Did you know that, as part of our next-level cloud, colocation and connectivity ecosystem here at 1623 Farnam, we also have an on-site IX: Omaha IX? Let us introduce you to why exchanges like this are key for digital transformation.

Let’s set the stage: It’s 1991. The World Wide Web just sprang to life, Terminator 2 is in theaters — obviously, the world is changing. In the early 90s, life looked a lot different, and so did connectivity. As the world sought to be more interconnected, it became clear that a new kind of infrastructure would be needed to empower the new kind of ‘online’ traffic that was being generated. This was the dawn of the Internet Exchange Point (IXP). 

Originally known as NAPs (Network Access Points), the goal of these infrastructure points was to streamline the way networks shared and distributed their traffic — a goal that still represents the core of today’s IXPs. Interestingly, the creation of NAPs was a component of the government’s National Information Infrastructure (NII) plan, which laid the foundations for a new era of internet where commercial traffic could be prioritized. Prior to the creation of these NAPs, a publicly-funded, government-sponsored backbone was the primary source of network support (and commercial traffic was prohibited). 

Did You Know?: The MAE (later known as MAE-East) was the first Internet Exchange Point (IXP), launched in 1992 with four locations across Washington, D.C.

So, there you have the humble beginnings of the unimaginably complex, interconnected, traffic-rich, diverse internet and infrastructure system we have today. Since that origin story back in the 90s, the number of IXPs across the world has ballooned from a handful to hundred (many of which you can find in PeeringDB’s helpful database). 

What drove the rise in peering? What made these infrastructure assets so valuable that they have today become one of the most important tools in the digital landscape? To answer that, we have to look at how the traffic that runs across the internet has changed. 

How Traffic Tells the IXP’s Story

When we think about the early days of the internet and the traffic that was running across assorted networks, we look back and think of it as relatively rudimentary. A breakneck pace with lightning fast load times and the lowest possible latencies wasn’t the priority. After all, having access to a world of information wasn’t what the internet did — yet. The videos, online educational platforms, gaming launches, high-octane sporting events, mission-critical business resources and all the rest of the rich digital world came later. 

In the mid 1990s, the internet only had around 16 million users, and almost all of what was in this digital realm was simple — text-based. Today, there are 5.18 billion internet users, and as of 2022, some of the most common reasons for using the internet were staying in touch with friends and family, reading the news, consuming media and more — all of which require a certain degree of immediacy. After all, if you’re trying to have a conversation, nobody wants to suffer through lag or jitter that makes you go “Sorry, my internet is slow, can you repeat that?” Furthermore, if you’re watching a movie, the last thing you want to see is buffering. 

All this to say: The kind of traffic we’re generating today (and the amount of it) is vastly different than it used to be, and the benefits of directly interconnecting at IXPs became absolutely vital for supporting this transition to a faster, denser, richer and more demanding digital world. These new applications we depend on require networks to maintain control over how their traffic gets sent, aiming for the shortest travel distances. Not to mention, the enhanced user experience that peering delivers is paramount for ensuring these digital experiences can thrive. So, as the internet grew, the IXPs did too.

Fun Fact: The largest IXP in operation today is the Brazil Internet Exchange, 28,030 Gbit/S in maximum throughput. 

The Future of Interconnection

If we look at our path from the past to where we’re standing now in a wholly online era, the path forward is clear: We’ll continue to develop and depend on IXs as the leading internet enabler — and as applications grow more complex and demanding, peering will continue to be king. 

Now, we see the role of the IXP becoming further enmeshed into how providers and customers alike navigate their digital transformations — like how Omaha IX is nestled into our 1623 Farnam data center, offering a seamless digital solutions experience. After all, without the direct interconnection that takes place at locations like these, the internet might not be as free to grow, change and expand as it likes. So, as innovation continues on the fast track, we plan to stay ahead of the peering curve (so you can too). 

To learn more about the benefits of peering, hop over to our Omaha IX site to check out our Complete Guide to Peering