Alun Davies

New RIPE Atlas Version 4 Probes

Alun Davies
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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.


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UPDATE (25 June 2019): The first batch of RIPE Atlas version 4 probes have all been sent out to new hosts. We would like to thank everyone still waiting for their applications to be processed for their patience, and we encourage those of you who would like more information on getting the most out of RIPE Atlas to contact us at atlas@ripe.net.

Also, if you are interested in supporting the ongoing development non-hardware solutions for RIPE Atlas, please help us out by taking a moment to fill in a short survey on RIPE Atlas software probes.

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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@ripe.net.

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About the author

Alun Davies Based in Amsterdam

Hailing from a research background in philosophy, linguistics and computer science, I came to the RIPE NCC back in 2016 and took on my role as the RIPE Labs Editor in 2020. My job is to help keep all corners of the Internet community informed and engaged on developments and events that continue to shape the Internet as we know it. As RIPE Labs editor, I'm here to help you to get your ideas across on RIPE Labs. Whether you have questions about how to create a new article or profile, need help preparing a draft article for publication, or would just like to discuss whether your idea would be a good fit for RIPE Labs, don't hesitate to get in touch.

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