wraps off of Measurement Lab (M-Lab), an open platform that researchers can use to deploy Internet measurement tools.
Don’t let the use of the word “researcher” scare you into thinking that something came along and yet again, it’s probably too advanced for you to bother with. While there’s a slate of applications for the more techno-minded, there’s also a section for end users that makes it easy to tell what’s going on with your connection. Ok, so it’s not just Google - Measurement Lab was founded by the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, the PlanetLab Consortium, Google Inc. and academic researchers, and they’ve created a section just for end users to get to know their own Internet connection and what it’s doing.
  1. Network Diagnostic Tool - Test your connection speed and receive sophisticated diagnosis of problems limiting speed.
  2. Glasnost - Test whether BitTorrent is being blocked or throttled.
  3. Network Path and Application Diagnosis - Diagnose common problems that impact last-mile broadband networks.
  4. Pathload2 - Test your available bandwidth.
  5. ShaperProbe - Determine whether an ISP is performing traffic shaping.
ShaperProbe is one that we are particularly glad to see (especially as its rated as useful to novices) because traffic shaping is potentially a top issue with regards to complaints by heavy FTP users Hosting with ASO. Traffic shaping, also known as "packet shaping," is the practice of regulating network data transfer to assure a certain level of performance, quality of service (QoS) or return on investment (ROI). The practice involves delaying the flow of packets that have been designated as less important or less desired than those of prioritized traffic streams. So how does that impact web hosters? Often we have users who write in with tickets who state that their downloads are “screaming fast”, but that when they upload large files via FTP, after a few minutes their upload rate slows to a rate akin to frozen molasses. Obviously, they blame the server and want to know why we’re slowing down their upload when we, frankly, don’t have any installed anywhere that would even attempt to do so. We will drop a connection after thirty minutes, but if your connection isn’t dropped right at the 30 minute mark, it very likely isn’t us. When we attempt to explain that their ISP is known to traffic shape (*cough* Comcast *cough*), they refuse to believe that could be the issue. Up until now, we have had no way to prove our assertions other than throwing a variety of links at folks to demonstrate this isn’t exactly an unknown and hope that they read and become educated on the issue. The problem, of course, is that most people simply don’t believe that the broadband service they pay so much for could or would selectively slow down any of their traffic at all, and so traffic shaping remains a little known fact about the ISP industry and its standard practices. But some of them do. You can choose not to believe it, but I promise you, they do. These tools are an excellent way to troubleshoot your connection issues, most especially with regard to traffic shaping practices because as far as I am aware, this is the first tool that allows you to definitely prove it to yourself one way or the other. If you notice that long FTP uploads start out really fast and then slow down or stop altogether, try ShaperProbe and see if you can catch your ISP in the act. If you find they are throttling your uploads, try changing to SFTP, as we have found many ISP’s that are throttling FTP traffic have not yet started throttling SFTP as well.


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