Internet Exchange Points in Canada: a roadmap

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I think most of the regular readers of this blog know that I am a proponent of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs). Fundamentally, an IXP is a local network bridge that results in local network traffic taking shorter, faster paths between member networks.

At CIRA, we believe that a robust network of IXPs in Canada would result in a number of key benefits, from cost savings to increased speed, and increased bandwidth, reduced latency, and enabling Canadian data to remain in Canada (and therefore not subject to the laws of a foreign jurisdiction).

For the past year, CIRA has been working with a number of community-based organizations to develop IXPs in cities across Canada. We set up a wiki to facilitate a national dialogue on IXPs. You can view and participate in those conversations here.

We have developed the following visual representation of CIRA’s vision for the role of IXPs in a digitally-connected Canada:

CIRA’s vision for a network of IXPs in Canada from Canadian Internet Registration Authority

We also engaged Packet Clearing House (PCH), a leading not-for-profit Internet traffic research institute, to develop a white paper highlighting the opportunities and challenges to developing a network of IXPs in Canada. PCH are really the global experts in this field. They have been involved in the development of more than 150 IXs since they were formed in 1994. They provided a set of recommendations about IXP locations, technical specifications and governance structures that would ensure success. That report, titled Towards Efficiencies in Canadian Internet Traffic, is available here.

In essence, this report provides us with a roadmap for the development of IXPs in Canada. I’d like to highlight some of the key points.

The authors identified a need to develop a network of IXPs in Canada, and found that the benefits of doing so will be real and tangible. Canada currently has about one IXP per 17 million citizens. Compare that with a rate of one per four million in the United States or one per two million in Australia, and the need becomes clear.

Clearly, we are underserviced as Canadians. If we act on their recommendations, Canada would have a network of IXPs that connects us from coast to coast to coast.

The authors looked at a number of IXPs around the globe, including TORIX and OTTIX in Canada, and identified some common elements among the governance structures and processes of the successful ones. In terms of governance, successful IXPS:

1. Are consortia of their network-operator participants, including Internet service providers (ISPs), content distribution networks, research and evaluation networks, and other relevant exchange members.

2. Very often IXPs are not-for-profits, and do not stand to gain financially from their success and are politically neutral in their activities. They tend to have a very democratic governance structure – all participants have an equal voice. That means that one participant cannot have a disproportionate level of control over the IXP.

3. Never compete with their participants, nor do they engage in for profit ventures. They also tend to operate at little to no cost, and tend not to place a cost burden on their participants.

With this report, we have the benchmark study to build a network of IXPs in Canada. Not only does it address the ‘how to’ at an individual IXP level, but it also identifies the opportunities and challenges for the development of a network of IXPs in Canada.

If you have an interest in seeing Canada become a digital leader, please take the time to read this important paper.

And, will you help us establish IXPs by getting involved in your local community and by participating in the discussion on our Wiki?

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