A new group is seeking to change the way networks connect with one another in the United States, saying it believes it can improve the cost and reliability of the physical connections that tie the Internet together.
Open IX wants to create a new network of Internet exchange points (IXPs), creating neutral, member-governed exchanges that allow participants to trade traffic. The group is embracing a non-profit model that is widely used in Europe and spreads exchange operations across multiple data centers in a market. In the U.S. these exchanges are typically hosted by commercial providers, with interconnections focused in a single facility or campus operated by that provider.
The organizers of Open IX have spent the past year developing the framework for the initiative, which will endorse network operators and data centers to participate, based on their acceptance of the basic principles of Open IX. This week they are creating a non-profit entity to manage the effort, which is coming out of stealth as companies announce ambitions to house Open IX exchanges in northern Virginia and the New York/New Jersey markets.
“In the US, interconnection is limited based on the commercial terms that incumbent data center providers enforce on ISPs,” said David Temkin, one of the organizers of Open IX. “Certain service providers have terms that forbid from competing against them. You can’t build competing Internet exchanges.”
In addition to the business issues, there are also concerns about the resiliency of the current model, which have been heightened by recent disasters.
“The idea really is to be able to not have all your servers in one building and all the world’s network connectivity in another,” said Martin Hannigan, a networking industry veteran who has worked with Temkin to launch Open IX. “There are concerns about resiliency, and these were highlighted by Hurricane Sandy in New York.”
Temkin and Hannigan are volunteers, and emphasize that Open IX is a grass-roots effort and they’re not representing their employers. Temkin heads network architecture at Netflix, while Hannigan holds a similar post at Akamai Technologies. Other members of the volunteer board have day jobs at Google, Comcast and Iron Mountain, illustrating the new project’s technical experience and familiarity with issues facing large networks.
Advocates of the European peering model say its strengths are that exchanges are managed by members and distributed across multiple data centers (See Bill Norton’s Dr. Peering site for a broader comparison of U.S. and European models). The London Internet Exchange (LINX), which this week announced plans to launch U.S. operations with EvoSwitch in northern Virginia, has 477 members in London and is spread across 10 data centers operated by four different providers. The AMS-IX in Amsterdam has 611 participants and is spread across 12 different colocation facilities.
“A crucial part of the Open IX approach is to span the buildings of more than one operator,” said John Souter, the CEO at the London Internet Exchange. “The operator community is saying loudly and clearly that they want to have exchanges that span multiple buildings. The American operator community is saying it wants a level playing field, and we’re modeling what we’ve seen work in the rest of the world.”
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