Spotlight: The African IXP Association (AF-IX)

At the AIS’16 in June 2016, the African IXP Association (AF-IX) organised a Meeting. We met with Michuki Mwangi, Senior Development Manager for Africa  Internet Society and CTO of the Kenya Internet Exchange Point, who talked to us about how the meeting went and the key objectives and challenges of the AF-IX.

AF-IX is a platform for IXPs to share their experiences, find means to grow their membership and traffic and to address some of the challenges they are facing. One of the key objectives of AF-IX is to support the community in growing their exchange points, especially in countries that have already established IXPs. According to Michuki, the biggest challenge that arises is how  IXPs achieve membership growth.

ISOC supports AF-IX by providing fellowships to members to attend relevant meetings and by facilitating meeting space. The AF-IX met just prior to the start of the AIS’16 Conference week.

Right now AF-IX participants are facing a number of challenges with putting CDN caches at their exchange points,” explained Michuki. “There are varying views about having a large CDN cache like Google, Akamai or Cloudflare and how the economics work with having these. Since you need a link connecting that cache back to the headquarters for a cache fill (to provide the cache with fresh content), how do you sustain that link from a financial point of view. So they are looking at coming up with a sustainable model or model that doesn’t favour one particularly operator. The IXP members want the cache, but the members can’t agree on how they are going to pay to populate the cache and what percentage of the link will be used.

Michuki highlighted several key issues around attracting non-traditional members to IXPs:

  • Should they allow customers of ISPs to connect directly to their IXP?
  • Should governments and research and education networks, who are buying transit via ISPs, connect directly?
  • Should other small wireless companies, providing small services, come and connect?

According to Michuki, this was a steep learning curve for startup IXPs who specifically benefited from this sharing of experience.

For other IXPs, it’s a matter of them already exhausting all potential members in their region and looking to expand into other regions and attract ISPs from other regions to remote peer with their IXP. The discussion focused on what needs to be done in this instance? For example, do IXPs need to consider a marketing and sales person? Does an IXP need to employ full time staff and develop a business? If so how can they afford this? If we have to move from a fixed fee to a charged service, what are the best practices?

Most of the AF-IX members are new IXPs, so there were many questions on how to grow traffic and members. Bringing these newer IXPs together at the AIS and the Africa Peering and Interconnection Forum (AfPIF) events, allows them to meet with more established IXP operators outside of Africa so they can discuss these issues with them too.

AF-IX Meetings

So far seven (7) AF-IX meetings have been organised, four alongside AIS and three preceded AfPIF. “AF-IX is open to any IXP in Africa and we have 27 countries with at least one IXP in the region,” continued Michuki. “The AF-IX Meeting is mostly about learning from each other as well as ongoing discussions of challenges with feedback. Because it is a closed meeting, participants are a lot more open to sharing their challenges knowing that it all stays in the room. And I have to say, the quality of the discussions at each of our meetings has been getting better and better. The growth of discussion and enthusiasm is encouraging because it shows that Africa’s IXPs are committed to growing their membership and traffic and are looking for advice and solutions”.

This article was originally published on AFRINIC Blog page.