Shaun Fensom, Manchester Digital Secretary and founding member, reports back from IXManchester's first meeting and shares his opinions on the potential impact on the local digital community.
The new Internet exchange launched in Manchester before the summer by LINX held its first meeting yesterday (Wednesday 3rd), bringing together ISPs from across the region. The exchange will reinforce Manchester's growing importance as the second UK Internet hub and is a vital boost for digital business argues Shaun Fensom.
IXManchester, the new Internet exchange, attracted a big crowd to its first meeting since launch, much to the delight of organisers. The exchange allows ISPs and content providers to "peer": exchange data traffic between their networks that would otherwise have to be transported to London and back again. IXManchester was launched at the start of the summer by LINX the mutual operator of the original London Internet exchange. LINX chief executive John Souter told the meeting that bringing a new exchange on line in the run-up to the Olympics caused some nail biting, but it is now live and already has 32 members exchanging peak traffic of 1.6Gbps. Some big ISPs have already joined and others are indicating they intend to do so. There's confidence that IXManchester will become a very significant exchange, comparable with other important regional exchanges in Europe and the US.
So, you may ask, why does this matter?
The answer is that it is a vital component in the future growth of the digital sector in Manchester, helping to establish Manchester very firmly as the second Internet hub outside London. That's because of the key role exchanges - IXs - play in the global Internet.
The Internet is what it says, an Inter-net. It's not a single network but many networks, interconnected using common standards and protocols. The places where those networks are connected are the world's Internet exchanges. Manchester in fact was the first and only UK city outside London to get an Internet exchange when MaNAP was set up in 1998. That exchange, since taken over and re-branded as Edge-IX, still functions but now carries only a very small proportion of the North's traffic: most has to travel via London. In Europe however traffic is much more regionally distributed between exchanges in major cities. In the UK there's an unhealthy concentration on London, which is why LINX decided to create a new exchange, run on the original mutual principle - all member ISPs treated equally, no one able to take the asset over.
Having an Internet exchange in a city is a bit like having an international airport: it's an important status symbol, but its economic impact is much wider. It requires massive supporting infrastructure and generates business opportunities and jobs. It could be argued that the growth of Manchester as the UK's second city for digital business depended to a degree on the presence of an Internet exchange and the infrastructure that was needed to support one: lots of connectivity and lots of "carrier neutral" data centre space. In Manchester Internet "transit" - the base cost of exchanging traffic with the rest of the Internet - is comparable with London and cheaper than anywhere else in the UK. Hosting too is cheap. These are important factors for digital businesses - businesses like Manchester Digital member Melbourne Server Hosting and its many customers in the Manchester Digital community.
Manchester Digital has always included businesses from across the whole of the digital sector: I attended the founding meeting representing an ISP alongside marketing and media businesses. Manchester Digital will support initiatives like IXManchester that enrich the digital infrastructure and offer opportunities for the whole sector.