I started putting my network puzzle together from a random set of pieces starting this April. It’s been a mystery that has been going on for a long time. It’s therefore appropriate to tell the story serially, as many detective stories have been published. It would be novel sized, and you, reader have to help assemble and write some of the the stories too.
Mixing metaphors is always fun, so onwards to mix as many as we can…. Since blue and violet are very similar colors, and in a nod to the great master’s first work of Sherlock Holmes, we’ll entitle this installment:
A Study in Violet
I already had a number of puzzle pieces on hand for years, and had blogged about some of them. I had no clue what puzzle they belonged to nor how they fit or even if they were part of the same puzzle. I mis-assembled what pieces I had. Even lightning has a role in these stories, though indirectly. You have some pieces of the puzzle already, though you probably don’t know you do. Continually upgrading and changing my home network gear both ensured I would see different pictures come and go, and be bedeviled more than most. Illustrations for the magazine, I guess.
I’m no Sherlock Holmes myself (I am a bear of little brain, and easily confuzled.), and more a jigsaw puzzle person. And it would be too easy to give you the pieces in order, too; we’ll have to mix the pile of pieces up to make it more challenging for you. But, to be somewhat fair, we’ll start at a beginning; but only of my own recent story. The actual much more important stories goes back to the invention of packet switching, and the pieces I’ve been responsible for are only a very few and I only enter the story at all a few times. And, dear reader, you too will play Sherlock Holmes in this corpus, by finding pieces of the puzzle. And you’ll help find and incarcerate the assassins in our midst, and take personal pleasure in doing so.
The Blue Box
Bell Labs has used a home grown tunnel device, called a “blue box”, developed years ago by our researchers to connect to the company cheaply. Our IT department would like the blue boxes to go away entirely; but there are times we need to be able to run complex networks at home. For example, I work from home and need to be able to use multiple IP cameras, not just a single desktop or laptop that can run an IPSEC tunnel by itself. It seemed to me unlikely to me the old blue box would suffice for our teleconferencing project; and if not, we needed to get moving on a replacement. So I started to investigate whether the blue box would be adequate for our research. To put some concrete requirements on a replacement, I did some simple performance testing to compare and contrast the blue boxes with IPSEC tunnels running on my Linux laptop.
Doing scp’s were limited to not much more than 3-4 megabits/second, even in the downstream direction, where I had 20Mbps from Comcast. The blue box’s poor antique ARM brain just couldn’t do crypto fast enough. 3-4 mbps isn’t even a single HD stream of video. Linux, on even my old, wimpy laptop was much, much faster than a blue box, though it showed some issues of its own.
This was not a surprise.
I also checked the blue box’s latency while doing the copy (audio and video conferencing cares about latency; ideally, you want zero latency in a device and network, as even the speed of light is too slow since human perceptible latency is measured in tens of milliseconds), and observed 1 to 1.4 second latency between Murray Hill and Massachusetts, a path which ought to be in the 20-30ms range; and even with crazy corporate network routing via Illinois or Texas, 80ms or so is the maximum it should have been. To add insult to the injury, the jitter (variation of latency) was just about as high as the latency.
Bandwidth much too low, and latency and jitter much, much, too high for a blue box to be possibly viable for our project…
“We should plan the funeral of the blue box, as it will die of old age soon, a natural death”, I thought in mid-April, as I looked at the soon to die box on my desk.
It is a very good for us all that the blue boxes ran as fast is they did: they were really fast for when they were designed. If the blue boxes had been half as fast, the criminal mastermind Moriarty would almost certainly have escaped detection entirely yet again. Moriarty’s assassin would have slipped though our fingers, and no trace of Moriarty’s presence or plan would have remained.
One last test I performed in April, before my blue box’s death by electrocution (by lightning) in June set me on Moriarty’s trail. The blue box had been poisoned, but with what? and by whom? What was this test that exposed the crime, you ask? And what was the crime? And what is Moriarty’s master plan? Where will you find his henchmen?
And who is being robbed in stealth?
You are, dear reader,…. And you can help foil the mastermind Moriarty’s plan…
To be continued…