What is the role of IXPs in Oceania?

By on 20 Aug 2020

Category: Tech matters

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Banner image showing panel participants at the NFH Oceania event - L to R, Tom Paseka, Salesh Kumar, Narelle Clark and Jerome Chuacuco
The panel participants, L to R: Tom Paseka, Salesh Kumar, Narelle Clark and Jerome Chuacuco

The cost of transit between networks in Oceania, coupled with the high cost of international bandwidth, are likely to be driving factors behind the rise in Internet Exchanges Points (IXPs) in the region, according to Narelle Clark, CEO of the Internet Association of Australia (IAA).

Narelle made the comments during APNIC’s recent Networking From Home (NFH) Oceania event, where she pointed out that the need for the region to connect to faraway hubs in international markets meant that international bandwidth was expensive. The IAA also runs IX Australia, which has IXPs at various locations around Australia.

Read: Shaping the Internet: History and impact of IXP growth

Tom Paseka, who is on committees with the Asia Pacific Internet Exchange Association (APIX) and New Zealand Internet Exchange (NZIX), also said that these IXPs are proving popular because they help promote traffic outside of the main hubs. He pointed out that Cloudflare, where he works, connects to IXPs in over 100 economies around the world.

However, the growth in IXPs has led to more debates over their role.

Should regulators get involved?

One source of contention is whether regulators have a role to play in fostering participation in IXPs. Narelle pointed out that much of the Australian market for Internet services is dominated by a small number of companies, who expected to be paid if anyone is going to connect with them. “Unless you’re as big as they are, they’re not going to peer with you and they generally won’t peer without regulatory intervention,” she said.

But does this mean regulators should get involved? Narelle was not so sure. “We certainly would welcome the big players within our Internet Exchanges (IXes). That would certainly transform the marketplace.”

Tom echoed Narelle’s hesitation over regulatory intervention. “Regulation is a really tough topic to touch. As a whole, the Internet shouldn’t be regulated, and interconnections shouldn’t be regulated,” he said.

“There is a really good business practice that happens when people can buy connectivity and you don’t want to strangle the market. There are very few markets around the world where connections are actually regulated and those markets have some of the most expensive interconnections in the world.

“So I think it’s good to leave that open, but nudge the providers along if they’re being anti-competitive.”

How do IXPs get content delivery networks to peer with them?

It’s important for IXPs to get some degree of participation from Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), given the large amount of Internet traffic that comes through CDNs. However, this participation can vary from place to place, and a lot of it comes down to money.

As Vodafone Fiji senior network engineer Salesh Kumar put it, there is one very big question that looms over any discussion of CDN involvement: “Who pays for the transit to those CDNs?”

“Operators always run when that question comes up,” he said, in reference to Fiji’s IX. I don’t know how it is for bigger IXes and whether CDN operators come in.”

Read: Fiji joins the IX community

Narelle said that in Australia, IXPs were lucky that CDNs had wanted to become members. “They wanted to be a part of this and deliver content most efficiently across Australia,” she said.

“We have tried to make it as easy for them as possible. But dealing with legal departments and getting agreements that work for everybody is still tedious. We play nicely… and that has meant that not only do we get the likes of big streaming services, but we have also had some other Internet Service Providers on there like education players and other operators.”

Jerome Chuacoco, a network engineer and volunteer with the Papua New Guinea (PNG) IX, said that it depended on the specific arrangements with each CDN. In the case of the PNG IX, there are two CDNs peering with the IX. One of them peers directly with members, while the other is billed monthly depending on their usage.

How local should the traffic on an IXP be?

One point of agreement among members of the panel was the importance of having localized exchanges. “I think the majority of traffic should always be targeted locally,” Tom said. “So cross-linking the IXes in a single fabric is a bad idea, I think.”

“Giving the members of the IXes the opportunity to connect from one to the other is something that I think is more interesting,” Tom added. “If you take a port in Sydney, and extend it to Melbourne, it doesn’t bridge the two LANs but you get access to both of them.”

Narelle echoed his interest in IXPs with extended reach. She said they already have arrangements where someone who presents at the Perth exchange can peer with someone in Melbourne or Sydney.

“We don’t currently offer that across the Tasman Sea because we’re really not in the market for providing international bandwidth that costs big bucks,” she explained. “If we had to offer that service it would need to be cost-effective and I think you can probably buy it cheaper from other providers. So, I don’t think that would be a good use of members’ funds.”

Read: Uncovering remote peering at IXPs

Should larger IXes help out smaller ones?

Tom said that part of APIX’s charter involves helping other IXPs to grow, not just via hardware but also through lending expertise and operational best practices.

Read: Internet Exchanges learning from experience

Narelle agreed on the importance of these types of cooperation. “We are really happy to help. The relationship we have with the New Zealand IX, where we provide them with operational services, is one I would love to be able to offer throughout the rest of the region. That’s just a thought bubble right now, not a solid marketing plan, but I would love to be able to work more closely with the other IXes in the region.”

For more, check out the full panel discussion on the NFH site.

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