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."
Role for Data Centers
The Open IX initiative has conducted surveys of U.S. providers and held several meetings to outline their plans, including one at a recent meeting of the North American Network Operators' Group (NANOG) and another last week in New York. Both meetings were attended by "virtually all" of the major data center service providers, according to Hannigan. The largest data center landlord, Digital Realty Trust, has already announced its intention to earn endorsement.
“This is great for the entire industry – from the large CDNs, content providers and the end users,” said John Sarkis, Vice President of Connectivity and Carrier Operations at Digital Realty. “The current state of affairs, as an end user, is that service isn’t that great. In Europe, things run more efficiently and effectively. The Internet community here in North America wants to adopt the open structure."
Open IX will be open to all data centers that meet its criteria. That includes Equinix, which is the leading player in the U.S. interconnection, hosting more than 110,000 cross-connects in its colocation centers. "To the extent that this is seen as a threat to Equinix, it's because they have so many cross-connects," said Souter.
What About Equinix?
Temkin noted that Equinix has been involved in the Open IX discussions. "They’ve sent people who have collaborated and seem genuinely interested," said Temkin. "They do have a lot of power in certain markets."
While Equinix is the dominant player in the U.S. peering paradigm, they know the European model well from their participation in LINX, the AMS-IX in Amsterdam and DE-CIX in Frankfurt. "We're trying to make it so everyone can be included," said Hannigan. "I do think it can work in (Equinix) facilities."
Equinix didn't want to comment specifically on Open IX. "Equinix’s view is that competition in the marketplace is good and ultimately benefits customers," the company said in a statement.
Opportunity in the Suburbs?
It's likely that if Open IX grows and succeeds, it will result in a more distributed ecosystem in which smaller data center operators would be able to offer exchange-level interconnections, including facilities that are some distance from existing network hubs.
“Various vendors have tried solutions in the suburbs," said Temkin. "No one will move because you can’t get the connection densities." Easing the ability to connect in secondary facilities,could extend that exchange ecosystem. For example, Equinix hosts a LINX node in Slough, 30 miles west of the exchange's original site in London's Telehouse. That could also have reliability benefits.
“One of the biggest problems we see in the current environment, is that numerous cities, all of the density is in one building," said Temkin. He cites 350 East Cermak in Chicago as one example. "If something happens to that building, the Internet goes down.”
Hannigan says Open IX has no particular deployment strategy. It has surveyed members to gauge interest in different makets, but will be guided by who has interest and applies for endorsement.
"There's definitely room in the market for two exchanges," said Hannigan. "It has to start organically. For the most part, everything will operate by consensus. The Internet has a long history of volunteers coming together to solve problems."
DCK Industry Analyst Jason Verge contributed to this story.