March 5, 2021
Last week Euro-IX and AMS-IX organised their first webinar of 2021. This time the focus was all on the pandemic. How did Internet exchanges cope with the effects of the pandemic locally? And what are the lessons learned?
The webinar was a panel discussion with multiple Internet exchanges from different parts of the world, telling their views on the subject. From AMS-IX Caribbean, there was Nico Scheper, from Netnod, there was Lars M. Jogbäck, from DE-CIX India, there was Ajai Kumar, and from Manama-IX, there was Taha Hussain. Nurani Nimpuno from LINX led the panel.
During the opening statement, it became immediately apparent that containment measures varied significantly between the regions. Sweden had, for example, a rather modest lockdown. Restaurants remained open and there were (and still are) little restrictions on meeting other people. On the other side of the spectrum, there are regions like Curaçao that had a very strict lockdown. Moreover, restrictions on flying essentially put the island in complete isolation.
Having said all this, the challenges that IXPs were facing were more or less the same. Access to the data centres was a key issue, along with coping with a significant boost of Internet traffic. All the exchanges coped with these issues without significant problems. Netnod experienced some issues with access to data centres due to restrictions on border crossings, but the government proved to be very helpful with this. “We launched a blog about the work and developments at Netnod during the pandemic and got a lot of followers. But - I have to say - it was quite a boring blog series. Every day it was business as usual and nothing spectacular to report,” Lars M. Jogbäck said.
In all the regions the Internet more or less functioned well. Getting content to the regions of Bahrain and Curaçao was a challenge. In the Middle East, content providers generally deploy with smaller PoPs and as a result of the sudden surge of Internet traffic, content had to come all the way from Western Europe to be served to end-users. Taha Hussain of Manama-IX therefore urges content providers to make larger PoPs in the region. “Governments and telecom providers have taken tremendous steps in opening the market, but content still is a challenge. Content providers should also take their share of the load,” he says.
In general, IXPs saw the essential role they play in the Internet underlined during the pandemic. In Curaçao, 50% of all traffic is handled via the exchange, bringing – in some cases - the traffic time back from 60ms to 2-3 ms. In India, the number of PoPs of the exchanges was greatly expanded. “The number of customers and traffic is still only going up,” says Ajai Kumar.
A key learning from the pandemic was the essential role of coordination and connection with the government and other stakeholders. “There was a lot of ad hoc self-organising, also on a very basic level between technicians. The importance of this cannot be stressed enough”, says Lars Jogbäck.
The pandemic also accelerated digitalisation. According to Nico Scheper of AMS-IX Caribbean, this is a good thing. “Online shopping, working from home, digital education… all these things saw a tremendous uptake. They are, of course, not new, but they are pretty new to the Caribbean. And I think they are here to stay.”