An Internet Exchange, often abbreviated as “IX,” is a vital infrastructure component of the internet that plays a pivotal role in ensuring fast, reliable, and efficient data exchange between various networks and internet service providers (ISPs).
Most internet exchanges, like NWAX, are non-profit organizations run by the members for the benefit of all connected organizations. IXes host the network infrastructure that allows the exchange members to bring their networks together in a neutral location.
An Internet Exchange Point (“IXP”) is a physical location, often within a data center or purpose-built facility, where different network operators physically connect their network equipment, such as routers and switches.
Think of it as a nexus where the internet’s highways converge. At an IXP, networks connect and exchange internet traffic seamlessly, creating a vast interconnected web. It’s like the heart of the internet, ensuring your data travels from point A to B without unnecessary detours.
Participating organizations connect and exchange traffic directly with each other via the IX in a process called peering. To exchange routing information and route traffic effectively, network operators configure Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) peering sessions with one another. BGP is the protocol that governs how routers on the internet share routing information.
Once connected and with BGP peering sessions established, traffic can flow between participants directly. When one network has data packets destined for a location within another connected network, it sends those packets directly to the target network via the IX, without involving intermediate transit providers.
Internet Exchanges are the backbone of a faster and more efficient internet. They reduce the distance your data needs to travel, resulting in lower network latency, jitter and packet loss. They also increase routing efficiency. In the case of NWAX, local traffic can stay in Oregon. Rather than traversing extra miles to other regional hubs, packets take a shortcut directly to their destination.
IXPs often have multiple redundant connections to participant networks. This redundancy ensures that if one network connection experiences issues, traffic can be automatically rerouted through alternative paths, enhancing network reliability and fault tolerance. Reducing the number of router hops from source to destination also increases reliability.
IXs facilitate the establishment of peering relationships between network operators. Peering allows networks to exchange traffic outside of paid transit agreements, reducing operating costs and enhancing network autonomy. These cost savings can lead to more affordable internet services for consumers.
Connecting to a route server at an Internet Exchange Point (IXP) can significantly improve the efficiency of the peering process for network operators. A route server is essentially a facilitator that simplifies the establishment of BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) peering sessions between multiple participants at the IXP. Using the route servers allows network operators to set up a single peering session with the route server instead of numerous individual sessions.
Network operators can implement sophisticated traffic engineering and routing policies at the IXP. This allows them to control the path that internet traffic takes, optimizing network performance and ensuring efficient use of resources.
Internet Exchanges foster healthy competition among ISPs, ultimately benefiting consumers with better services and pricing options. Smaller ISPs can compete on a more level playing field, as they have the opportunity to directly peer with larger players, which can lead to improved services.
Content providers gain greater control over the routing and delivery of their content when connected to an IXP. They can make routing decisions, prioritize traffic, and optimize content delivery strategies according to their specific requirements and business goals.
IXPs provide a scalable platform for content providers to accommodate growing traffic demands. As user bases expand and content consumption increases, content providers can easily upgrade their connections at the IXP to handle higher traffic volumes. This scalability ensures that content remains accessible even during traffic spikes and surges in demand.
Non-profit internet exchanges like NWAX build a sense of network community in their local regions. They host networking events, facilitate direct conversations among members and encourage mentorship.