Networks for a new age of connection

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After another record-breaking year for live data traffic, DE-CIX International CEO Ivo Ivanov tells Melanie Mingas what the development means for network planning and where attention must focus next

Last year DE-CIX saw more than 38 exabytes in total traffic across all its exchanges. The figure marked a 20% increase on 2020 – itself a record-breaking year, due in part to the pandemic – but it was not the end of the records. In fact, several individual DE-CIX locations also set their own.

“There’s always room for further traffic growth and we were never concerned about a shortfall. However, I must say 38 exabytes was extremely impressive to see,” says the CEO of DE-CIX International, Ivo Ivanov.

“There are tonnes of applications that have been exchanged over the DE-CIX platform on four continents and, we are very proud to say, without a millisecond of outage,” Ivanov adds.

Standout performances occurred in markets of all tiers and on all four operating continents. DE-CIX New York now consistently exceeds 1Tbps peak traffic – more on that figure later – while DE-CIX Frankfurt, one of the largest data centres and carrier-neutral ecosystems on the planet, saw more than 29 exabytes of data traffic over 12 months and reached 11Tbps of peak data throughput as of 1 February this year.

“It’s an amazing amount of live traffic and an exchange between just shy of 1,100 connected networks from more than 100 countries,” Ivanov says of Frankfurt.

Exchanges in other major locations follow similar patterns. From February 2020 to today, Marseille has seen a 153% traffic increase, while Munich has seen 252%, and the likes of Istanbul, Dallas and Dubai have registered 184%, 234% and 133% respectively.

The trend has been accelerated by the pandemic – although by no more than two years, Ivanov says – however, it is being sustained by digitalisation.

While it is too early to know if this year will see a further 20% growth, Ivanov says that “we see an unchanged behaviour in terms of growing the traffic so far, so I would not be surprised to see a similar increase. We see on the application development level great products and services by thousands of operators worldwide, which are not pandemic-related. The usage of these services is probably, to a high degree, also not pandemic-related.

He adds: “I believe the real demand comes from innovation and the excitement of people when it comes to digital services in general.”.

The experience of network planning during Covid-19 is now being applied to better plan for the digitalisation-driven demand that is occurring at present. In the past, there were more downloads than uploads, but now the increased use of collaboration tools, digital services and gaming drive bilateral traffic flows, which requires symmetrical planning, Ivanov says.

“The whole cloud trend is huge and was also accelerated in the pandemic and it leads to the fact that network design and network infrastructure in general will be planned in the future in a more symmetrical way, creating a highway in both directions with the maximum bandwidth and lowest latency possible,” he explains.

“The ‘new normal’ on the network planning design is symmetrical, extremely big pipes and the lowest latency possible,” Ivanov adds.

1Tbps club

On planet DE-CIX, the first step to IX stardom is to join the Worldwide One Terabit Internet Exchange Club. New York was inducted last year and in March, at the time of this interview, Madrid was on track to be next.

“Starting from zero,” only six years ago, today the DE-CIX Madrid exchange connects more than 220 networks in the Spanish capital, and has grown by 122% since February 2020.

“Madrid is important. When we launched, we promised to the entire industry and all the stakeholders involved that we would create – together with our customers and the entire local, transregional and international community – a new digital interconnection hub in the south of Europe,” Ivanov says.

At the time Madrid served as a demonstration of how DE-CIX can create an ecosystem “closer to new regions or in regions where we have not seen this concentration of traffic and infrastructure in the past”, Ivanov says. DE-CIX considers the Iberian Peninsula a “new centre of gravity” where the southern hemisphere’s networks meet Europe’s.

However, despite its importance, Madrid will not be the fastest IX to join the club. That title goes to DE-CIX Mumbai, which is now known as the largest internet exchange in the Asia-Pacific region.

“There couldn’t be a better example of this than India, because India is a country with a huge population and DE-CIX Mumbai is now in year five. So if you compare DE-CIX Mumbai to other exchanges, it’s a baby, but this baby became the largest internet exchange in all of the Asia-Pacific region just a couple of weeks ago,” Ivanov told Capacity in March.

“It passed the magical level of 1Tbps and it’s more than 400 connected networks heavy, which makes it the largest in all of APAC and shows us how huge the demand on traffic exchange is,” he adds.

After Mumbai, DE-CIX opened platforms in Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai and is planning more. “The infrastructure needs to get closer to where the users are and, for a highly populated country like India, this is mandatory,” Ivanov reasons.

Of course, similar demands exist across Asia, where DE-CIX is also present in Malaysia and Singapore. Its plan is to enable further markets across the southeast of the content with IX and interconnection platforms – after all localisation is key to performance.

The evolving internet

In Ivanov’s view the future is all about latency. It is a message he shared at Capacity Middle East in March, and it underpins everything DE-CIX does.

In the enterprise space a DE-CIX-led consortium of nine other companies has received €8.75 million to help bankroll Tellus, a Gaia-X compliant interconnection platform that will connect various cloud platforms to each other and to third parties via DE-CIX and ISPs to give users choice, flexibility and digital sovereignty. The project kicks off this year and is described by Ivanov as “the next generation of the so-called ‘extranet’”.

“It’s a private interconnection environment deployed in a very flexible, agile, highly customisable and secure way,” he explains. This concept is rooted in the growing demand for high-end controllability of the data journey, particularly in industries with major digitalisation potential, such as automotive, finance and healthcare.

“Different businesses, enterprises, can create their own private, virtual interconnection environments and invite all the data buyers and suppliers to join this environment and the specific security and compliance policies, aggregating at the same time, so reducing complexity, and on the most direct path possible, which means reducing latency and increasing performance,” Ivanov says.

Explaining the latency demands, Ivanov says the must-have for gaming and high-definition broadcast is no higher than 35 milliseconds, while real-time manufacturing management with robotics or autonomous driving requires a range of one to five milliseconds. “A blink of an eye is 100ms. This is the relation we are talking about,” he says.

To achieve the latencies the future demands, an IX could be co-located in a 5G cell tower. “This is in fact what we have today in our research. And also locations at highway crossroads,” Ivanov says.

We may be in the era of digital transformation at present, but thanks to the PR machine of one social media giant, ideas for the next iteration of the internet are already propagating and latency figures like these will be integral to its realisation.

For DE-CIX, the vision for the metaverse (see page 64-65) aligns with its own ambitions. “Our vision is of serving digitalisation anywhere with infrastructure everywhere for everyone, which means as close as possible to the users,” Ivanov says.

He adds the infrastructure of the future must be built on three pillars: the lowest latency possible; extremely high levels of security; and infrastructure which is easy for different market participants to use.

As such, Ivanov says DE-CIX could enable as many as 20 to 30 markets per year as the necessary network infrastructure is built out.

“We at DE-CIX, and, personally, I do too, love the fact that latency is the new currency. Every single millisecond counts for digital applications. Imagine how the performance in an environment like the metaverse – using AR, AI, VR etc – would be if you don’t make sure the backbone infrastructure, the foundation for these applications, can support this extremely important performance,” Ivanov says.

For now, the focus is on meeting demand and entering new markets. Year to date DE-CIX has deployed at EdgeConneX locations in Richmond, Virginia, and Barcelona, Spain. DE-CIX Phoenix, the fifth US-based exchange, is now live andDE-CIX Leipzig is also up and running in the data centres of Envia Tel and PŸUR Business. During Capacity Middle East DE-CIX confirmed it would operate IRAQ-IXP through its DE-CIX-as-a-service model and since then has confirmed a similar move in Jordan.

However, as promising as these developments are for the hyperconnected future, they occur against a backdrop of geopolitical uncertainty, including calls for Russia’s access to the internet to be cut. It is a fast-moving situation, but events like these highlight the critical nature of such connections.

Ivanov says: “The internet is for everyone and we, as the interconnection and infrastructure community, should keep the infrastructure as neutral as possible, as open as possible, because this is one of the most important, precious gifts we have in terms of innovation and one of the foundations for economic wealth, quality of life and political stability for the generations ahead of us.”