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IXPs: the key to sustaining and expanding a healthy global Internet ecosystem
|25 февраля 2011|
The impact of the globalisation of Internet availability and usage is well known. Perhaps less obvious is the evolution of the underlying traffic flows, which has been just as significant and plays an increasingly important role in ensuring low-cost and high-quality access to content and information for users everywhere.
The commercialisation of the Internet backbone as we know it today occurred just over 15 years ago, when the US National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET) Backbone Service (over which networks exchanged traffic) was decommissioned in favour of the current commercial Internet backbone. At that time, almost 70% of the network’s users were in the USA, but the globalisation of Internet access since then has been profound. The regional split of Internet users is becoming increasingly similar to that of the worldwide population (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Internet users by region, 1995–2009, and worldwide population by region, 2009 [Source: ITU, 2011]
The change in the routing of Internet traffic in response to this globalisation has been almost as profound. In 1995, most Internet traffic transited through four US-based network access points. This included traffic that was exchanged in the USA, taking advantage of existing international links, but was then carried back to the country of origin – a process known as ‘tromboning’. As the volume of traffic grew, the impact of tromboning on network performance and costs became a significant issue for ISPs.
To remedy the situation, Internet market players began to create more interconnection facilities across a range of countries and regions, in the form of Internet exchange points (IXPs). The resulting evolution of the Internet interconnection infrastructure can be split into the following three geographical phases.
In the first phase, exchange of international Internet traffic was concentrated in the USA (US-centric).
In the second phase, traffic exchange migrated to the developed countries in Europe and Asia that form the core of the OECD (OECD-centric).
The third phase of evolution, which is taking place now, focuses on the rest of the world (ROW-centric), and is moving towards a global Internet in which regional IXPs are used for local traffic.
The resulting increase and globalisation of IXPs can be seen in Figure 2.
Number of operated IXPs by region, 1999–2010
[Source: Packet Clearing House and Analysys Mason, 2011]
Some of the new IXPs, such as LINX in London, experienced tremendous success, becoming hubs for international content and connectivity for entire regions. Such successes are not only beneficial to national and regional Internet connectivity, bringing enhanced Internet performance and increased usage, but also benefit the hosting countries as a whole through additional foreign investments, the development of local content, and other indirect economic benefits.
The impact of these trends on global Internet traffic flows has been powerful. Internet bandwidth connections from each region of the world to North America have declined significantly during the past decade, as local exchanges have supplanted the need for international connectivity, as in the case of Asia and Europe, and the European exchanges have supplanted the US exchanges in the case of Africa. Latin America remains as the region that relies most heavily on US connectivity today, and that is down from highs approaching 95% in 2003 (see Figure 3).
The more-recent increase of high-bandwidth access and availability of multimedia content – particularly video – is fuelling the growing needs for the development and globalisation of IXPs, in order to control the corresponding increase in costs and concerns over latency. Emerging countries will need to support the development of such international connectivity solutions that are key to sustaining and expanding a healthy Internet ecosystem, and to build an environment favourable to investment in infrastructure and services in order to foster the development of a local IXP and build on the globalisation of the Internet infrastructure to date.