A Stronger Internet Today and Tomorrow

Established by Harald Summa, German group DE-CIX works to increase connectivity and foster the conditions for a better future supported by technology. Recognizing that it shared many values with the Internet Society, DE-CIX became an Internet Society member in 2012.

Some 50 years ago, a little thing called the Internet came into being. While its creation didn’t generate much buzz at first, except among computer “nerds” (we see you, friends), the Internet soon began changing our planet and laying the foundations for a truly global community.

Today, the Internet seems to be everywhere, but it’s far from one giant network. It’s actually made up of thousands of networks across the globe—75,000 at last count—that are all interconnected by Internet exchange points (IXPs).

These IXPs and connections form the infrastructure of the Internet, the “bones” that applications can be built upon. This infrastructure, and the role it plays in connecting the world for the benefit of all, is where DE-CIX comes in.

Supporting the Internet since Its Early Days

The DE-CIX Group, the world’s leading IXP operator, is one of the oldest players in this market, opening up its first IXP in Frankfurt in 1995. 

Recognizing early on how important this new technology would be in the future and that it would bring opportunities to people all over the globe, DE-CIX aimed to ensure that the necessary infrastructure was in place, kept in good working order, and extended to as many places as possible.

It quickly expanded within Germany, adding more IXPs to bring stronger and faster connections to the local communities before setting its sights farther afield. In 2012, it created an IXP in Dubai and from there continued on to the US, Southern Europe, India, and Southeast Asia. Its most recent locations include the company’s expansion to Africa, as well as Jordan and Iraq.

DE-CIX now operates close to 40 IXPs on four continents with its staff of talented Internet infrastructure experts from 37 countries. Each and every day, DE-CIX interconnects thousands of network operators, Internet service providers (ISPs), content providers, and enterprise networks from more than 100 countries and offers peering, cloud, and interconnection services. And as a part of its commitment to supporting the development of the Internet, it became an active member of the Internet Society in 2012.

DE-CIX Key Figures 
  • Close to 40 IXPs
  • Accessible in 600+ cities in 100 countries
  • Connecting more than 3,000 networks globally
  • 4 continents
  • 27 years of service
  • 37 nationalities in its staff
  • 19 terabits per second accumulated global peak traffic

As you can imagine, managing operations on such a scale requires remarkable expertise and innovative thinking. Until September 2022, this was Harald Summa’s role as CEO of DE-CIX—the conductor, if you will, of this worldwide orchestra. Having now stepped down from the helm of the IXP operator, Summa is a member of the DE-CIX Supervisory Board, where he continues to play an important role in the company’s development in a new era.

A Conversation with Harald Summa

Former CEO of DE-CIX, the world’s leading Internet exchange point operator.

In 1991, the year the Internet was created, Harald was working as an independent marketing consultant in the software industry when he was approached by some students from Dortmund University. They wanted help setting up a company to “sell the Internet.” He agreed and has been working with the Internet ever since! 

Just a few years later, in 1996, Harald became CEO of DE-CIX, a role he held until September 2022. He’s also the initiator and CEO of the eco Association—the largest Internet industry association in Europe—and Chairperson of the Internet Society’s Organization Member Advisory Council (OMAC).

The most amazing moment for me was in 1993 when I first heard the Rolling Stones playing over the World Wide Web in my Netscape browser. They were one of the first to use this new technology. You could click on their songs, and they would download from somewhere or other. That was when I realized, ‘Hey, this Internet thing is going to be big!”
Harald Summa, Former CEO, DE-CIX

A Strong, Secure, and Reliable Internet for All

The Internet Society and DE-CIX both firmly believe that the Internet equals opportunity and that being connected is a critical precondition for participating in the global community. As an Internet infrastructure specialist, DE-CIX helps foster this community by handling the tech side of things. 

The firm regularly invests in research and development so it can roll out new innovations that make the Internet more robust, develop patented technology, and contribute protocols to the Internet Engineering Task Force.

As such a large operator, DE-CIX plays a vital role in helping people stay connected. From traffic of a few hundred megabits per second in the Internet’s early days, DE-CIX now handles 19 terabits per second peak traffic globally. “That’s like a stack of CD-ROMS stretching to the moon and back,” Harald says, gesturing broadly with a smile. 

Even at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, when Internet traffic rose dramatically from one day to the next, its service was never interrupted. 

DE-CIX believes that infrastructure should be available to all. Information should be allowed to flow freely in the hope that through transparency and access to information, people everywhere can inform themselves and form their own picture of local and global events and situations. 

The IXP operator is dedicated to enabling more openness and less isolation among countries and regions, a goal that the Internet Society shares. “Our business model is 1,000 percent based on what the Internet is,” Harald says. “It’s community-based. Our world is a community.”

Our business model is 1,000 percent based on what the Internet is. It’s community-based. Our world is a community.”

Connecting the Unconnected

In this same spirit, DE-CIX wants to help close the digital divide in rural and less-developed regions, including some parts of Africa and Asia but also places like the Rust Belt of the United States. In these areas, a user’s nearest IXP can be as far as 3,000 km away, which means their connection is less stable.

Together with some partners, DE-CIX will soon be helping Africa become more digital by creating new IXPs in Lagos, Kinshasa, and Tripoli.

Like the Internet Society, DE-CIX knows that the Internet is one of the world’s most important resources and that access to it is key to a community’s ability to thrive. 

“These are places where the Internet is not as stable and robust as it is here in the Western world, but it’s just as essential for the people who live there,” says Harald. 

“Today, the Internet is a necessity, not a luxury. It’s time for a digital Africa.” Local traffic and content are other important factors in developing independent, neutral infrastructures in less-connected parts of the globe.

In another move aimed at bringing the world closer to universal connectivity, DE-CIX has designed a new automated IXP setup solution that Harald describes as “DE-CIX in a box.” This innovation transforms the once long and laborious setup process into a pre-configured procedure that anyone can implement on their own to rapidly create their own local IXP. 

A data center in the countryside that has no connectivity or even interconnectivity is as good as a refrigerator at the North Pole.”

This infrastructure-on-demand approach should facilitate a rapid increase in IXPs in underserved areas. In turn, it will mean that local traffic can stay local, enhancing connection speed and reliability while at the same time empowering the local players who manage it. Local IXPs make it possible to develop a local interconnection ecosystem. With this in place, the location becomes more attractive since it means that local, regional, and internationally relevant content, applications, and services (like the cloud) can be brought closer to users in these areas. This vastly improves the performance of the Internet there while also bringing down the costs of connectivity.

Shaping the Internet of the Future

Another area in which the Internet Society and DE-CIX have a similar vision is education.

We created a curriculum so that you can get a certificate in internet technologies, peering, all the stuff you need to know and understand if you have to run a network properly.”

DE-CIX noticed that far more people were specializing in the application side of the Internet than the technology side. As the technological aspects—the metrics and mechanisms functioning “below” the applications—are equally as important, DE-CIX decided to help correct this imbalance. With the program it has created, students and professionals alike can now become proficient in this technology and earn a global standard certificate of excellence for interconnection experts. In 2022, in collaboration with the University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, DE-CIX founded the Global Interconnection Academy.

The first modules are set to open for enrollment soon, and as it is conceived as fully digital learning, it will be accessible for learners globally. This can further support IXP operations in remote areas, where technical specialists are even harder to find. With more qualified individuals managing the Internet infrastructure of tomorrow, we can look forward to a brighter, more interconnected future.

Looking Ahead

When asked about his vision for the future, Harald underscores the important role IXPs will play in supporting new technology. 

Automation, infrastructure on demand, and fast, reliable interconnectivity will be key for the future. That’s my vision.”

Self-driving vehicles, for example, will need a much larger number of IXPs to function since they’ll need to be in constant communication with each other at very low latencies. Harald foresees the day, perhaps in the next 15 years, when there will be an IXP under every turnpike. 

Faster connections will also be mandatory for connected devices or Internet of things (IoT) applications. In the future, some manufacturers may adopt a new service-based business model requiring their machinery to be equipped with very high-speed connections to monitor production quantities remotely and in real time.

Co-Creating the Internet of Tomorrow

Germany has long had an Internet organization of its own, called the eco Association of the Internet Industry. While eco has accomplished some important goals in Europe, Harald recognized that its potential for impact was limited when it came to the international scale. 

“To keep the Internet alive,” Harald says, “a worldwide institution like the Internet Society is indispensable in terms of technology, government, and politics.” 

It was clear to him that building and maintaining the Internet’s connections was not enough—the right policies must also be advocated for so that the Internet can grow. Becoming an Internet Society member was only natural for a community-oriented group like DE-CIX. Joining forces with the organization and its other members now allows him to participate on more fronts and lend his expertise to their combined efforts.

Membership is also an investment in the future of any company or organization whose operations are intricately linked to the Internet. “Being part of a global organization is a must for companies that operate at the international level,” he says. “Without organizations like the Internet Society, the world would be a very different place.” 

To take his commitment to this global approach even further, Harald also agreed to serve as Chairperson of the Internet Society’s Organization Member Advisory Council (OMAC). This body counsels Internet Society senior management and board members on issues affecting the general welfare and effectiveness of the global Internet and its users. After two successful years in this role, he has recently accepted another term.

Without organizations like the Internet Society, the world would be a very different place.”

Again in the area of education, Harald is particularly interested in the Internet Society’s initiatives aimed at helping governments gain the understanding they need to make informed policy decisions that promote rather than hinder the development of the Internet. 

Both DE-CIX and the Internet Society are hopeful about a future in which the nations of the world become less technologically isolated and more open to new ideas.

The Internet Society Community

DE-CIX’s membership in the Internet Society also allows Harald and the DE-CIX team to connect more easily and collaborate with people at other member companies who might otherwise be hard to reach. 

Harald recently needed information from an Amazon executive, another Internet Society organization member. Thanks to the ties the two firms had formed due to their common membership, he easily got through to this person.

Furthermore, as a member, DE-CIX has access to information on policy decisions that will affect its business.

Last but not least, Harald finds the Internet Society community fun and stimulating.

There’s no better place to meet interesting, internationally minded people with a similar mission. You can have your coffee around the corner. But if you want to see the world, you need to have your coffee with someone from the Internet Society.”
Together with our global community, members of the Internet Society have the unique chance to grow, strengthen, and shape the Internet of the future. Join us.

Image credit (in order of appearance): © DE-CIX, © DE-CIX, © George Waithaka, © Chris Gregory