A new regional peering initiative for the UK?

A few weeks ago, I wondered why a number of posts on my blog which had been quiet for a while saw some renewed interest – the series on regional peering suddenly saw a significant growth in readership – when I received word that there was group forming in Manchester to discuss the subject, instigated by Manchester co-lo operator m247 and involving (my former employer) the largest UK IXP, LINX.

Now it started to make sense…

The meeting seems to have gone hand in hand with LINX stating more widely that it wants to be more involved in UK regional peering, saying that it now realises there is a role for it to play. It has had the ambition for some time, just not been so overt about it, more of this later. LINX also conveniently happen to have a supply of spare 10G-capable ethernet switchgear following the massive network upgrade they executed last year, which might well be at home in a less-complex regional IX, despite it’s age.

LINX has been talking amongst the community about the project, operating under the working title of “IX Manchester”.

However, it seems LINX’s ambitions stretch beyond Manchester itself – extending to facilitating and stimulating interconnect in other regional centres as well. This starts to look a lot like the Netnod structure which has been well proven in Sweden, that of a number of non-interconnected redundant exchanges distributed around the country. I wrote on this organisational co-ordination in Whither Regional Peering – Part 2.

While LINX state one of their motivations for doing more structured regional activity is the London dominance which they feel has inhibited regional IX development, I wonder if folk are in any way concerned about LINX still becoming overly dominant of the UK IXP scene, despite it currently taking the role of facilitator? While LINX is already a big exchange, is it in danger of being a behemoth?

Consider that it already has a robust and mature governance structure in place to manage things, so maybe this contains the in-built checks and balances needed to reassure any concerned parties? Also, this mutual governance structure is one of the big advantages LINX would bring to the party – why re-invent the wheel after all?

If, at some point in the future, there’s concern about a dominant player, or a lack of choice or a dissatisfaction, then people will get together to do something about it.

What does this mean for the growing IXLeeds that I’ve written about before? They’ve already incorporated and have a growing membership, with a governance structure in place. It seems less obvious for LINX to subsume them. I believe that, for the time being, continued independence is likely, but I’ll be watching with interest.

Being able to capture what seems to be one of the main essences of a successful regional exchange – the community behind it – while operating as part of the larger whole will be one of the challenges as well as one of the strengths. Manchester already has the community in existence, it’s keeping it going.  What about other locations? Is it “cart before the horse” to build the IX without the roots of the community in place? As LINX are also proposing to “do it right” with non-interconnected exchanges this should create multiple islands of sufficiently diverse interconnectivity to provide real in-country alternatives to London, but will this build build the necessary local community needed to sustain it?

This is why Manchester is not necessarily a difficult proposition to say “yes” to – the potential customers/members for the IX are making the approach and highlighting the vacuum in the local market place. There’s already an ecosystem in place. But, I don’t think I can say the same for many other areas in the UK.

However, one also has to wonder what this might mean for LONAP (in itself born partly out of dissatisfaction with the LINX of the 1990s), and indeed for the diverse (Extreme-powered) LINX LAN in London. London can definitely support more than one IXP – it’s doing that right now – but how might this affect their roles in the UK peering ecosystem? Continue as they were? Or changes in store for them as a result?

But, I do wonder what’s changed the landscape enough to make this step now, as the opportunity had been there more than once before? Can it just be the shove from M247 and friends? I suspect there’s got to be more. The ability to acquire significant international capacity without routing through London might mean the chance to create a truly non-London internet hub in the UK is there for the taking, and is just too good to pass up.

Maybe it’s an alignment of many factors, from availability of hardware and resources, the establishment of a “virtual” AMS-IX PoP in Manchester giving the nudge you get from a competitor on your patch, to changes in how the larger UK ISPs are building their networks (due to fast broadband deployments), a growing “de-Londonisation” trend for hosting content, through to the traffic demands of 2012 and beyond.

I’d be interested to hear what folk think or have to say, so comment away.

While it had been considered during my own tenure at LINX, where I had often previously helped regional IXPs on a more casual basis – usually with technical or professional know-how (such as with setting up IXLeeds), loans of gear, or handling applications for AS numbers and addressing resources (which we did with an attempt at a Scottish IXP) – the timing or mood never seemed right to make this move on the more structured basis on which it’s being proposed today.

Times have changed for sure, such as a regional influence on the LINX Council these days, in the shape of Yorkshire-based expert and ISP entrepreneur Thomas Mangin (who is also a founder and director of IXLeeds).

In any case, for the record, I’m pleased to see the initiative finally being seized. It’s just a shame it’s long overdue from where I’m sitting, and hopefully not too late. Good luck. Maybe my rantings made some sense to someone and weren’t in vain after all…

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