Over the past 20 years, AMS-IX has developed from an association of 20 organisations into the world’s largest Internet exchange, connecting hundreds of parties. But how did it all start and what has made this platform so successful? Job Witteman, CEO of the AMS-IX Company since 2000, provides the answers.
Lack of control over their Internet traffic and a dependency on foreign exchanges for connectivity in their own region prompted a group of companies to establish an Internet exchange in the Netherlands. “Many parties were dealing with the same problems: nobody knew exactly via which routes their data was being transported. At France Telecom, where I worked in the nineties, traffic might be offloaded to the United States (US) when the exchange ran out of capacity. Overall, the structure was very costly and non-transparent, involving many-tiered organisations.”
SURFnet took the lead and invited some 50 parties to Amsterdam’s Science Park, where they discussed founding an exchange. After extensive analysis a neutral, non-profit model was chosen, in which all involved would have a say. KPN, the largest Dutch telecom provider, enthusiastically took part from the very beginning, making the company an exception amongst telecom providers. “Deutsche Telecom and France Telecom don’t peer on their own and each other’s turf, but they do peer through our platform. That makes AMS-IX unique and creates unique opportunities for KPN”.
Bringing people together is one thing, but securing the money for investments and managing the organisation is a second. The only party that could do this was SURFnet and so they took on the task. “As a research and educational network, they weren’t competing with the other participants, who gladly accepted their offer.” Kees Neggers of SURFnet and Job Witteman signed the founding document of the AMS-IX Association on 31 December 1997. “One of the original attendees had to be present at the solicitor and I happened to be available.”
Job joined the board of directors, which was formed after the founding of the association. In the beginning, members had a strong voice. They decided who could connect to the exchange and what technical adjustments could be carried out. “SURFnet left it up to the members to determine what type of switch should be used.”
MD without a company
Unfortunately, Job had to step down from the board of directors when he accepted a new role at UPC. Board memberships were inextricably linked to being employed by a member company. Today, however, board members are only required to be employed at a member organisation at the time of appointment. However, Job didn’t stay away for long. “One year later, I received an email stating SURFnet wanted to hand over management to another party. The exchange no longer suited their academic environment. I didn’t want an external company to step in and was prepared to put a great deal of effort in making AMS-IX a success. So I applied and I started my job as Managing Director on 1 January 2000 – although there wasn’t actually a company yet.”
Growing the exchange
Growth has always been the main goal for the AMS-IX limited company. Continuous growth is what defines the value of an exchange. First and foremost, the number of connected parties, along with associated growth in ports, traffic rate, volume and routes.
From the very first day, it was clear that an international focus would be the best approach to growing the exchange. “AMS-IX already had an unique position, because KPN and other leading European telecom providers exchanged data in Amsterdam. And the more international parties are present at an exchange that are of interest to other parties the more attractive an exchange platform becomes.”
To expand outside the academic environment and offer (potential) customers more choice of colocations and higher-standard data centres, AMS-IX decided to expand to two other locations in 2001. SARA, who managed the technical infrastructure, refused to cooperate, because managing equipment at a competitor was not an option. This resulted in the creation of the Network Operations Centre (NOC) in 2002, managed by Henk Steenman.
For some time, growth seemed to come naturally to AMS-IX. “We’re expanding rapidly, without any particular sales or marketing efforts. But when the German exchange DE-CIX started engaging sales staff and became more successful, we knew something had to change. I discussed this with Cara Mascini who I knew from my France Telecom days. How could we make a member-owned, non-profit product commercially successful? We decided to focus on the things that set us apart and present ourselves to the world more actively.” It was the beginning of the marketing department and a new way of thinking for AMS-IX.
Besides visiting events, AMS-IX has also been organising events of their own. Together with other Internet exchanges, they started the Global Peering Forum and European Peering Forum to build communities. “At these events customers get to meet each other, which hugely stimulates business amongst them. Bringing them together physically really helps to get the bits and bytes flowing at the exchange.”
“Our global outlook has led to internationalisation, too.” Currently, AMS-IX is responsible for four Internet exchanges abroad, of which Curaçao was the first. In 2008, the Island’s government approached AMS-IX for technical support. “Despite the closed local market in this area, we’ve successfully taken care of technology for the Caribbean Internet Exchange (CAR-IX), and remotely operated this for four years. We later reinvested in it and christened it ‘AMS-IX Caribbean’.”
AMS-IX has received many more offers, and with approval of its members, has exported its successful model and boosted the brand globally. “We want to set the ‘de facto’ standard for Internet exchanges and going abroad is the right way to achieve this”.
Besides the AMS-IX East Africa Exchange Point in Mombasa, Kenya - a ‘Good for the Internet’ project - and the recently launched AMS-IX New York platform, AMS-IX has also started an exchange in Hong Kong together with a reseller. This step has had its pros and cons. “Even though the technical and financial risk is smaller, working with a reseller taught us that we shouldn’t outsource activities which we consider our core business.”
In its quest to facilitate growth for the exchange, members have always remained important to the AMS-IX company. “We're constantly on the lookout for new opportunities, but the interests of our members always come first. In the end, we’re doing everything for them.”
Job Witteman, CEO of AMS-IX