Location, Location, Location

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Ohio-IX Chooses The Buckeye State

Ohio might be known for a lot of things — buckeye trees, LeBron, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum — but technology hasn’t traditionally been one of them. Not even to its own residents, in a lot of cases.

But maybe it should be.

“Ohio is a really well-kept secret,” said Paul Schopis, Chief Technology Officer at the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet). “We’re not really good at promoting ourselves. But Ohio’s connectivity options are really good. When I go to different conferences, or travel, Ohio has more connectivity options than probably 30-35 of the other states.”

OARnet is a major reason for that. Started in 1987, OARnet was the first state network to have a 100-Gigabit-per-second network speed, made possible with its 2,240-mile fiber optic backbone. That lightning-fast network blankets the state, providing connectivity to Ohio’s colleges and universities, K-12 schools, public broadcasting stations, academic medical centers, government agencies, and partnering research organizations.

OARnet’s reputation is why Schopis was approached by Cologix, Inc. (http://www.cologix.com/) — which has 21 data centers in the US and Canada, including 1 in Columbus, Ohio — about Ohio-IX, with the goal of allowing Internet traffic to be passed between members without that traffic having to travel long distances to exchange points in cities like Chicago or Washington, D.C., and back to Columbus.

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OARnet’s reputation of reducing costs and increasing productivity was a big reason why Cologix, Inc. approached it about Ohio-IX, with the goal of allowing Internet traffic to be passed between members without that traffic having to travel long distances to other exchange points.

“Say you have a commuter student here at Ohio State,” Schopis said. “They go home every night, and for them to get resources at Ohio State’s campus, their traffic actually bounces from campus all the way to Chicago or Washington, D.C. and comes back to their home. So if you can keep all that traffic local, it improves the performance and reduces the cost, so it’s just a better experience for everybody.”

As it turns out, Columbus is an ideal spot for an Internet exchange. The city is the 15th largest in the US, and sits at the network crossroads of the state for proximity to Internet populations in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Dayton.

Also, according to ESRI Business Analyst, 47% of the entire US population is within a 10-hour drive of Columbus. That’s the highest percentage among major cities, making the market ideal for edge nodes and caches to deliver content close to end users.

Install Team Supervisor Vincent Gerardi and his team regularly connect clients -- from education, healthcare, public broadcasting, and government -- to the 2,240-mile, 100 Gbps fiber optic OARnet backbone.

Install Team Supervisor Vincent Gerardi and his team regularly connect clients — from education, healthcare, public broadcasting, and government — to the 2,240-mile, 100 Gbps fiber optic OARnet backbone.

At the moment, Columbus is the host to a large number of independent and regional network providers and ISPs, which often aren’t large enough to directly connect with the largest content providers. Ohio-IX would allow those content providers to interconnect to those networks and ISPs without transit fees.

“There are a number of peering exchanges around the country that are strictly commercial,” Schopis said. “And those environments, frankly, are starting to fail because the prices just keep going up and up and up. What makes peering worth it is that it’s cheaper than just going out and buying Internet services.”

The Community-Based Model
It turns out, Ohio-IX isn’t actually new. Previously, there was a fledgling version of Ohio-IX. However, it was the wrong model.

“You can’t get traction into this thing unless it’s community-based,” Schopis said. “Basically the participants of the exchange will be the owners of the exchange, so everybody gets a voice. Giving members that trust and transparency seems to work.”

The model for Ohio-IX is based on what has been a successful non-profit exchange in Minneapolis — the Midwest Internet Cooperative Exchange, or MICE (http://www.micemn.net/). Schopis said MICE has shown the recipe for success in these endeavors is making them community-based.

“They’ve been in operation for several years now, and they’re pushing about 70 gigabits of capacity through the exchange,” Schopis said. “Some of the larger providers are actually starting to show up there saying, if you want to peer with us you have to show up here.

“Making it community-based, I really like that. That transparency and trust-building, regardless of whether you’re small- or a medium-sized regional carrier, or even just a web services organization that wants to be able to peer, you have a seat at the table.”

Past, Present, Future
During a recent town hall meeting, 8 organizations representing origination and unique regional and Last Mile networks volunteered to serve as members of a steering committee, charged with developing a charter and operating governance model for the exchange. The group then met regularly, and it was expected to go live by the end of February.

“We’re in the herding-cats phase,” Schopis said with a laugh. “And that’s O.K. I’ve started several organizations in the research and education (R&E) community and there’s always that push to get enough inertia behind it 
to make it go. You have to put a stake in the ground somewhere,” Schopis said. “The thing that runs these types of projects off the rails is if you take too long to pull the trigger.”

Once the fabric is up, it’s all about telling Ohio-IX’s story and showing content providers why they would want to join. “If we can turn this into a major Midwest peering location in the next 3 to 5 years, that would be great,” Schopis said. “I’ve reached out to R&E colleagues in the surrounding states because I work with all of them. I’ve basically said we’re doing this; I want you to be aware that we’re doing this, there might be a fit here.

“I’m a realist. I think it will take several years for it to get enough traction to really get something going, but early on if we can attract some of the content providers to locate some things here that would be good. In the first 12 months, if we could have 1 of the big content providers agree that yes, we’re going to peer with the exchange or we’re going to put a cache in the exchange to make our own national content local to you, that would be a really big win.”

In case you’re not exactly sure what an Internet exchange is, it’s essentially an agreement among Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, to come into a data center and perform “settlement-free peering” — exchanging traffic, or providing access to each other’s customers.

The exchange itself facilitates this peering.

Rather than having everybody running separate cross-connects to each other all over a room, you basically put a switching fabric in the middle. There are several techniques you can use from there.

Those techniques can include using route servers or a common VLAN on that switching fabric. From there, Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) exchanges are used to allow everyone to plug into that switch, or fabric, and interconnect to one another.

For more information about Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet), please visit https://www.oar.net/.

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About Author

Ross Bishoff is the Communications Manager at the Ohio Technology Consortium. He has more than 20 years of experience as an editor, journalist, and freelance writer. For more information, please email rbishoff@oh-tech.org or visit OH-TECH online at https://oh-tech.org, on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @oh_tech.

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