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AquaLab's Ono Software – More Than One Million Users Served

More than one million people worldwide have now downloaded Northwestern University software that aims to improve peer-to-peer file-sharing services — a milestone that surpassed even the most optimistic predictions of its creators. 

The software, called Ono (Hawaiian for “delicious”), was developed in the AquaLab group, led by Fabián E. Bustamante, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. It aims to help solve the growing tension between Internet Service Providers and their customers, who use peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing services that connect individual users for simultaneous uploads and downloads directly rather than through a central server. This growing network traffic has driven service providers to forcefully reduce P2P traffic at the expense of unhappy subscribers and the risk of government investigations.

Ono takes on these issues through a clever trick based on observations of Internet services like Akamai. Akamai is a content-distribution network (CDN), which offloads data traffic from Web sites onto their proprietary network of several thousand servers worldwide. CDNs such as Akamai and Limelight power some of the most popular Web sites worldwide and enable higher performance for Web clients by sending them to one of those servers within close proximity.

Using the key assumption that two computers sent to the same CDN server are likely close to each other, Ono allows P2P users to quickly identify nearby users. Bustamante and his group have shown that Ono can provides over 30 percent average download rate improvement and, in environments with large available bandwidth, increased download rates by more than 200 percent, on average.

Bustamante and his graduate student David Choffnes thought they might get a few hundred or perhaps thousand users. Three years later, Ono has been adopted by more than 1 million users in more than 210 countries around the world.

To see an interactive map of users worldwide, visit

Besides its main goal of improving P2P performance while minimizing the impact on the underlying network, Ono is enabling further advances in networked systems research. Ono allows users to automatically and anonymously contribute their unique perspective on network performance to the research team. While initially important to evaluating the effectiveness of Ono, this data has informed the design of numerous AquaLab projects resulting in publicly released software -- including the Network Early Warning System, which acts as a neighborhood watch for detecting and reporting network problems, and SwarmScreen, which protects users' privacy by  downloading randomly-selected content in a way that prevents eavesdroppers from distinguishing it from user-desired content.
“It’s been a huge win,” Choffnes says. “We’re able to not only get this data but use it to produce cool research while helping users.” While the unique network view gathered by Ono users has been instrumental to important research at Northwestern, another important goal is to enable diverse projects across research areas and institutions by making anonymized datasets available to researchers. Toward this goal, Bustamante’s group has recently been funded by the NSF to undertake this task through a project called EdgeScope.

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