La nascita degli Internet Exchange in Italia e il loro coordinamento continentale
The birth of Internet Exchanges in Italy and their co-ordination on the continent
Valeria Rossi
  • The Internet, as it evolved, has become a structure with modular architecture in which different Internet Service Providers (ISP) operate offering commercial services or services to the scientific and research communities in every region of the world.
  • The network of an ISP is also a modular system, consisting of points of presence (POP) in various parts of the territory; the POP of an ISP and the circuits connecting them together constitute the backbone of the ISP network.
  • The ISP connects its clients to a POP, whether end-user clients or another ISP. In order to ensure that its clients can contact clients of other providers (for example, to send or receive mail to a user of another ISP), an ISP must connect its backbone to the backbone of another ISP and this can be achieved in different ways: through dedicated point-to-point circuits or through generic multiple interconnection points.
  • In the first case, an ISP would use a separate circuit for each ISP it connects with, in the second, the ISP uses a single dataflow at a point from which local connections can be made with all the other ISPs present at that point.
  • Obviously the two methods are not mutually exclusive and in general, for various reasons, both solutions are used, normally depending on the level of traffic between the two backbones and on economic factors.
  • An Internet Exchange (sometimes also called NAP - Neutral Access Point) is therefore a point of multiple interconnections between different ISPs who access it through a dataflow and which, locally, exchange their clients' data through a local area network (LAN) and not through a point-to-point connection.
  • When we speak of exchange of data among ISPs we mean exchange of IP traffic and introduce the concept of "peering": an ISP announces its IP networks to another ISP (a "peer") and receives from the peer its IP networks, so that the flow of IP traffic is directed on the basis of this informatio.
  • In Italy, the first IX was set up by a consortium of universities in Lombardy in 1994 and was soon followed by a second, again a consortium of universities, in Rome.
  • It is no accident that both these NAPs came from the academic world: the need for neutral ground in which there is competition among the individual users is a characteristic of all exchange points worldwide (many still hosted by public structures, typically by research centres and universities).
  • At the time the campus in Via Caldera in the north west of Milan began to attract more and more ISPs, and is now the largest single pool of Internet operators in Italy.
  • The concentration of ISPs at the campus created conditions favourable to establishing an IX within the campus and in 1996, in a voluntary and not-for-profit initiative, an ISP present in Via Caldera (Inet) made available part of its technical structure for construction of a second NAP in Milan, the first "mix" (at the time "mix" meant mixture, an exchange service, the company MIX did not yet exist).
  • Given the importance of NAPs in Internet structure, the presence in the same town of two different points of exchange, catering to the same ISPs, could not be without significance; over the years, the ease of connection at the campus led to its "mix" being richer than the first NAP in Milan which, while continuing to exist, could not evolve further.
  • On the other hand, there still remained the problem that the "mix", which had expanded greatly, was hosted by an ISP, i.e. non-neutral ground: this was a source of embarrassment for the other ISPs, many of whom were direct competitors of the ISP hosting the mix.
  • In January 2000, a total of 28 partners created MIX S.r.L., with the object of creating and managing within its own infrastructure a set of services to facilitate exchanges among the ISPs operating in Italy. This service was known as Milan Internet Exchange, or the acronym MIX.
  • MIX is without doubt now the most important such structure in Italy and is one of the principal exchange points for Internet traffic in Southern Europe.
  • Over the years other IX were created in Italy, meeting the need for exchange points in specific geographic areas. In addition to the NAP in Rome (Namex), set up on a very similar basis to the one in Milan, more and more regional NAPs are being created, typically promoted by public initiatives.
  • The main ones include TIX (Tuscany IX) in Florence promoted by the Tuscany Regional Authority and Top-IX (Torino-Piemonte IX) promoted by the Piedmont Region, but there are also similar initiatives in Veneto, Friuli and other regions.
  • While everyone knows that the Internet is a net of networks, the sum total of interconnections among networks of many different ISPs, probably few know the extent of co-ordination and harmonization is involved, including at infrastructural level.
  • Providing interconnections among networks of thousands of ISPs with different sizes, geographical coverage and services offered, forming a single large Network where, no matter who the ISP, each user can send an email to the other side of the world, without regard to the route the message takes over the network or how many parts of the network is transited before reaching the destination, this is an activity of primary importance for optimum functioning of the Internet.
  • Just over a decade ago Internet Exchanges began to be set up in almost all European countries, interconnecting networks of ISPs operating within a country.
  • What happened in Italy with MIX (Milan Internet Exchange) in 2000 was preceded a few years previously in London with LINX (London Internet Exchange), the first structured IX. Later IXs included AMS-IX in Amsterdam, DE-CIX in Frankfurt, Netnod in Stockholm, to name a few, and gradually extended to all other European countries, which now have at least one principal IX and one or more secondary IXs.
  • The reason for this proliferation has always been the same: to improve Internet infrastructures within a country in order to facilitate exchange of IP data among ISPs with infrastructure in that country. To sum up: a single aim pursued by structures which are typically not for profit, connecting Internet operators with the same requirements, or even in some cases the same operators (for example, for operators operating in several countries).
  • This, in 2000, led a small group of 7 IXs to create a European co-ordination structure for IXs: just as the Internet has become over the years a global network thanks to co-ordination by work groups all over the world, so too in the world of Internet Exchanges there was a need to create forms of co-operation and comparison, so that the Internet could also benefit from the experience of all at infrastructural level.
  • So on 7 May 2001, Ams-IX (Amsterdam), BNIX (Brussels), De-CIX (Frankfurt), LINX (London), MIX (Milan), Netnod (Stockholm) and VIX (Vienna) founded the European association of Internet Exchanges, known as Euro-IX.
  • The aim of the association was and still is to co-ordinate and harmonize the IX activities, development of common activities and procedures, and sharing of experience and information, the basic principles of the whole Internet.
  • Euro-IX activities have over the years proved their worth and as word spread this led to the birth of new IX, not only in Europe but all over the world.
  • Today Euro-IX has more than 40 affiliates from over 26 European countries, with an exchange of traffic of about 5 Terabit per second, providing ISPs from all over the world with the data essential for correct planning of interconnections among their networks.
  • Although Euro-IX was originally designed as a Forum of European IXs, after some years it seemed a natural development to extend beyond the original geographical boundaries, capturing the interest and harvesting the experience of IXs in other continents. In 2005 the association decided to open its doors to non-European IXs, to their mutual advantage.
  • Today the community of European IXs profits from the contributions of affiliates from Brazil, Curacao, Iceland, Egypt, Japan, India, Nepal and the United States.
Happy Birthday ISOC