An Internet Exchange Point (IXP) is a physical location where key Internet players such as content providers, Internet service providers (ISPs), educational institutions, research organizations etc., connect with each other. In a holistic view, these locations stay at the edge of these networks and facilitate the flow of packets from one network to the other. In simpler terms, by just connecting to an Internet Exchange (IX), data packets from one member network reach other member's network in a shortcut way, thereby reducing latency, improving round-trip times and reducing transit costs.
India, the world's second largest country in terms of Internet users, needs infrastructure like this to better cater to its 700 million and fast growing Internet user population. Besides, only 53% of the population has access to Internet. According to World Broadband Speed League 2018, India ranks at 88 with a mean download speed of 5.19Mbps and mean upload speed of 2.06Mbps. While India jumped 31 places compared to the previous year, it is just not enough. Although we have a huge Internet population, the quality of connectivity is poor. Local Internet Exchanges across the country and dense interconnections can solve that problem.
India has about 27 active IXPs as of January 2019. That number looks like nothing compared to the 190 IXPs of the US, with an Internet user population one-third of that of India. Even considering countries like France, Germany, the UK etc., which are significantly small compared to total land area or Internet user population of India, they have more IXPs.
With the fastest growing economy and more millennials in the country getting connected to the Internet everyday, India needs a huge number of local IXPs that reduce transit costs for everyone and pass on that savings to the people. Improved reliability and reduced latency are just some of the other key benefits that come with this package.
Towards the end of 2017, when I was in India for a vacation, a friend and I observed something weird happening. We were using different ISPs but we were both in Vijayawada. During P2P transfers, data packets were going all the way to Chennai or Hyderabad or Mumbai and then coming back to Vijayawada. That just increased RTTs many folds. We quickly ran a RIPE Atlas measurement and found that there are too many hops between end users and content providers that we normally don't see in the western world where there is dense interconnection.
Vijayawada is not a small town. It has a population of 1.05 million. It is the hub for educational institutions, government offices and businesses. Besides, Amaravati, the new capital city of Andhra Pradesh, is just a few Kilometers away from Vijayawada. We quickly realized that Amaravati is the future and it being the epicenter of rapid growth, definitely needs a neutral Internet exchange. With great telco capacities and accessibility for NLD links, it is the perfect location.
We decided to do something about it and then I flew back to the US. I brought this up with few other friends and they agreed to join us in this not-for-profit, voluntary effort. Soon, we learned that one other ISP in the region is also thinking about an IX, albeit a commercial for-profit one. We talked to them, convinced them, explained why a community driven IX would be more successful than a for-profit commercial IX run by some owner. They agreed with our ideology and joined hands with us. This lead to the formation of Amaravati Internet Exchange a non-profit initiative by Amaravati People Foundation, the first IXP in India without any kind of fee, port or membership charges (at least at the time of this writing).
I took the role of architect and the responsibility of drafting the IX policy and governance procedures. I initiated contact with Packet Clearing House (PCH) and they were kind enough to respond quickly to our emails. At the same time, the other people in the group started reaching out to local ISPs and educating them of the benefits of peering. Soon we got letters of intent from multiple ISPs. PCH helped us draft a policy document based off of the standard practices followed by IXPs across the world. They also helped us with a holistic view of what needs to be done to operationalize this IX.
Since Amaravati falls under APNIC, we contacted them with our concept. They were very helpful in guiding us through obtaining Internet resources (ASN and IP address space). They also helped us with material that we could subsequently use to talk to more ISPs. We further talked to people who manage Kolkata IX and got some good insights.
One of the member ISPs helped us get started with a Cisco switch and the IX was officially running with two route servers, AS112 service, NTP server and a couple of ISPs as members. With some help from Kenneth of Fremont Cabal Internet Exchange (FCIX), we got in touch with Steve from Arista Networks and they came forward to donate us a very good switch that would help us provision 10G ports to members.
So far, the journey has been amazing. I personally learned a lot going through this process. None of us make a single penny out of this initiative. But, we are happy to have given something back to our community that would accelerate the Internet economy in the region. And we will continue to do so. Amaravati IX is for the people in the region, owned and operated by its member ISPs and networks and is committed to being neutral.