Monday, April 09, 2012

Frontier bursting - the setup of Kenya's Internet Exchange Point - KIXP

Note: This piece is an excerpt from a paper published by Summit Strategies in 2006 which evaluated the impact of KIXP between 2002-2006

Frontier bursting   the local internet space -   the case of Brian Longwe, 2006

One of the things that always puzzled me during the early days of our country’s Internet and while I was network manager for one of our first Internet Service Providers was the incredible delays on delivery of electronic mail to other local providers. After running a number of different diagnostics it became apparent that messages from my network to another local ISPs network – were going out of the country, to Europe, then across the Pacific ocean to the USA, then over to Asia before finding their way to their destination which was in many cases literally across the street!

This was obviously an unacceptable state of affairs and the subject of this inefficient routing of local traffic came up several times in discussions at the East African Internet Association (EAIA) – a group that I was involved in that brought together providers and consumers alike to share knowledge and experiences gained from the information-rich Internet. During these discussions various suggestions were tabled as to how we could deal with this problem, but none of them had the ring of truth to them that gave one the deep certainty that the problem once solved would remain solved.

Kenya Internet Exchange Point Losing it's Relevance?

About 7 or 8 years ago, when I was still on the board of directors of TESPOK, I suggested a governance structure that gave KIXP independence from TESPOK, it's 'mother' institution. The main rationale here was to ensure that KIXP maintains a separate, independent existence, regardless of what happened to TESPOK. 

This was during a TESPOK strategy meeting where the key message was "The African ISP is dead, long live the African ISP" based on a paper by Russell Southwood of Balancing Act Africa. The essence of which was that with the onslaught of mobile operators going into internet access provision, the only way that ISPs would survive would be through consolidation via mergers/acquisition or a complete redefinition of business focus and strategy. What was evident to me (but seemingly not to others) was that as the ISP industry transformed, there would be fewer players, and thus, less democracy - especially with regards to governance issues. 

At the same time, KIXP was attracting plenty of interest from non-ISPs and already had non-ISP members such as KENIC, KRA and others - it was evident that the interest would continue, especially as the sector evolved with greater participation from content creators, hosting companies, data-centres etc... KIXP would become the de-facto facility for providing industry actors with data interconnection and interchange.

For those of you unfamiliar with KIXP's history - in 2001 we had to register a company KIXP Ltd, and file for an IXP license from CCK, in order to become operational after the forced closure of the IXP in 2000. My proposal was that KIXP Ltd be given full autonomy from TESPOK, have a board of directors appointed by members in full standing, and be run as a business, similar to LINX in the UK, and other successful IXPs around the world. As part of my proposals I shared the attached diagram (which I have just found in my archives). The Board would identify and appoint a CEO, who would then identify suitable staff to meet organisational growth. Being a business, some implied issues were self-sustainability, a business plan with clear growth, and social or financial returns for the 'shareholders'.

My proposals fell upon deaf ears and it is sad for me now to see a frail and seemingly weak KIXP that cannot seem to consistently engage newcomers to the industry with the benefits of local traffic exchange.

A simple question - how many of the TEAMs/SEACOM/EASSY bandwidth-holders are peering at KIXP? As mentioned by someone else concerned about optimal traffic flows in Kenya, some of our local traffic is being exchanged in exotic places like Mumbai, London etc instead of right here at home.

So, I continue shaking my head...