Over the past two years or so, Open-IX has been making waves in the business of peering and interconnection. We have seen several independent exchanges get off the ground, building out exchange fabrics across multiple data center providers. With us today to talk about what Open-IX is trying to accomplish and what progress they have been making is the organization’s Co-Founder and Chairman, Dave Temkin. Dave also happens to be the Director of Network Architecture and Strategy over at Netflix.
TR: Can you tell us what Open-IX is trying to do? What problem is it seeking to solve?
DT: Our goal is simply to improve interconnection in North America. I personally identified 3+ years ago that the main providers of “carrier neutral interconnection” weren’t really functioning in a way that was healthy for the market. It was restricting the options that companies like Akamai, Netflix, Google, Amazon, etc had for interconnecting in a scalable and robust manner — Not only in the largest markets like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles but also even in smaller markets like, say, Minneapolis, Seattle, or Miami. What we seek to do is create a standard by which data center and IX operators can function that allows for Open-IX members to be able to interconnect in a less-hassle environment than exists today.
TR: Can you give me an example of the market for interconnection operating poorly?
DT: A great example would be this. Suppose I want to interconnect from suite 518 to suite 524 at 111 8th — literally right next to each other. One is Equinix, one is Telx. I have to pay $750/month plus my normal cross-connect fee, call it $300/month, in order to get a cross connect that runs about 50 feet. Because of the way the market functions, we have allowed this to happen and people have just rolled over and paid. For context, many other providers charge only a hundred or hundred-fifty dollars to get a cross connect to a meet-me room. In functional markets like Seattle, Toronto, even some of the other buildings in New York that’s how it works. But what we are challenged with is there are a lot of buildings where that is not functional. On top of that there’s no good public internet exchange platform in any of these cities that is not owned by a single data center provider. What we seek to do is enable IX’s to enter any Open-IX certified data center under the same terms as any others.
TR: Many describe the current movement as the arrival of European-style peering and interconnection in North America. What is it about the European model that is so attractive?
DT: When we look at the ecosystem for interconnection in Europe, there are some countries that are better than others. When we talk about this we’re talking about places like London, Amsterdam, and Stockholm, where there is easy access to fiber. Data centers themselves don’t operate internet exchanges and aren’t incentivized to keep other exchanges out. They also don’t penalize you for bringing in what they perceive as competitive fiber.
TR: We’ve spoken mostly about the bigger markets, how does interconnection business play out in the Tier 2 and 3 markets, and how can Open-IX help?
DT: In those markets there are a few players that are kind of fragmented. They’re scrambling for business and trying to bring it to their cities. A lot of what we’re doing is taking the most important bits of what we are doing in the major cities and use them to foster growth. So in cities like Minneapolis, there is actually a decent number of people interconnecting there but in like eight different facilities with no easy way to interconnect between them.
TR: Are local players looking to set up exchanges in these smaller markets, and is Open-IX looking to help the process along?
DT: We absolutely are. In Phoenix and Minneapolis those are both homegrown exchanges, and we’re going to work with them to get them up to the service level they need to be Open-IX certified. You’re right though, we have Europeans come directly into the market. I’m happy with how some of them have done it. I think some of the others have been kind of haphazard bout it and have made the problem worse and not better. It’s interesting that the way this was originally visualized was that we were going to have the European exchange operators build exchanges in various cities under contract for Open-IX. But realized that it was too much for a new organization like Open-IX to take on, and instead we pivoted and just encouraged them to operate themselves here. We certainly appreciate some of the ones that have come and done builds, but we’ll certainly work with the ones developing locally though since they know those markets the best.
TR: So is Open-IX specifically trying to accomplish. What is it you are certifying?
DT: There are two standards, the data center standard and the IX standard. The data center standard seeks to set a minimum service offering. That’s simple things like N+1 power, SLAs around how long it takes to build a cross connect, non-discriminatory access to meet-me rooms, and published pricing for cross connects. The purpose is to provide people with a known quantity when they go into a data center. The IX standard seeks to clarify the technical standards of the IX, the fact that they will deploy to any data center provided there is demand, et cetera. In our view it’s a pretty rounded standard to provide most people who move into these types of colos with a comfort level that they will get a known product.
TR: Have you been making the progress you expected to make?
DT: At this point we have dozens of data centers certified and 3-4 major IXs certified. I’d say we’ve made better progress than what we expected at the outset in that we thought this was going to be a harder fight. Now, obviously we are still working on people like CoreSite, Telx, and even Equinix. I would say we’ve had very constructive conversations with CoreSite and Telx, but it may be that Equinix will simply be the holdout and the market example for why Open-IX is a good thing.
TR: Are there markets in North America that already work well, where Open-IX’s efforts aren’t needed?
DT: Two markets are good examples of that: the TorIX in Toronto and the SIX in Seattle. Both have basically said they like the way things are now and they don’t see any urgency, and we also see their markets as working well. Frankly if we could extend the model that goes on in those two markets to the rest of North America, I think we could close up shop and go home. It’s interesting because in those markets, Equinix will provide low cost cross connects into the meet-me room.
TR: Your day job is over at Netflix. Does the work you do on interconnection at Open-IX have anything to do with Netflix’s recent public disputes with last mile operators?
DT: That is a completely separate issue. I’ll put my Netflix hat on briefly and say that the interconnection issues we have at Netflix have nothing to do with what colocation we are located in or where fiber gets pulled to. It’s really all business driven, someone like Comcast or Verizon has enough fiber in the ground to meet us anywhere, they just choose, unlike many other networks, to charge us access fees.
Open-IX stays out of the politics of the actual interconnection and who is paying who and all that. We’re not mandating pricing, and actually can’t do that legally. We also can’t pick winners and losers. We just set a standard and say if you meet it then you can use our mark.
TR: Thank you for talking with Telecom Ramblings!
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