The Power of Peering

November 5, 2018

Peering has evolved in recent years into a proven technology that is here to stay and growing. Under the right conditions and with the right guidance, it can be a cost-effective, secure network solution that you’d be remiss to ignore as internet traffic continues to increase.

Peering parentage
Internet peering is essentially an internet bypass that enables companies to share network traffic with each other, outside of the internet. Most of this occurs at an internet exchange point, or IX. Organizations connect to the exchange, then invite other companies to join the exchange and peer with them at no cost through a border gateway protocol.

In early years, most IX connections could accommodate less than 100 Mb of traffic. Many IXs today can accommodate multiple terabits of data. DEC-IX in Frankfurt, Germany, is the largest in the world, with a traffic capacity exceeding 6 TB. This exchange is followed closely by AMS-IX in Amsterdam.

Likewise, the number of participants on IXs has increased. Some of the largest have well over 1,000 participants. For instance, in Sao Palo has the largest number of participants, with more than 1,500 organizations. If you’re interested in more detailed statistics about peering usage today, check out Packet Clearing House or TeleGeography.

Peering primer
Peering essentially uses standard L2 technologies to connect into exchanges at various data centers or carrier hotels (a data center where most of the carriers and fiber providers in a metro area host their equipment). A border gateway protocol is used to establish sessions with one or more parties on the peering exchange. BGPs help to control and manage traffic, although this technology does have some limitations.

To establish a peering session, typically a company’s network engineer or peering coordinator will invite an organization to peer. The more sophisticated companies have a peering policy and might peer with hundreds of other organizations. Some IXs support route servers that allow semi-auto peering with others on the server. This can simplify the management of peering sessions, although this too has limitations. I generally refer to those as open-door parties, where everyone is welcome. It’s not always a good situation, but there are benefits.

Once BGP configurations are established, peers share a network destined to one another over the exchange, versus over the internet.

Peering proliferation
Peering adoption and growth continues to increase. There are over 950 peering points in the world today and more are emerging every day. In fact, Flexential recently partnered with Ninja-IX to establish the first peering exchange in Charlotte, N.C. called CLT-IX. We plan to sponsor more exchanges in the near future.

Large social media and content companies still peer and continue to anchor a lot of the peering exchanges. Some of the larger content providers are shifting toward more direct or private peering relationships. This makes sense as they share hundreds of gigabits of traffic that could consume the capacity of an exchange.

However, the number of unique autonomous system numbers – how organizations are known on the internet -- is increasing dramatically and many organizations are taking advantage of peering.

Peering principles
Peering often is a cost-effective solution when used at scale or when two or more parties are on the exchange. Additionally, it can reduce the risk and issues sometimes associated with the broader internet landscape. As internet volume continues to accelerate, it is evident that peering is going to continue to play a key role in network solutions for years to come.

A caveat to the advantages of peering is that it does cost money to get onto an exchange, and there are costs associated with cross connects, port fees and in some cases transport links. It’s important to know what those costs are as well as the bandwidth you will use. These costs generally aren’t that high but they do require thought. Additionally, the greater your peering traffic, the more you can offset these costs.

The advice I give to our customers is, “Don’t peer for peering’s sake.” Peering should be a business decision as much as a technical decision. It’s not really meant for the inexperienced -- a poor peering policy or decision can make your network performance worse than the internet. However, working with a provider like Flexential that has engineers who live and breathe network connectivity (so you don’t have to) and that treats your network as if it were its own will help you weigh the benefits of peering and avoid any potential pitfalls.

At Flexential, we are dedicated to improving the peering ecosystem to ensure our customers have more peering opportunities and choices. Peering exchanges are among the many connections we offer through our Flexential Interconnection Platform software-defined infrastructure platform.

Tim Parker, VP Network Solutions, Flexential

Tim Parker

Senior Vice President of Network Strategy

Tim is the vice president of network strategy at Flexential, where he is responsible for guiding the company's interconnection ecosystem and developing network strategies and architectures for Flexential's HybridEdge Strategy.

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