Putting the ‘Net’ in The Netherlands

“In the early days, it was fascinating to see the ‘bottom-up’ approach to the Internet succeeding, whilst ‘top-down’ wasn’t really going anywhere,” says Boudewijn Nederkoorn. In the eighties, Boudewijn was involved in implementing a government-issued networking standard called Open System Interconnect (OSI) at the Nijmegen University Computer Centre. At the same time, Ted Lindgreen and Jaap Akkerhuis were working at CWI, creating the first fibre network to operate on the TCP-IP Internet protocol in Europe. “The bottom-up approach was far more interesting and we could already see the Internet’s enormous potential. However, we couldn’t simply abandon OSI - adopting this standard was a condition for our funding.”

In 1987, CWI decided they wanted to hand over management of the fibre network to another party and asked the NLUUG (Unix User Group The Netherlands) whether they could take care of this. Ted was a board member, had the required experience and volunteered! This resulted in the foundation of NLnet, of which Ted became Managing Director in 1991.

Top-down networks continued to ‘interfere’ with commercially driven fibre initiatives. Ted: “NLnet first operated a closed ‘members only’ network and later set up a legally organisation, the NLnet foundation, as a way of working around leading global telcos, such as PTT (later KPN), who were developing top-down structures. We kept this up until 1991, when the changing telecom laws allowed us greater freedom.”

Birth of AMS-IX

In the early nineties, companies preferred to do business with the United States through direct lines, instead of going through network providers, such as NLnet. Ted: “This led to the decision to set up a local Internet exchange. Not the most obvious choice from a competitive point of view, but we weren’t really interested in such considerations. NLnet, which was a foundation, was far more idealistic. Together with SURFnet - a not-for-profit organisation - we just wanted to make sure the Internet was properly established.”

Together with Boudewijn of SURFnet, Ted set up the legally structure of the exchange: “This expanded on a rudimentary Ethernet switch operated by Rob Blokzijl at Nikhef-H, the Dutch institute for subatomic physics. Boudewijn and I decided an association of providers was the best way forward. The Amsterdam stock exchange had already claimed the name AIX, so we opted for AMS-IX.” Ted stayed on as a Secretary until UUNET acquired NLnet in 1998.

Cooperation between SURFnet and NLnet wasn’t always smooth. “Although my business relationship with Boudewijn was good, SURFnet and NLnet were effectively competitors. Universities which were already connected to NLnet preferred not to move to SURFnet, as NLnet had a better network and charged much lower rates. SURFnet, determined to get these parties on board, opted for a private line instead of peering with NLnet at AMS-IX. Cooperation improved significantly from the moment SURFnet started to focus entirely on the university networks with the arrival of SURFnet 3 and NLnet began focusing on business and private networks.”

In 2000, the association started up the AMS-IX limited company. Boudewijn recalls: “The cooperation between myself as a supervisor and Job Witteman as Managing Director was constructive – even though we didn’t agree on everything! Developments were taking place rapidly, and we later realised that quite a few institutional, organisational and legal matters still needed to be organised properly. So I became Chairman of the Board and implemented a solid governance structure. By 2006, everything was working as intended and running smoothly, at which time I stepped down. I’m really proud to see where AMS-IX is today. The technical department has kept up extremely well with demand and caters to many different needs with multiple colocations.”

Further Internet developments

In Ted’s opinion, ‘real’ Internet innovation stopped in the late eighties. “The overall scale and resulting social impact have increased, of course, but nothing truly new has happened.” For Boudewijn, fibre networks remain an important focus point. “Through the ‘Fibre Overal’ foundation, I’m actively promoting the deployment of FTTH (Fibre to the Home). In essence, the concepts behind these projects are similar to the approach taken with SURFnet and AMS-IX: we aim to provide the best possible quality and support for our customers.”

Boudewijn Nederkoorn and Ted Lindgreen are AMS-IX ‘founding fathers’ and also initiated domain name registration body SIDN. Boudewijn was Managing Director of SURFnet for nearly 20 years (1988-2007), Ted was Managing Director of NLnet, the first Dutch ISP, from 1991 to 1998.