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13 November 2012
DE-CIX is taking its highly successful internet exchange model in Frankfurt to the global stage, beginning in the Middle East. Robert Anderson investigates.
When the carrier neutral
internet exchange DE-CIX was established in 1995, it was only
ever intended to serve Germany. Today, the company is the
world’s largest internet exchange with more than
480 networks connected from more than 52 countries worldwide
and is building on its success by expanding internationally and
launching its own next-generation network (NGN) exchange.
The company’s CEO,
Harald Summa, attributes DE-CIX’s phenomenal rise
to the movement in traffic "from west to east". This change
occurred around the end of the nineties when European ISPs
began peering in western European exchanges, shifting away from
exchanging traffic via the transatlantic and peering in the US
east coast’s MAE-EAST exchange.
Frankfurt’s key geographic location and attracting
customers from the east, DE-CIX was able to create an
international hub for traffic from Russia and CEE on to western
Europe and the US.
popularity grew, it attracted more networks, ISPs and
businesses to the German city to peer with one another.
Now the company is hoping to repeat its success in Germany in
the altogether different surroundings of the United Arab
Emirates through the launch of the Middle East’s
first carrier neutral internet exchange.
Bringing gravity to
Summa believes the deregulation
of the international market and the increasing volumes of IP
traffic helped drive the need to deliver content closer to the
end user. It’s these factors, he says, that are
also driving his company’s venture in the Middle
DE-CIX was approached by the UAE
regulator, Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), to
establish an internet exchange in Dubai and subsequently
launched UAE-IX this October.
UAE-IX aims to attract content
distributors, international carriers and ISPs to interconnect
and terminate their traffic in the Middle East, opening up the
market to a wider array of players. "With the exchange we are
helping the region to bring in other players that would not
have gone there if there wasn’t a neutral
exchange," says Summa.
UAE-IX is built upon a
fully redundant switching platform within a Dubai data centre
and is expected to reduce latency times by 80% and costs by 70%
for companies operating in the GCC region.
Summa expects the exchange to be
the catalyst for the development of Dubai into an international
hub for peering in much the same style as Frankfurt. "What we
like to call our 'gravity’ in Frankfurt, we expect
to take place in the Middle East as well. The more peering
relations that can be established, the more attractive it will
become to set up your business there because the closer you can
be to your particular customers."
Content restrictions in the
Middle East have been a limiting factor for potential investors
in the past, but Summa says that DE-CIX hasn’t
noticed any restrictions on what is exchanged so far and even
suggests that UAE-IX could pave the way for more liberalised
content rules in the UAE. He also believes that the exchange
will make Dubai a base for the Arabic content market.
UAE-IX is expected to prompt a
wider trend to establish exchanges across the Middle East and
Africa. Summa argues that it is essential for a country to have
at least one exchange to allow its internet market to grow and
aggregate national traffic. In favourable geographic locations,
he claims, an exchange can help attract international
This is increasingly being
recognised in emerging African markets, where
DE-CIX’s rival, the Amsterdam internet exchange
AMS-IX, has recently been involved in discussions for closer
cooperation with the Kenya Internet Exchange Point to build an
Many of Africa’s
northern nations like Morocco, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia are
also expected to examine developing exchanges to exploit
internet development. There is an increasing need for many
countries in the region to decrease cross-border traffic in
favour of local traffic, says Summa.
environments raise questions whether these exchange points can
follow the same carrier neutral model that has proven so
popular in Europe.
Summa, however, is keen to
promote the advantages of the carrier neutral European model.
"The European business model of IX is mostly based on a
community driven approach, so we are a non-for-profit
organisation," he says. "I think carrier data centres are not
as open and free as a carrier neutral data centre is supposed
In a bid to extend its portfolio
beyond traditional peering, DE-CIX launched its NGN exchange
platform at the start of September, which is designed to enable
the termination and interconnection of VoIP traffic on its
system, as well as video conferencing and special
DE-CIX first identified the need
to enter the emerging services market as early as 2003. Having
recognised the potential of VoIP, the company realised it knew
very little about the voice market and would need a partner
with the necessary expertise to set up an exchange. Eventually
it selected neutral interconnection provider XConnect.
According to Summa, part of the
challenge of launching an NGN exchange is convincing potential
customers to abandon their old interconnection agreements in
favour of this new approach. "A lot of the companies have their
existing interconnection relations and you have to
convince them to start thinking a new way."
DE-CIX is now in the process of
implementing several letters of intent from customers to
interconnect on the DE-CIX NGN, and is negotiating with the 40
companies it first approached with the concept a year ago to
This year, DE-CIX has also
sought to address demand for high-speed connectivity in
Frankfurt with a 100G DWDM metro deployment in partnership with
ADVA Optical Networking.
The deployment was required to
support DE-CIX’s expanded footprint, which has
grown from one switch to 14 with connections to 15 data centres
The service is designed to
provide greater choice, allowing ISPs, carriers or application
cloud computing vendors to decide where they want to install
their equipment in the city. In addition, it is intended to
make it easier for them to peer with the rest of the world or
establish private connections to partners within
Frankfurt’s metro region.
Driven by market
So where next for the
world’s largest internet exchange for the
foreseeable future? "We are not driven by money. We are driven
by the development of the market itself," says Summa.
"We have to make profit to be
able to invest this money into new infrastructure but we are
not competing like carriers to get more customers or just to be
the biggest for the sake of it."
The DE-CIX CEO predicts there
will be a change in the way that IXs are operated in the
future, with a focus on service quality expected to take
precedent over traditional academic and strongly member driven
approaches. This, he says, is because the majority of customers
are more concerned with a higher quality of service than being
part of community discussions.
Internationally, Summa believes
that DE-CIX and other European IXs now have an important role
to play in helping to develop exchanges in other countries and
regions. "We are helping the rest of the world with our
knowledge and our experience to create new exchanges
worldwide," he says.
was founded in 1995 as an environment for the bilateral
settlement-free exchange of internet traffic between all types
of internet service providers in what is known as peering. The
exchange was originally started as a project founded by three
German ISPs and is now the world’s largest
Ownership: DE-CIX is carrier neutral and owned
by the Association of the German Internet Industry, the
world’s largest non-profit association for the
CEO: Harald Summa is CEO of DE-CIX and founder
and CEO of eco – Association of the German Internet
Customers: DE-CIX has over 480 customers from
over 52 countries, these include content providers and content
delivery networks, broadband providers, established
telecommunications providers and a mixed group of ISPs. The
company’s customers create more than 2 terabits of
peak traffic through its public peering in Frankfurt with over
500 private interconnects in service, over 200 gigabit Ethernet
ports, and 600 10-gigabit Ethernet ports.
Network: DE-CIX’s technical
infrastructure is spread out over a total of 12 data centres
operated by ancotel, Databurg, Equinix, Level 3, I.T.E.N.O.S.,
Interxion, NewTelco, and TelecityGroup within the city of
Frankfurt. The centre of the DE-CIX peering star consists of
two redundant core switch clusters – one active and
the other operated in hot standby mode. These are connected to
14 other switches through fibre-optic cables running at up to
services: DE-CIX’s products and services
include public peering, campus fibre, router and switch
co-location, metro VLAN, DE-CIX NGN, blackholing and private