From remote work in Paris to 100Gbs in Lisbon

2020-05-25 Blog

By Monika Ermert, eLance Journalist - RIPE80 was the first ever remote meeting of the European IP address community. Naturally Covid-induced issues in the network were addressed in various presentations, but none of them was more impressive than Raphael Maunier and Benjamin Schilz’ report about how they set up a 100 Gigabit Point of Presence (PoP) for a customer during a complete lockdown.

“We cannot travel, we cannot access data centres, and delivery orders for hardware come with a huge delay”, reported Maunier, co-founder of French network security start-up Acorus, which merged with the even younger Californian start-up Volterra last year. As a customer begged the company to immediately set up a new PoP in Lisbon, Maunier and his colleagues started to improvise.

With a Juniper MX10 server and some spare parts from their BETA-testing lab facility, Maunier started to stage the new PoP from the Covid-free safety of his home in Paris. Having good internet connectivity with fibre lines entering his home was a precondition for Maunier’s cooperation with other experts.

Maunier joked that his “kids got an introduction in what the ‘real internet’ looked like when he cabled the system right there in the basement, labelled tons of cables and the ports these needed to go in, undid everything and re-cabled again just to make sure everything worked just fine”. The reference to the challenges of innovative home schooling was not lost on a RIPE community where many, indeed, have families.

Once the basement trials had been concluded everything, including switches, routers, the firewall and cables, was put into huge transport cases and sent on to the data center in Lisbon. At this point, it was all configured and remote hands were able to take out a detailed mode d’emploi on location, telling them every step of the reassembly process. After only one day the new Gitbit-PoP could be accessed from Paris to give it the finishing touch.

Mounier concluded that Acorus/Volterra has always aspired to allow people to work from where they were, and in this sense they were well prepared for the lockdown.

“Currently we could not install several PoPs like this at the same time”, he said, but noted that the experience was a model they would expand on – especially since it also avoids expensive travelling costs for the company. He mentioned that he wanted a design that allowed the company to have hardware shipped directly to the data center used by the customer, making the necessary manuals and installation routines even easier to follow.

A disconnect between the networking community and the public?

Maunier‘s talk struck a chord with the RIPE80 attendees, some of whom considered media reports about a failing Internet during the Covid crisis in the Connect WG meeting. A lack of visibility of what is actually happening in the network was bemoaned by Remco van Mook, CEO of Dutch internet exchange points (IXP) provider, Asteroid International BV and a member of the RIPE Executive Board.

As the media, and top-level politicians have expressed concerns that the Covid crisis might ‘break’ the Internet, experts were bewildered. Some suggested RIPE must become more aggressive in its marketing of measurements, while others suggested there’s a need for more statistics in general.

Researchers did in fact bring reports to RIPE80 about the health of the internet in Covid-times, using data from RIPE’s own internet sensors – the Atlas probe network. NTT engineer Massimo Candela presented a statistical run-down of more than 500 million sets of user-defined measurements in Europe between 10 February and 27 March 2020 to the Connect WG.

Even checking on the delicate situation in Italy before and after the lockdown, Candela said the figures illustrated that the load of the rise in connections was isolated to evenings, possibly as a result of more Italians seeking in-house entertainment.

IXPs celebrated their new peaks in traffic, and DECIX announced a new record with 9.1 Terabit/s for the first time on 11 March 2020. An ongoing Corona-times Internet weather report by RIPE can be found here.

Virtual meeting successful, despite limitations

The virtual RIPE80 had a record number of 2002 participants from 111 countries registered for the meeting and 1300 session viewers on single days. Overall the virtual meet-up was a huge success! When talking about the shift to virtual, the new Managing Director, Hans Petter Holen, said there were considerations to cancel the meeting altogether.

While the RIPE social networking fell short, hundreds of people dialled into the virtual dinner, hosted by Alistair Strachan. Should RIPE meetings become more virtual in the future? Holen said that lessons had certainly been learned. A virtual meeting seems to increase accessibility for those not willing or able to travel or pay to come to RIPE meetings, for instance.

Whether the next RIPE meeting, planned for Milan in October, will become virtual remains to be decided once the new RIPE Chair is selected in June.