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New RIPE Atlas Version 4 Probes

Alun Davies — 26 Feb 2019
The long wait for the new RIPE Atlas probes is over. Here's a quick look at the new devices and the work that went in to getting distribution back on track.

In March last year, we released an article about delays in the distribution of RIPE Atlas probes. The short version - when the model we used for the current generation of probes went out of production, we hit inevitable delays in dealing with applications and informed the community accordingly.

Shortly after, having selected and tested a new model, we handed out a limited number of prototypes at RIPE 76 in Marseilles. After further testing and tweaking, finding the right casing, purchasing, and so on, we started assembling RIPE Atlas v4 probes in batches. As with all probes assembled since 2015, it is worth emphasising that production of the new devices has depended entirely on funding received through RIPE Atlas sponsorship.

On shipping the new probes, our first priority has been to deal with the backlog that started to build up when the initial delays set in. Earlier this month, we finished working our way through the queue, and preparations are already underway for the next batch of probes, which we aim to have ready ahead of RIPE 78.

As a result, RIPE Atlas is back to business as usual. That said, we know it's been a long wait, and we would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who applied for a new probe in the past year for your patience. 

RIPE Atlas Version 4 probes

Without further ado, let's look at the probes themselves. The first and perhaps most important thing to note is that, unlike their predecessors, RIPE Atlas v4 probes do not rely on USB storage. This is a key advantage we had been looking to secure as we made the switch to a new hardware solution for RIPE Atlas probes, and it means new probe hosts won't have to deal with the USB-related issues that impacted the performance of the v3 probes.

The model we chose for RIPE Atlas v4 probes is the NanoPi NEO Plus2 with 512MB RAM and heat sink. As well as not requiring external storage, the new devices also come with certain other benefits, such as the fact that they support Linux and come from a very reliable supplier.

More generally, as with all RIPE Atlas probes, the new devices come complete with casing and start working automatically as soon as they've been registered by the host and plugged in. As per usual, anyone applying for a new probe will need to agree to the terms and conditions for RIPE Atlas users. 

Next steps

As the new probes go into circulation, we're continuing to explore options for ensuring that RIPE Atlas keeps expanding. Although physical probes will continue to play a central role in RIPE Atlas infrastructure, assembling and shipping the devices obviously takes time, and there are other issues that arise from being limited to the hardware option. 

For these reasons, over the past year, we have been exploring virtual/software-based solutions for RIPE Atlas. The launch of RIPE Atlas VM anchors last year was a big step in this direction, and has already started to yield promising results. 

The next step we want to take is to develop RIPE Atlas software probes. Having this option in place will allow people to run probes on their own devices, thus eliminating any need to wait on production times for new devices. The hope is that, as has been the case with VM anchors, software probes will provide a quicker, cheaper way of getting probes up and running, and so help us reach new hosts who would be far less interested in the hardware alternative. 

We will be keeping you posted on developments with software probes, but in the mean time, we'd once again like to thank all RIPE Atlas users for their patience. As always, if anyone has any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments section or email us directly at atlas _at_ ripe _dot_ net.

16 Comments

Lorenzo Colitti says:
26 Feb, 2019 02:53 PM
512 GB of RAM? I want one! :-)
Mirjam Kühne says:
26 Feb, 2019 04:59 PM
Oops, typo. 512 MB of RAM of course ;-)
Andy Saunders says:
26 Feb, 2019 04:47 PM
Please tell me that this new version supports PoE ?
Robert Kisteleki says:
26 Feb, 2019 05:02 PM
No, it does not have PoE support. We recommend using a PoE splitter in case this is an issue.
White Hat says:
27 Feb, 2019 02:43 AM
With this being a simple Pi-style SBC, what's to stop someone from simply taking the probe, popping in a MicroSD card, and wiping/repurposing it for whatever? With the TP-Link models this was hard because it was reflashed firmware and the device itself wasn't very powerful or useful on its own, but it seems that with these the potential for hardware hijacking is both easier to do and more rewarding.
Robert Kisteleki says:
28 Feb, 2019 09:11 AM
We chose this device in particular because it has on-board storage as opposed to a traditional Pi where one could indeed just swap out the SD card. Although this doesn't completely rule out the possibility that some might choose to repurpose the new probes, this has always been a limitation with relying on hardware devices (one of the reasons we're keen to develop software probes). With this in mind, we take care to monitor probe activation rates in case of any drop off. So far, the v4 probes are being activated as expected.
Sverre Rakkenes says:
27 Feb, 2019 11:17 AM
is there any update on ipv6 support on this new generation
Robert Kisteleki says:
28 Feb, 2019 09:55 AM
As with earlier RIPE Atlas probes, the v4 probes also do IPv6. They support RAs and RDNSS out of the box, except DHCPv6. They can also be statically configured.
Felix von Courten says:
01 Mar, 2019 08:13 PM
where can i buy one?
Alun Davies says:
06 Mar, 2019 09:44 AM
You can apply to host a RIPE Atlas probe for free. To do this, you first need to create a RIPE NCC Access account and fill in the application form. We'll then evaluate your request. To get started, visit: atlas.ripe.net/get-involved/become-a-host/
Nis Wechselberg says:
01 Mar, 2019 10:52 PM
Is there some way to build a probe myself? I wouldn't mind buying the hardware myself and flash the firmware manually. Would like to support the project without causing you more costs for hardware.
Alun Davies says:
06 Mar, 2019 09:56 AM
Thanks for this. The software option that we're working on right now will allow people to host probes on their own devices. We're glad to see that there's an interest in this option in the community, and we'll be keeping you updated as soon as there are any new developments on this front.
Nail A. says:
12 Mar, 2019 05:14 AM
Is it possible to develop a probe in the form of a package for the firmware openwrt or dd-wrt and other similar? Then no separate equipment is required.
Alun Davies says:
14 Mar, 2019 11:52 AM
As I say, we are still in the process of exploring the different options for how best to move forward with software probes. But indeed, any option would be aimed at eliminating the need for separate equipment.
Hendrik Visage says:
13 Mar, 2019 10:48 AM
Where do I sign up to test/get a VM Probe??
Alun Davies says:
14 Mar, 2019 11:36 AM
The VM option only applies to RIPE Atlas anchors. To apply for a VM anchor, fill out the usual application form for anchors hosts, making sure to tick the 'virtual machine' option at the top of the form:
atlas.ripe.net/get-involved/become-an-anchor-host/
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