The Geography of the Internet

Internet Exchanges and Manitoba

Recently in Downtown Winnipeg, there has been quite an interest in the topic of Internet Exchanges.  The Manitoba Internet Exchange has been started, with the goal of fostering improved quality and performance of internet services within Manitoba.  This is a highly specialized topic that only a few even in the technology sector are familiar with, however it is one of the Internet’s most important and most fascinating features in terms of scalability and inter-operability.

What is an Internet Exchange?

An Internet exchange is a site where multiple ISPs (Internet Service Providers) meet, and interconnect their networks directly, rather than indirectly, though an intermediate ISP.  Traditionally, network operators such as ISPs, telecom companies, and universities could each connect to each other to gain the advantage of making shorter routes between their users and their servers, however there are simply too many network operators worldwide now to make all those connections practical.

Imagine the case where two network operators are geographically close to each other, but not directly connected to each other.  Traffic flowing from one ISP to another within Manitoba will often leave the province before getting to its destination.

As an example, data going from Brandon to Gimli might take a path like this: Brandon->Winnipeg->Toronto->Calgary->Winnipeg->Gimli

Or even more extreme, traffic going from one building to another in downtown Winnipeg might take this path: Winnipeg->Toronto->New York->Chicago->Winnipeg

The solution to this problem is have ISPs in Manitoba exchange traffic at a central hub site, taking a short, high-performance path between the two networks.  All of the participating ISPs or network operators can see each other directly through the exchange, and avoid sending traffic over an inefficient route.  End result: better user experiences, while often reducing costs for both operators.

CIRA is a major sponsor of MBIX (Manitoba Internet Exchange).  CIRA is the Canadian Internet Registration Authority.  CIRA is the entity which operates the .ca domain name registry, and has at its core the promotion of Canadian Internet services.  CIRA noticed that in Canada, there were only a couple of internet exchanges operating in a public, neutral way–one in Toronto, and another in Ottawa.

IXPS eslewhere

When IXPs are successful, they foster the local Internet community to have higher performance, and lower cost.  They attract international carriers to the city, and they offer advantages for datacentre providers.  We’re happy to see MBIX finally here in Manitoba, and optimistic about what will happen because of it.