The Internet today is vastly different from what it started as. It has grown to be a vast and complex global network connecting billions of people and devices. That by itself is already quite the challenge. But we also must factor the constant rise of demand for faster connections, more and more data consumption and lightning response times. If this wasn’t enough – programs even require more data; if 20 years ago a video game was 700MB, today it’s normal for them to be 50GB+.
In order to facilitate all of this, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Internet hosting companies and all other web entities have to work together. The foundation of the web is to be a global network which allows people to freely communicate and connect with each other and businesses they want. The principle of cooperation is vital to achieve all of this.
It’s obvious that no company or institution can achieve this alone. The best way to ensure that the above requirements and expectations are met is to build a proper infrastructure. One that is capable of handling the increased loads and can provide low latency and high speeds to all users: This is where Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) come in.
From the ground up
The Internet is not one big network. It’s actually a network of networks. Think of it as the universe which is filled with a huge number of galaxies. Galaxies are the individual networks and vary greatly in size and structure, and all the planets, stars and other objects inside are the various companies, users, devices and sensors with their own networks and connections.
So how do we travel between these galaxies/networks in real-time? How can a spacecraft/data packet travel between galaxies/a phone in Japan to a tablet in Spain immediately and without interruption?
And if you think that travelling between galaxies is complicated, imagine having to transfer data from one device in Japan to a device in Spain and do that in near real-time. There are various theories on how to travel in space with hyper speeds in space is a theory on how to make it happen. One theory is that black holes are portals and allow to shortcut vast distances. Another theory is that supermassive objects can be used to propel spaceships to incredible speeds via their gravity.
While all of that is just a theory for intergalactic travelling, internetwork travelling is already sorted out. One of the most important solutions is the Internet exchange points. They serve as a shortcut allowing connections to “warp” between networks and save a lot of time for the data to travel from one device to another.
Why do we need IXPs?
Let’s keep our devices in Japan and Spain in mind; they clearly can’t be connected directly to each other. One may be connected to the Internet via a private Wi-Fi network which is then connected to local ISP, and the other device might be in a data center or even a tiny sensor in a crop field also connected to its local ISP.
There are already at least three or four different networks between the two devices, none of which are directly connected to each other. Data will have to use other, closer networks to hop between until it reaches its destination.
This will result in several negatives for everyone involved: each device sending and receiving the data will have to wait much longer for the data packets to travel between them both, you will need a lot more complex traffic routing to find the most simple and direct path for the data to travel, ie. the peering paths, it also means more data passing through a network that it’s not destined for (in transit). This will result in higher overall network load and some ISPs may want to be paid to handle this transit data. Of course this means increased costs for ISPs in general and lead to a rise in the cost for the customers, too.
How do IXPs work?
After we’ve seen all the challenges, it would be much better if we had a direct connection between as many networks as possible, right? Well, that would be incredibly expensive and near impossible for networks on opposite sides of the world, but not if we had an Internet Exchange Point close by.
The basics of IXPs are simple. They provide one or more physical locations where multiple networks can connect then the IXP handles the peering path and makes it a lot shorter and faster. It can reroute the data to another of its physical locations and from there directly to the destination network.
The end result is that data will use a significantly lower number of third-party networks to get to its destination. It can also provide basically a near direct connection between two networks which are other wise very far away from each other. It is a lot like using one of the sea travel channels which allow ships to get between entire continents in a few days and not a few weeks to go all the way around them. It’s much faster and much cheaper.
The benefits of IXPs
IXPs can connect with networks and other IXPs, thus creating the Layer 2 LANs and we all know that data travels much faster in a LAN because the connections are more direct between the peers. Well, Layer 2 LAN is the same but on a much bigger scale and made with professional equipment which is able to handle high speeds, high loads whilst still providing low latency paths. What are some of the other benefits ISPs and clients have thanks to IXPs:
Since the data travels less distance and between fewer points, the latency (time delay) for it to get from A to B is lowered. This is of great benefit for online gaming, streaming, communications, collaborative work, remote management of facilities and a lot more.
Since the networks are processing less transit traffic, they have more capacity for their own peers. Thus they can handle higher loads for their clients and provide a better overall service. As a result, more data can be transferred to other networks in a more efficient way.
Since the goal of IXPs is to provide basically direct connections to other networks, this will result in a greater connection stability and efficiency. It’s of a particular benefit for smaller networks that want to connect to big content providers like Netflix and/or Amazon for example. Peering paths tend to outperform transit paths for 91% of autonomous systems (ASN) and have smaller propagation delays for more than 95% of autonomous systems, compared to transit paths.
Thanks to IXPs, ISPs can reduce the use of paid transit. Traditionally paying other networks to handle your data is more expensive than joining an IXP. Combine this with the fact that your own network will be under less strain, thus less chance for malfunctions. The result is reducing the costs for your network, allowing you to increase investments and keep the fees lower.
This can be an indirect benefit, but potentially a big one. When your network is connected to one or more IXPs, your overall network reputation will increase. It will make your service more attractive to specific clients who are searching for an ISP with a robust network. This means more potential clients who are also able and willing to pay more.
While most networks like to connect to as many peers as possible, sometimes they also de-peer. This is when two networks sever the connection between them. Reasons for this could be anything from a dispute over un-even traffic levels, to politics, to network tactics.. Whatever the cause, any de-peering process can wreak havoc on the overall internet traffic in a region. An IXP can lower the chances of de-peering and will be able to tackle such changes.
Who can use IXPs
IXPs are not meant for end users. They are created to help bigger entities and participants in the global internet infrastructure. To peer, all you need is an ASN. So who are some of these IXP users?:
Internet Service Providers of all sizes and in all regions have the most benefit of using IXPs. Thanks to the IXPs, ISPs lower costs and connect to big networks which normally wouldn’t pay attention to smaller, local providers. IXPs help providers of all shapes and sizes to get the best possible connections.
Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) are the backbone of many websites. They provide high speed connections and make it easy to access content. Websites love them as CDNs lower the amount of traffic towards them and handle the biggest loads while maintaining high quality service and speed. So, CDNs need IXPs to get fast access to as many networks as possible.
Big IT companies have massive networks and invest billions in infrastructure. Naturally every ISP, CDN and major network wants to be connected to them as the majority of their users and clients use their services. It’s not possible to connect to all networks, but IXPs can basically achieve the same result with much less effort.
Other big networks
Cloud service providers, big enterprises with global workforces and other similar entities could also benefit of connecting to an IXP. This way they will help provide a more stable service and experience for their remote workforce.
Internet Exchange Points have a lot to give. They will continue to become more and more important for the internet infrastructure. It’s expected that the global internet traffic will continue to grow at an increasing rate every year, especially with the expected rise of IoT. Exchange Points will also have to evolve and this is where NetIX comes in.
NetIX is a platform first, and an Internet Exchange second. Standard IXPs allow networks to plug into them to enable to exchange traffic with each other usually from one or a few locations in one city. NetIX is a globally distributed platform, so any network can access the NetIX platform by connecting into any one of its 150+ locations. Then once a network is connected to NetIX, it can use any of its services like the Global Internet Exchange (GIX). Stay tuned for more in depth details on how NetIX helps.
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