There is more to IXPs than meets the eye

By: 
Nikolaos Chatzis, Georgios Smaragdakis, Anja Feldmann, Walter Willinger
Appears in: 
CCR October 2013
Internet eXchange Points (IXPs) are generally considered to be the successors of the four Network Access Points (NAPs) that were mandated as part of the decommissioning of the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET) in 1994/95 to facilitate the transition from the NSFNET to the “public Internet” as we know it today. While this popular view does not tell the whole story behind the early beginnings of IXPs, what is true is that since around 1994, the number of operational IXPs worldwide has grown to more than 300 (as of May 20131), with the largest IXPs handling daily traffic volumes comparable to those carried by the largest Tier-1 ISPs. However, IXPs have never really attracted much attention from the networking research community. At first glance, this lack of interest seems understandable as IXPs have apparently little to do with current “hot” topic areas such as data centers and cloud services or Software Defined Networking (SDN) and mobile communication. However, we argue in this article that, in fact, IXPs are all about data centers and cloud services and even SDN and mobile communication and should be of great interest to networking researchers interested in understanding the current and future Internet ecosystem. To this end, we survey the existing but largely fragmented sources of publicly available information about IXPs to describe their basic technical and operational aspects and highlight the critical differences among the various IXPs in the different regions of the world, especially in Europe and North America. More importantly, we illustrate the important role that IXPs play in today’s Internet ecosystem and discuss how IXP-driven innovation in Europe is shaping and redefining the Internet marketplace, not only in Europe but increasingly so around the world.