Back in 1995 when peering was young, a new internet exchange was founded in the German city of Frankfurt. Today, DE-CIX has spread out to 20 global markets, connects more than 1900 networks, and exchanges more than 9 Terabits per second. With us today to prep for Friday’s Anniversary Show is Chief Strategic & Corporate Development Officer Ivo Ivanov.
TR: When DE-CIX was born, what did it look like? What was the initial infrastructure, and who was running it?
II: DE-CIX was founded 25 years ago in a little old post office in Frankfurt. We had three ISPs connected, which began the story of DE-CIX. Harald Summa, CEO of DE-CIX, was a consultant helping the German software industry develop. At the time, EUNet, one of the very first ISPs in Germany, was a client. They asked Harald to help set up a company selling ‘Internet.’ At the time, it was an academic network for email and other text-based protocols. In 1995, there were fewer than a dozen ISPs exchanging data in Germany. When looking at the routing and costs at that time, it was inefficient and expensive. These ISPs realized it’s important for the development of the Internet to keep traffic local. In 1995, three providers convened to launch DE-CIX. At the time, there was the Electronic Commerce association (today ECO), and they needed someone to run DE-CIX, so they appointed Harald. Individuals primarily drove it. For instance, John Postel at the time had a hand-written diary of IP addresses. If you knew him and had a relationship, he would consider interconnecting. DE-CIX quickly evolved and grew from there.
TR: What factors were most important in generating the critical mass for DE-CIX to become the interconnection phenomenon it is today?
II: A key factor driving the need for DE-CIX in the early years was the need for a neutral and distributed capability that could work with all data centers and partners. When we look back at the success of DE-CIX Frankfurt and analyze the creation of the ecosystem, we found in Frankfurt the initial growth was based on attracting new networks from Eastern Europe to help them interconnect more effectively. This opened up our perspective on the need for international hubs.
Neutrality was a key aspect, and so was the ability to create international ecosystems that adopted the local needs of businesses and adhered to the local regulatory requirements. These needs then drove innovation of services. The ability to provide a single connection for multi-interconnection capabilities grew, ensuring interconnection capabilities were able to adapt to the ongoing local business, regulatory and culture requirements. Adapting to local business, regulatory and culture requirements were the key elements that enabled local (and global) market success for DE-CIX.
In the past 25 years, DE-CIX expanded from 3 markets to 23. This speed was also our success. As global adoption of the Internet throughout the world took shape and enabled and drove businesses online, we had to deploy fast and adapt to local market conditions. We then looked at peering as a way to enrich the interconnected ecosystem, and that quickly necessitated a variety of different new services and capabilities to attract new target groups. In summary, I would say adapting capabilities to support more needs in the market and to develop a new type of interconnection infrastructure drove DE-CIX to become the interconnection phenomenon it is today.
TR: What has changed the most during DE-CIX’s tenure in interconnection? The technology or the participants?
II: Both for sure. First, the participants expanded. They became less reliant on individual decision makers (though that’s still a factor today), and more reliant on company Internet policies and best practices. Second is of course technology. Especially today with IoT, AI and 5G-enabling connectivity from nearly any type of device, more and more companies are benefiting from peering platforms throughout the world. We are seeing a large uptick in interest from enterprises that are beginning to adapt a more efficient interconnection solution to ensure digital transformation for their organizations across the globe.
TR: How has the transition from one market (Frankfurt) to a global footprint changed the company?
II: Our start in Frankfurt was the catalyst for a global whirlwind for DE-CIX. From one Internet Exchange, DE-CIX’s global footprint now spans across the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia — with more sites underway. We have employees from 30 different nations on our team throughout the world. By focusing on localizing services from different regions, we are able to meet the local market demands in each new area we deploy to.
In terms of technology, we have been and continue to be active in developing standards that are enabled and relevant locally. This allows us to roll out faster into new and different markets with consistency. This is the DE-CIX commitment to being a global, open interconnection model that enables networks to realize better performance and costs. One example is our participation in project GAIA-X, an important project for the European Union that drives synchronization of API standards to our portal. This also provides third parties the ability to offer DE-CIX services, what we call DE-CIX-as-a-box, a modular solution for third parties that provides a highly standard, effective and fast way to gain access to our platform and the various service capabilities we offer.
With all of these initiatives, our goal is to automate interaction with DE-CIX to enable more and more partners to create their own ecosystems. We believe that this is very relevant to the DE-CIX global transition and has allowed us to grow over time and has attracted important partnerships such as Microsoft. Recently, we announced that DE-CIX is one of a select number of global partners enabling access to Microsoft Azure Peering Services. This illustrates their trust in our capabilities and the consistency in services our customers experience throughout the world.
TR: What do you see changing the most in the next 25 years?
II: 25 years ago, I don’t think we could have predicted we would be where we are today, and with 25 years ahead, it’s certainly hard to predict what the globally connected world will look like. We do know that the global pandemic we are experiencing has propelled connectivity everywhere, particularly to the edge. Our vision for the future is what we call ‘The New Deal.’ The New Deal is a global interconnection ecosystem that doesn’t just enable; it drives digital transformation for everyone. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this became more obvious not just for global networks but also for all industries.
The New Deal is based on three fundamental points. The first is awareness and acceptance of global interconnection for all. This is not just for networks — it’s for various different bodies such as institutions, enterprises and more. Digital interconnection will be almost everywhere on top of the physical connection. Second, we must move global interconnected ecosystems to the edge. More cloud and content applications need to reach more users easier, more reliably, securely and of course more cost effectively. The third point is the creation of interconnection solutions for closed user groups. These solutions require a seamless interconnection capability typically enabled through automation and APIs. Software-defined user groups and software-defined Internet exchanges require the ability to share information. In addition, it requires a self-service capability such as a portal to offer super flexible, multi-service, multi-channel, multi-provider access for customers to manage their own growing and changing network requirements. The demands for such a network expansion must be offered in a scalable manner orchestrated with just a few clicks. I believe that this will be needed much faster than we expect. With AI, robotics, IoT and more driving data closer to the edge, a new target multi-stakeholder ecosystem group is the new model, or what we call The New Deal, and will be a key enabler for enterprises throughout the world.
TR: Thank you for talking with Telecom Ramblings!
II: Thank you for your time Rob, it is always a pleasure.
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