Internet exchange points (IXP) are a critical piece of the Internet infrastructure that enable ISP networks to exchange traffic with each other. The Internet has more than 300 IXPs worldwide—with more than 80 in US/Canada alone—and some IXPs carry as much traffic as the Tier-1 ISPs. IXPs offer a number of benefits including cost savings on International transit costs, better performance and user experience for locally hosted content, and improved security and availability (e.g., in case of disruption in International bandwidth such as due to cuts in undersea cables). However, several less developing countries face two key challenges:
- They either lack IXP infrastructure or have recently deployed IXPs with limited capabilities (e.g., Pakistan, the 6th most populous country, deployed their first ever IXP in Islamabad just last year), and
- They lack expertise and human resource for operating and managing IXPs, which is essential for realizing the true potential of IXPs. This proposal aims to address these two challenges as follows:
This project deployed a Software-Defined IXP, which used recent advances in Software-Defined Networking (SDN) to allow operators to enable new applications such as application-specific peering, traffic redirection through middleboxes, and inbound traffic engineering. Pakistan IXP were used as a testbed for deployment, testing, and evaluation.
They also carried out training programs to prepare human resource in managing IXPs as well as in using SDN controllers.
The SDN-based IXP platform developed in this project also uncovered the empirical data highlighting the benefits of IXP, particularly in the developing world, by measuring the inter-ISP traffic volumes. They further aimed (as a future goal) to study the traffic types to estimate the growth in content hosted locally, or moved over from international to local hosting. This project eventually was useful for persuading popular large-volume publishers (Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, etc.) and content distribution networks (CDNs) to establish their local presence within the country and peer at the IXPs in Pakistan. It also further allowed the Pakistan IXP team to right size the future IXPs (in Karachi and Lahore) and scale the one in Islamabad. The knowledge of “where” the traffic is destined and downloaded from “outside the country” motivated additional local and international cloud service providers to get interested in hosting their platforms within the region.