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Infrastructure and Community Development 22 October 2020

Kolkata IX: The Maiden Community Internet Exchange in India

Anupam Agrawal
By Anupam AgrawalGuest Author

In 2015, the Internet Society Kolkata Chapter decided to create an Internet Exchange Point (IXP). It had just completed the installation of L-Root Instance, a critical Internet infrastructure to improve security and resiliency of the Web.

It chose the IXP model specifically because it was working towards hosting an authoritative Domain Name System (DNS) root zone for a top-level domain (TLD), another essential infrastructure of the Internet. But they didn’t know where to begin.

So, the team evaluated cost models and the market and held an outreach event with the Internet Service Provider (ISP) community. The engagement raised interest, but no one joined the IXP. The expectation was that Content Distribution Networks (CDN) would kick off the IXP, before others could join. Tushar Kanti Bhakta, a senior member of the Chapter’s board, suggested community building could help.

With no equipment, no members and no CDN, the team started community building efforts. It held workshops where it invited potential members to discuss Domain Name System Security Extensions, DNS, and the Border Gateway Protocol, the routing protocol for the Internet. Each workshop gave the team the opportunity to pitch the idea of a community IXP in Kolkata.

After two years of engagement, CDN Akamai was the first to join. In 2017, the IXP started with a donation of a small switch and bandwidth provided by ISPs. India Internet Foundation (IIFON) volunteered to host the physical infrastructure, since it provided a neutral home for the IXP. The Kolkata Chapter named it IIFON IX.

Though the IXP was small, it enabled the establishment of a community of network enthusiasts working to find solutions to issues relevant to them.

In 2019, when the Internet Society Kolkata Chapter agreed to host the South Asian Network Operators Group (SANOG 34,) interest in the IXP grew considerably and more members joined. With a larger membership than before, the switch was small to sustain the growth of the IXP.

In July 2020, ISOC supported the IXP with new hosting equipment. After installing the new equipment, the governing council, the body in charge of managing the IXP decided to rename the IXP Kolkata IX to reflect the community involvement.

Traffic in the IXP has now grown from 3GB to 8GB, while the number peering blossomed from five to eight in two months. The IXP’s governing council’s strategy is to grow the IXP and expand the density of exchanges at its infrastructure. It is working to bring in more peers.

Recently, Alliance Broadband, one of the largest ISPs of Kolkata joined the IXP, expanding the volume of traffic at the exchange point. “We are connected with all major IXPs of the country. However, we believe that community development provides sustainability to the business operations. The Kolkata IX provides us a platform to do that,” says Ankan Bhowmick of Alliance Broadband.

Anand Raje, chair of ISOC Kolkata says, “It is important to preserve the neutrality of IX in terms of its operations and governance. The seeding was done by IIFON, but it is now owned and managed by community.”

Members are benefitting from Kolkata IX during COVID-19. Traffic has grown for each of them more than two times what they had been serving. Dayal Saha from Speednet Broadband, another member, says, “In Kolkata IX, we are a partner and not a customer. The cost savings from peering directly accrues to us.”

The community IXP is now a reality. It is reflected in the sentiments of its members. “There is a platform to solve some of the business issues with the competition. I did not think ever that I will be in a common call with my competitors. At the start, I never believed in it. This is something new for me,” says Joy Chanda of Bittel Broadband.

The Kolkata IX has also allowed for the community to share their local content with each other bilaterally. Chandan Singh from MFT Internet, an ISP and member of Kolkata IX, says, “ISPs are backbone for delivering the digital India to masses. The openness of the open model of Kolkata IX allows sharing of local content more freely, making it inclusive.”

This community model is also drawing interest from academics wanting to peer their education networks. There will be no charges for academic networks if they peer in the Kolkata IX. Indrajit De, an academic and member of the ISOC Kolkata Board says, “This decision of the governing council has allowed an option for students and member[s] of [the] academic community to plan research on traffic engineering. Lack of data and involvement was always an impediment for academics to take this as a research area.”

With IIFON continuing to serve the role of secretariat, ISOC Kolkata is planning to extend this model to two different regions across India in the next few years. ISOC Kolkata is thankful to Akamai CDN for being the first CDN which allowed this model to take off. ISOC Kolkata is also thankful to the Internet Society for supporting via hardware and increasing the capacity of the location.


Image by Aditya Prakash via Unsplash

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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