The Internet Exchange of the Future: Scalable, Automated, Secure

As products and services become increasingly digital and our economies ever more dependent on data exchange, high-performance, resilient, and secure interconnection is becoming an increasingly relevant economic success factor.

5 Min Read
The Internet Exchange of the Future: Scalable, Automated, Secure
(Credit: Panther Media GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo)

The ongoing technological development of interconnection platforms is indispensable to meet the challenges that the immersive Internet poses to infrastructure providers. Much higher bandwidth and even lower latency are just two of the building blocks of tomorrow's Internet. To achieve this, Internet Exchanges (IXs) must achieve greater scalability and functionality with cutting-edge equipment in the future, as well as increase the levels of automation to make interconnection as easy as possible for connected companies. Beyond this, it is necessary to have a densely interconnected geographical presence to serve the needs of globally operating companies with peering, cloud connectivity, and other interconnection services in the lowest possible latency. All this while maintaining this critical infrastructure's highest levels of security and resilience.

Steps to set the course for the next generation Internet Exchange

The next-gen IX, which will ultimately enable ultra-low latency data exchange, must be fully automated, highly secure, and highly resilient. Several countries and IX operators are showing promising progress toward the goal of a truly next-gen Internet Exchange, yet all have more to do to complete all the points outlined below.

1) Automation of connections, maintenance, and statistics

Robots for quick and easy physical connections

To reduce the manual effort as much as possible, patch robots should be installed in heavily connected data centers to make every element of interconnection as simple as possible.

Monitoring and statistics as next steps in automation

While interconnection APIs are already a given for large IX operators, there remains a need for more monitoring and statistics information, which can be accessed by customers through a self-service portal. Alerts via the API and self-service portal should provide information regarding traffic anomalies. Customers should also be able to integrate computer-readable maintenance messages into their automation tool chains.

Self-service portal for more flexibility and clarity for customers

At the same time, interconnection services and access ports need to be fully manageable by users in a self-service portal. Customers require access to real-time monitoring, usage statistics for all services, and complete self-service contract management. This includes provisioning and adjusting used bandwidth and services in real time.

2) Next generation scalability

Hardware must be scalable in terms of total bandwidth and port density to meet the size requirements of each location. This means that the hardware must be scalable from small to large IXs, both in terms of the number of ports per line card and how many line cards fit into a chassis. This scalability also applies to the port sizes that can be accommodated by each device. In the future, high-performance interconnection platforms will be needed, with not just 400 Gigabit Ethernet (GE) connections but 800 GE and (after two decades of GE) Terabit Ethernet (TE) connections to serve the growing bandwidth that new immersive applications will bring. In 2023, as a world first, 800 GE access has become available at an IX – at the DE-CIX IX in Frankfurt, Germany.

3) Redundancy for high resilience

Being able to meet the reliability requirements of critical use cases in the future means that the hardware used by IX operators must also be further developed to make it more secure. Redundant deployment of this hardware is essential to ensure the highest level of resilience and, thus, security against outages. The next-gen IX will require the following components:

Latest hardware for more energy efficiency

IX operators should engage in a continuous process of upgrading equipment to the latest versions. Each upgrade results in new functionality, greater capacity, higher reliability, and a significant reduction in power consumption.

Physical redundancy through geographical distribution

A high-performance interconnection platform should be accessible via many different, geographically distributed data centers, which – together with the redundant, in-house core and edge network infrastructure – ensures high resilience in the event of local disruptions. The establishment of new locations and entry into new markets, and the interconnection of these with the existing ecosystem of IXs, further increases the redundancy of the entire infrastructure and the availability of interconnection services.

4) Increasing security requirements in critical infrastructure

With more critical data being transmitted today than ever before, the demands on digital infrastructure have increased accordingly. For example, not only will the hardware of the future need to offer the highest security, but also, as the operators of critical infrastructure, IX operators need to ensure compliance with international standards for secure operation, such as the ISO/IEC 22237 and ISO 27001.

5) Enterprise segment drives development of interconnection services

From a product perspective, the need for more specialized interconnection services customized to customer needs continues to grow. One central focus for IX operators will, of course, need to be cloud connectivity and developing the capacity to offer low-latency cloud-to-cloud communication. For example, a cloud router service provides high performance, direct, and private data exchange between different cloud environments, with improved application performance through lower latency, as well as increased security and protection against cyber-attacks. Beyond this, automation, the provision of monitoring and statistics tools, APIs, and a self-service portal are all essential ingredients for enabling the enterprise segment's simplified access to and management of interconnection services.

A final word about the Internet Exchange of the future

As products and services become increasingly digital and our economies ever more dependent on data exchange, high-performance, resilient, and secure interconnection is becoming an increasingly relevant economic success factor. Therefore, the next generation of infrastructure must be designed and built today. No IX operator has already achieved all of this - but several are well on the way to realizing the Internet Exchange of the future so that they and their customers can be prepared for the next generations of content, products, and applications.

Dr. Thomas King is the Chief Technology Officer and a Member of the Board of DE-CIX.

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About the Author(s)

Dr. Thomas King, CTO, DE-CIX

Dr. Thomas King has been Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at DE-CIX since 2018, and a Member of the DE-CIX Group AG Board since 2022. Before this, King was Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) at DE-CIX, starting in 2016. He has been instrumental in his role at keeping DE-CIX at the forefront of technological development of Internet Exchanges, establishing DE-CIX as a neutral Cloud Exchange, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in terms of high-bandwidth access technology and security solutions for IX platforms, and trailblazing the automation of IX services with the implementation of patch robots, the development of the DE-CIX API, and overseeing the DE-CIX self-service customer portal. Thomas King has also overseen the technical implementation of the international expansion in markets spanning from North America to Europe, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia and most recently Africa.

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