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IXP Training from France-IX

By Franck Simon, President, France- IX

Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), where networks physically meet to cost effectively exchange local traffic, are an important part of the Internet, especially for enabling local users to access a variety of content and services. However, launching and maintaining an IXP, particularly in developing countries, can be complicated and start-up groups can benefit from knowledge, experience and training passed on by those of us who have been down the road before.

France-IX is the Premier Internet Peering Service Provider in France, offering public and private interconnection services through its carrier and data center neutral exchange points in Paris and Marseille.

France-IX interconnects several hundreds of telecommunications carriers, ISPs, content providers, content delivery networks and all other Internet networks worldwide with significant traffic in the Internet French market. This enhances the affordability and latency of the Internet traffic exchanged between its members and thus improves the overall quality of the Internet in France.

Founded in June 2010 with the support of the French Internet community, France-IX is a member-based association whose core values are neutrality, sustainability and constant improvement of the Internet.

To date, France-IX has provided IXP training to five African networks including two in Guinea: SEN-IX in Senegal and, most recently, CAS-IX in Morocco. Training typically comprises a few days of theory followed by hands-on technical training that would be considered niche even in the world of telecoms. The wealth of knowledge, built up and tested over many years in the field and which can’t be found in any book, is passed on in the following training modules:

1. Identify the IXP organisation type

In EMEA, the main types of IXPs are ISP associations, not-for-profit independent organizations, carrier-neutral commercial organizations or educational/government agencies. It is also possible to be a combination of these. For example, France-IX is a combination of a non-profit association and a sole owner of a private company to run its day-to-day operations, because this is the model that works best for its sustainability. 

France-IX explains the pros and cons of each choice and advises on the final decision, which will be based on a number of factors including market expectations, local requirements and regulatory constraints. For example, if you choose to be a neutral organisation, you must use neutral datacentres and POP locations so you can attract members that value neutrality. Once the choice is made, you are trained on how to organize a board of directors, acting as the executive board of the neutral organization.

2. Identify the business model

It is crucial to have a sustainable business model, so depending on the context of the local telecoms market, France-IX advises its group of trainees to survey their potential market to choose between a paid professional service or a free model. If the choice is for a free model, the IXP will then need a number of founding members who will also act as capital investors to help launch the IXP. 

3. Defining services and pricing

The next step is to identify which services need to be run on day 1 of operation, these are the ones that are mandatory, along with their pricing. Then a typical product launch plan can be rolled out later when the timing is right. 

Pricing doesn’t have to be the cheapest. France-IX didn’t start with the lowest prices. Instead it set price points that would enable it to provide a professional service from day 1 and planned reductions over time. When setting pricing, the main question is not “is my pricing competitive?” but “is my pricing in line with the local market expectations?” This is key to success because each country and each market is different. 

When defining a pricing policy, the main recommendations are:

  1. Reflect the local market and the current expectations;
  2. Apply pricing that is fair and competitive to similar services on the market;
  3. Cover your cost, not only to deliver the service, but to maintain it in the future. 

4. IXP development

A successful IXP needs to focus on three main areas of development:

  1. Infrastructure – with each new point-of-presence (POP) you need to ensure it is geographically closer to the community you want to address so as to always be reducing latency;
  2. Services – the role of an IXP is changing. It is no longer purely a technical platform that connects networks to the Internet. Today, IXPs have the opportunity to offer members benefits beyond peering so France-IX advises new IXPs to listen to their community’s needs and go further by imagining new services that might be beneficial, such as anti-DDoS and DNS;
  3. Eco-system – you need to gather the local community together, i.e. a variety of networks who have a shared interest in exchanging traffic. This is natural to carriers, mobile operators, ISPs, Content Delivery Networks, social media and digital media but applies to others also. Any company delivering its services on the Internet is a good candidate and the IXP needs to understand what the existing and future popular services in its market are in order to stay relevant. These could be in e-commerce, mobile banking, video-on-demand, etc. 

5. Best practices

This part of the training covers guidelines for best practice that an IXP should follow in the following three areas:

  1. Connecting members in a professional way and the rules of your connection procedure;
  2. Managing IXP infrastructure and members globally;
  3. Monitoring services. 

6. Technical training

Finally the session moves from the meeting room to the lab for technical input, which is divided into:

  1. Running and monitoring IXP infrastructure
  2. Running services
  3. Handling outages – France-IX explains how to trouble-shoot the most common types of outages, simulating real situations based on fifteen years’ experience in the field. 

As the leading digital gateway to Africa and the Middle East, the training France-IX provides is an important part of its aim to support the development of Internet connectivity in North and West Africa, helping these regions open up to the global economy.