Growing the Internet Internet Exchange Points (IXPs)

Building Technical Capacity in the Kyrgyz Republic

The Internet Society held a workshop on Internet Exchange Point (IXP) Best Practices in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, together with the occasion of the formation of the local ISOC Chapter, and the release of the Kyrgyz Internet Environment Assessment report. This was an excellent opportunity for me to meet the local service providers and representatives of the IX-KG.

The training focused on Best Common Practice (BCP) for the operation of an IXP, as well as Best Common Practice for peering and Boarder Gateway Protocol (BGP) over an IXP. The training was also a great chance to share the work done by the IXPs in Euro-IX on the various BCPs as well as the IXP Switch wish list.

The IXP has high potential to improve the Internet in the Kyrgyz Republic. The existing IX already adds value, and building on this to create a new IX along the current BCPs for IXPs will further improve this. The IX-KG and the operators also had the chance to discuss how to setup the new IX, and the benefits.

I have by now been part of many IXP training, operator training on OSPF, IS-IS, and BGP and workshops. I have in my previous job also housed engineers from IXPs taking their first steps to get established to see how an established IXP operates. I find this work extremely satisfying, and rewarding. I have 20 years of experience doing BGP, peering, been a Tier-1 peering coordinator, been one of the largest IXP customers, and built an IXP from a local entity to one of the largest in Europe. Being allowed to give something back to the community, in the same manner that I learned but in other communities is a privilege!

Having been involved in many discussions and formations of new IXPs, one of the most common questions is always what the benefit will be and how to quantify this. ISOC described some of these benefits very well in a study on the impact IXPs can have. However, to convince engineers (and often managers) you need more hands on arguments. Some years ago I had a discussion with Emile Aben at the RIPE NCC on measuring the presence of a local IXP in the paths of Internet traffic. If this was high, the IXP played a role in the local Internet eco-system, and to keep traffic local rather than send it over transit links. Emile and the RIPE NCC have the Atlas probes that allow them to measure what path traffic takes between the various probes in a country. Emile first created a measurement for Sweden, where he looked for the IXP network in traceroutes between the Atlas probes in the country. Emile further studied this using just one IX in Sweden. This showed that some paths were not local to Sweden. When he increased this study to look for the IX networks in Norway and Denmark, this showed that most paths where “local” using the wider definition. This study was further expanded to other European countries.

At RIPE71, Emile announced that he now was doing these measurements continuously, automatically and for all countries where there were enough probes to generate data. As I was heading to Bishkek, the following week I went to the new dataset with great expectation but did not find the Kyrgyz Republic among the countries listed. It turned out there weren’t enough active probes / probes in different ASNs to generate the data needed. I decided to seize the opportunity and asked the RIPE NCC to give me some more probes to take, which I happily packed.

At the IXP Workshop, I showed the data that could be generated from the Atlas probes, and the study of what role an IXP played in improving the local Internet by keeping local traffic local. I had more takers for a probe than I had probes. I am still eagerly waiting for more probes to come on-line, but just my presentation brought more of the probes already in the country live. Now there are enough to bring Emiles data gathering live. This is great news! When the rework of the IX-KG becomes complete and real, we will for the first time be able to follow the impact on Internet routing and performance in real time. If successful, we will be able to illustrate the importance of an IXP on keeping traffic local graphically.

During the workshop, a comment was often made – but we only have local routes and members! I kept stressing the point that having a better/shorter/faster/preferred route for a local destination is always better! No matter what the traffic volume or perceived importance of that route. The value of a local route is always in the eye of the beholder. It’s not for us to judge.

I wish the IX-KG the best of luck, and I hope we can see the progress on the RIPE Atlas probes. When this happens, I will feel proud to have been able to pass on some of the knowledge, experience and ideas that were passed on to me. 

E7904-Bishkek-Ala-Too-Square" by Vmenkov - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 
Growing the Internet Technology

Unleashing Opportunities in the Kyrgyz Republic

Last week the European Regional Bureau of the Internet Society (ISOC) co-organised a roundtable discussion on the Kyrgyz Internet landscape together with the National Institute for Strategic Studies (NISI). Following our successful Internet Symposium last December in Bishkek, the ISOC team was full of enthusiasm to explore further the opportunities brought on by the Internet in the Kyrgyz Republic.[1]

The goal of the roundtable was to understand the country’s Internet environment and to share global insights. The discussion focused on Internet infrastructure and ecosystem, touching both local and international connectivity. Colleagues Michael Kende and Jane Coffin set the scene with presentations emphasising the importance of local content and Internet Exchange Points.

Looking beyond the Internet infrastructure, I wanted to highlight some of the overriding factors that I believe will help the Kyrgyz stakeholders realise the Internet opportunity in the long run:

Entrepreneurship. During our visit, it became clear that many Kyrgyz companies have already jumped on the Internet opportunity. There is a wide choice of Internet service providers in the capital city, Bishkek, providing a basis for a dynamic Internet economy. The available bandwidth has in its part helped create a significant number of local technology companies ranging from software development and content hosting to outsourcing. However, to make the Internet truly a national asset, the next step would be to expand to rural and remote areas. The Internet is for everyone!

The youth. Our stay in Bishkek coincided with the bi-annual Kyrgyz IT Forum, the largest IT event in the country. The Kyrgyz IT Forum is organised by a well-known local NGO, the Civil Initiative on Internet Policy, and attracts a wide variety of Internet stakeholders. The forum reached some 3,000 online registrations, and on the day, the venue was heaving with young IT professionals, marketing folk and students. The opening speech by the then acting Prime Minister Otorbaev was followed by sessions on topical issues and there were no free seats for latecomers. The future of the Internet looks promising in the Kyrgyz Republic.

Participation. Throughout our visit, it was striking that most stakeholders were open to exchange views and ideas despite language and cultural differences. Local businesses see the Internet as a means to reach regional and global markets and push for progress to accelerate the Internet economy. The government participates in the discussions, at the highest level, and can add value by acting as a facilitator. The civil society and international organisations provide much-needed expertise and resources. Curiosity and willingness to learn are vital for a meaningful debate.

Update: The Internet Society has since published a study on the Kyrgyz Internet environment.

[1] Editorial note: The “Kyrgyz Republic” is the formal name of the country that is also known as “Kyrgyzstan”.

Photo credit: Matthias Buehler on Flickr