Internet Exchanges


Recently, CIRA became a member of the Ottawa Internet Exchange, or OTTIX.   Fundamentally, OTTIX is a network bridge between Ottawa-based organizations, including Internet Service Providers (ISPs), universities, large corporations, and government. This network bridge results in local network traffic taking shorter, faster paths between member networks, alleviating congestion on major Internet backbones.

What does this mean for CIRA’s stakeholders?

When it comes to reaching most Canadians, we now have a more direct route on the Internet from our servers to theirs. This could mean the difference between data crossing 10 circuits and 10 devices to crossing just two or three. If your ISP is connected to the OTTIX network, your emails to other members of the network, such as CIRA, will be faster, and members’ websites will load faster – albeit by fractions of a second – on your computer.

The true benefit, however, is that participating networks have more reliability by way of an additional route to the .CA infrastructure.  This means that even if huge swaths of the Internet experience a disruption in service, the OTTIX network would experience no disruption whatsoever. And, if there’s a disruption in the OTTIX network, we now have the public Internet as our backup method.

Internet exchanges exist all over the world, and have proven to be integral to a nation’s Internet infrastructure. At a CIRA-hosted cyber-security event in 2008, Bill Woodcock of Packet Clearing House spoke about his participation in the mitigation of the two-week long cyber-attack on Estonia in 2007 by Russia. Woodcock talked about how Internet Exchanges played a critical role in limiting the impact on Estonians’ ability to communicate with each other – while the attacks slowed Estonians’ communication with the outside world, there was little impact on domestic traffic.

We have maintained a similar setup with Canada’s largest exchange, the Toronto Internet Exchange (TORIX), for years.  With our new relationship with OTTIX, CIRA is now linked with two of the very few Internet exchanges in Canada – the total number is hard to come by, but most estimates peg the figure at three to five. Other nations around the globe have up to dozens of Internet exchanges. What does this mean for Canada? Simply put, a significant amount of Canadian Internet traffic flows south of the border to the U.S. before reaching its destination in Canada. More exchange points in Canada would ensure that Canadian traffic stays in Canada more of the time, ensuring a safer and more robust network for all Canadians.

The European Internet Exchange have put together a great video that explains Internet exchanges.

How do you feel about Canadian Internet traffic having to flow to the United States?

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  • Milia Monacia

    Communication and speed are the key to bigger,better and faster internet. With the rate technology is always changing, it’s hard to keep up with it all.

  • Paul Stewart

    “Other nations around the globe have up to hundreds of Internet exchanges.”

    Just wanted to comment on that particular statement – not accurate at all. There are approximately 300 Internet Exchange points in the world – not “up to” hundreds per country.

    IX’s definately are a huge benefit to those providers who participate in them – out of the approximately 300 or so, there are a dozen or less *really* large exchange points of which in Canada, TorIX is the largest definately.

    There are several providers in Canada who refuse to participate in IX’s such as TorIX/Ottix due to internal “policies”. Most other providers embrace the concept and take advantage of these exchange points and their benefits.

  • Byron

    You are absolutely right Paul and thanks for holding me accountable for using a little poetic licence!

  • Michael Stewart

    How do we increase the number of exchanges in Canada?
    I’m in Vancouver, makes sense to me that there should be one or two out this way. Who do we lobby to make this kind of thing happen?

  • Jeff Klause

    We are starting an Exchange in Winnipeg. No lobbying, just a group of small ISPs starting the ball rolling.

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  • Robin L. M. Cheung

    This actually touches on another one of CIRA’s challenges–the changes in routing that are implied by and will still continue to occur with the transition to ipv6– as I’d observed back in July, the BGP routing for native ipv4 from Toronto to my servers in Chicago was some nearly only 50%–of the protocol 41-tunneled (incl. overhead) ipv6

    That BGP, as a path vect0r protocol, was itself meant to be adaptable, should theoretically be able to leverage that volatility in exchange for responsiveness–the *model* of the Internet is such that routing arrangements between all the various AS’s is the important determinant in latency and only in a minor way would any CIRA routing impact the overall traffic–however, it DOES come with an insidious consequence: removing emphasis on the inter-AS BGP routes and transitioning to one that increases dependence of an increasing number of “Autonomous” Systems routing through a decreasing variety…

    And since other facfors, such as DSCP and/or TOS/COS/QoS that remain largely neglected but developed expressly for the same reason–for it’s far easier to grab the low-hanging fruit and justify this cause in the name of “reduced jitter” and that almighty PING-time that really only gamers care that much about this small a difference/ping.

    Here we are, two full years later, and we did not magically receive a set of impossible ipv4 addreses, that we no longer *must* transition to ipv6–why are we procrastinating to a degree that the vast majority of Internet users still don’t know what it is or why they ought to be pestering the Support workers…

    And DNSSEC, another initiative that we are bound to adopt–we have, in fact, made such little effort to take responsibility yet for the Internet that I should not be surprised–for it’s not that hijacking domains but we’re no better t han deluding ourselves with the idea of a “tradeable pollution credit” or sitting in the middle of a road disrupting business by Ocupying the street, yet not taking responsibility for anything positive coming of it…

    I know this makes me somewhat of the party pooper, but before we go around enabling others simply to do bandaid solutions, I’d–actually, I’m going to go and “bear fruit” right now….