Creating an IXP: The ABC for Deploying an Internet Exchange Point in the Region
IXPs are created when operators identify the benefits of exchanging traffic. However, there are certain requirements that are essential for the installation of an IXP. LACNIC, LAC-IX, and the Internet Society offer operators a guide on how to design a successful IXP.
In 2018, the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Exchange Point Association (LAC-IX), the Internet Registry for Latin America and the Caribbean (LACNIC), and the Internet Society signed a memorandum of understanding for the creation and strengthening of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) to promote a safe and open Internet and to maximize the impact of the activities of the three organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean.
According to LAC-IX Coordinator Gabriel Adonaylo, “The main reason for this alliance was the establishment of a common agenda, instead of each of the organizations working individually and therefore duplicating efforts.”
Israel Rosas, Senior Manager of Regional Development at the Internet Society, notes that, whenever a new Internet exchange point is established, the Internet has new routes through which information can be sent. “This increases the chances that content will reach its destination in a more secure and faster way, especially in case of interruptions, whether due to government actions, a malicious actor, or simply because the technology failed.”
The focus on IXPs is also related to the strengthening of network operators around the world.
Guillermo Cicileo, Head of Internet Infrastructure Research and Development at LACNIC, observes that a good part of each country’s Internet infrastructure involves IXPs.Keeping traffic local is an advantage in terms of increased efficiency, better bandwidth, and lower latency, as well as in terms of security, as this traffic is less exposed to attacks from the global Internet. “We believe that IXPs are key and play a double role: on the one hand, the traffic that passes through IXPs will be more secure; on the other, the spill-over effect will lead operators to a better management and the implementation of best practices.”
Adonaylo highlights that “an important and sought-after aspect for Internet exchange points is their scalability,” and mentions as an example the sudden growth that the Internet experienced as a result of the pandemic and the migration of daily activities to the Internet. Scalability means that there is a margin to support the unexpected or planned growth of Internet traffic.
Installing an IXP: How, Where, and Why
Rosas explained that a scenario often noticed by the Internet Society is that new IXPs appear because a group of mid-sized operators in a specific location or region realize they are exchanging traffic among themselves due to the demand of their clients. These operators then realize that, instead of dealing with the costs and efforts individually, sharing space within a data center would be a better solution.
“Many IXPs are deployed among small and mid-sized operators. This is the new paradigm — large operators already have their own traffic exchange agreements and datacenters. It is good business for the smaller operators, as being in the same datacenter allows for a more agile traffic exchange,” he adds.
However, the three organizations stress that, while Internet exchange points bring about many benefits, some potential issues should be understood.
“Certain prerequisites must be met,” Adonaylo points out. First, it is important to check whether there are potential candidates to join an IXP in the region for which a project is being studied. These must then request their number resources (IP addresses and autonomous system number). “LACNIC or the national registries of Mexico and Brazil play a key role in the assignment of these resources, which each participant will then have to operate,” he adds.
According to Rosas, a scenario observed in various countries is not having considered the costs involved in setting up an IXP (for example, the purchase of equipment and rental of space), especially in the case of small operators in remote areas.
“What we have seen is that many small and medium-sized operators have tried to begin by what should be the final step, i.e., first, install the equipment and then, once the equipment has been set up, start trying to attract members. If an IXP is installed at a location through which traffic does not pass or where operators are not exchanging traffic, the IXP alone will not force traffic to connect or allow people to have access to the Internet out of nowhere,” he explained.
Therefore, the recommendation for anyone interested in setting up an IXP is to start by the basics. For example, a suggestion is to set up the IXP in a university datacenter or look for an affordable rental option. This is basically because large, well-known datacenters with very high availability involve costs that are difficult for small operators to afford.
“There is no need to design immense projects, as these are the most likely to fail. One should think about the bare minimum in terms of resources,” Adonaylo stressed.
By contrast, a more discreet data center will work just as well, and the costs involved will be lower. “Then, if other operators join the initiative, new spaces or more robust equipment can be found. An IXP must make economic sense for its members: joining the IXP should be more affordable than not joining,” Rosas explained.
Although some IXPs may be nonprofit (in other words, they will not make a business out of operating the IXP), they do charge their members a fee to cover, for example, expenses such as utilities, maintenance, or an emergency reserve fund.
“This is why, even if they are not for profit, the recommendation is that an IXP should be a legally incorporated entity. Someone must make the decisions; in our opinion, this should be the members of the IXP, even though tensions may sometimes be generated,” Rosas stressed, adding that sometimes a government can promote an Internet exchange point, but always keeping in mind that its administration and decision-making must be in the hands of the members of the IXP.
IXPs as a Driver of Technical Communities
As for the generation of a community around the IXPs, it is worth noting that operators who participate do not only exchange traffic; instead, the benefits of being part of a community extend even further. As Rosas explains, “Let’s say that an IXP brings together six operators and we come up with a security or encryption solution or any other issue. It will be much easier to contact them and provide the necessary training, as those operators will have already come together. This scenario is much better than looking up each operator individually.”
The synergy of the three organizations has ensured that most IXPs have incorporated security standards as well as the creation of a community of technical professionals representing each IXP and each country who are involved in best practices.
In this sense, Adonaylo believes that the community’s willingness to share and participate is essential. “A community that is open to receiving training, one that is involved in the various discussion spaces and interacts with their peers, with other IXPs, and with content providers.”
Cicileo concluded by explaining that technical professionals exchange their know-how within the communities built around the IXPs. “They share solutions to problems that have to do with the Internet in their country or region, good practices, technical advice. The more members an IXP has, the greater its value for the consolidation and better functioning of the Internet.”