Teraco Data Environments, a vendor-neutral data centre provider, recently announced the launch of NAPAfrica, South Africa's first open, free and public peering facility.
Teraco Data Environments, Managing Director, Lex van Wyk
Teraco Managing Director, Lex van Wyk, says the aim is to make peering simple and open to everyone. “The definition of peering implies settlement-free interconnection, and while the concept isn't new, we are just bringing it to life for the first time in South Africa.”
Historically, Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) provide layer-2 fabric to allow peers to exchange traffic over private peering sessions at a single point. While NAPAfrica offers a bilateral peering model, the company advocates open peering through its nationally located route servers. “Multilateral peering is unique to NAPAfrica in South Africa and offers customers access to an immediately visible and ever-growing network of peers with just one peering agreement,” says Van Wyk.
Andrew Owens, Teraco's Head of IT, explains the difference between traditional IXPs and the NAPAfrica offering: “Typical IXPs facilitate only bilateral or private peering, which in many cases does not fit the 'settlement-free' model. NAPAfrica is a neutral exchange, housed in a neutral facility, offering free, open peering without multiple peering agreements.
“In a bilateral environment, 150 bilateral peers mean 150 agreements and configurations, whereas the same number of multilateral peers means one agreement and one configuration.”
Instead of having to establish, manage and maintain individual peering sessions with each exchange participant, peers at NAPAfrica have the option of creating only one peering session with the route servers. The route servers will re-advertise all routes advertised by each participant to all other participants. This means instant peering with all current and future participants with one technical configuration.
Addressing the obvious question of system failure, Owens says two route servers have been installed at each location to mitigate this risk. “The servers operate on completely independent platforms and run different software entirely. In the unlikely event that one system is affected by a bug or vulnerability, our peers will already be connected to our second platform, which is unlikely to suffer from the same vulnerabilities.”
From a security point of view, NAPAfrica runs prefix filtering on all route servers, based on lookups in multiple Internet Routing Registries. This ensures that all advertised prefixes are owned by the respective company. “This process, complemented by the filtering option available to individual peers, maintains the integrity of the environment,” concludes Owens.
One of the main challenges in the peering environment is the legal and administrative resources required to manage the numerous bilateral peering agreements required in a typical exchange model. The establishing of such agreements, and management and maintenance thereof, is a substantial drain on resourcing and not always possible in companies, regardless of size.
Van Wyk says open peering and the cost saving involved will eventually impact the price of connectivity in South Africa, lowering bandwidth costs. “Free, open peering will decrease the cost of Internet transit and ensure complete simplification of the process.”