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Second Workshop on Real, Large Distributed Systems—Preliminary Abstract

Pp. 67–72 of the Proceedings

Using PlanetLab for Network Research: Myths, Realities, and Best Practices

Neil Spring, University of Maryland; Larry Peterson, Andy Bavier, and Vivek S. Pai, Princeton University


PlanetLab is a research testbed that supports 428 experiments on 276 sites, with 583 nodes in 30 countries. It has lowered the barrier to distributed experimentation in network measurement, peer-to-peer networks, content distribution, resource management, authentication, distributed file systems, and many other areas.

PlanetLab did not become a useful network testbed overnight. It started as little more than a group of Linux machines with a common password file, which scaled poorly and suffered under load. However, PlanetLab was conceived as an evolvable system under the direction of a community of researchers. With their help, PlanetLab version 3.0 has since corrected many previous faults through virtualization and substantial performance isolation. This paper is meant to guide those considering developing a network service or experiment on PlanetLab by separating widely-held myths from the realities of service and experiment deployment.

Building and maintaining a testbed for the research community taught us lessons that may shape its continued evolution and may generalize beyond PlanetLab to other systems. First, users do not always search out “best practice” approaches: they expect the straightforward approach to work. Second, users rarely report failed attempts: we learned of the perceived shortcomings described in this paper through conversations, not through messages to the mailing lists. Third, frustration lingers: users hesitate to give another chance to a system that was recently inadequate or difficult to use. These experiences are especially challenging for an evolvable system, which relies on user feedback to evolve so that more users can be supported by features they desire.

We organize the myths in decreasing order of veracity: those that are realities in Section 2, that were once true in Section 3, and those that are false if best practices are employed in Section 4. We summarize the discussion in Section 5.

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Last changed: 13 Dec. 2005 jel
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