MCUK by night, from Flickr user d35ign. Creative Commons license
Yesterday we hosted the IXManchester launch event at the BBCs new home in Salford - Media City UK
The BBC has traditionally been quite London centric with most of the commissioning and thus production being concentrated in the south. The MCUK intervention is the first step to changing that, moving some of the major commissioning to the North and thus the production and the rest of the eco system. It is also a catalyst for others to do the same, with ITV and others clustering around MCUK.
The UK internet is quite similar. When there were only a few UK ISPs the traffic volumes were small and so the first place they interconnected was in London, forming the mutual organisation London Internet Exchange (LINX) as a neutral platform to connect to each other.
As with the BBC in TV/Radio this presence formed the heart of the UK network as new ISPs formed and started exchanging traffic. It is a virtuous circle, the quantity of traffic and members attracting more.
Today LINX has over 400 members from 51 countries, over 900 connected ports - 460 at 10Gbit/s, and approx 1.3Tbit/s peak traffic.
Moving that traffic over long distances is expensive though unavoidable globally. However quite a lot is within the UK, traffic between the customers of ISP A in Glasgow and the customers of ISP B usually travels all the way down to London and back. The answer is for them to connect to each other more locally instead of just in London.
This helps solve another problem, too much traffic.
iPlayer, future internet tv (Youview and other IPTV services) growth will only make this harder. If 15M people watched Eastenders at TV quality the LINX traffic could be 45Tbit/s for that alone, 35 times what LINX handles today. Clearly we need to retain regular broadcast while we still have spectrum available
Some of the Digital Switchover underspend funds are being used by the government to deliver faster broadband, including regional fibre initiatives. Clearly that money is best spent on local fibre rather than hauling data needlessly up and down the country. Regional interconnects will help UK broadband grow to accomodate such future traffic and global plans to allocate more traditional broadcast spectrum. Digital Switchover part 2, the move to Internet, is some way off but will depend on fibre ISPs are installing now.
As LINX scales up it faces a growing challenge, what equipment can carry all that traffic?
LINX has recently replaced the entire infrastrucure of one of its peering networks, using the largest available network switches. That is one big single point of failure, if this fails the entire UK notices.
Distributing the interconnect around the country helps.
A number of regional interconnects lets them each use smaller, cheaper, equipment and should one fail fewer people are affected as there are others elsewhere to take over the traffic. This is how the internet has grown to its current scale globally.
By mutual agreement of the LINX member ISPs Manchester was selected as the first location, it will be called IXManchester. The BBC as a LINX member supports the growth of the UK internet infrastructure and so has ordered the first IXManchester port. We look forward to proposals for more locations.