Foundation of AMS-IX

The story of AMS-IX started over 20 years ago, when a layer-2 shared infrastructure was formed between Dutch academic organisations to exchange traffic. In February 1994, the infrastructure was internationalised to exchange traffic with CERN in Switzerland and other ISPs were also allowed to connect. But how did this initiative become the world’s most successful internet exchange? Tech Amsterdam got in touch with Pauline Hartsuiker from AMS-IX to find out just that.

“The Amsterdam Internet Exchange began in the Amsterdam Science Park and was established by a group of companies, in which SURFnet took the lead,” Hartsuiker explains. “The exchange had a roundabout function; it connected several networks without users noticing that it was even there. But it was very necessary. Before it was there, parties were dependent on foreign exchanges for connectivity in their own region, which was very costly.”

Hartsuiker adds: “AMS-IX had a unique position from the beginning, due to the fact that telecom giants such as [the Dutch telecommunications agency] KPN, Deutsche Telekom and France Télécom decided to join. The Exchange was considered neutral territory by foreign companies, which made international cooperation through AMS-IX very attractive for them. Today, the international character of the AMS-IX connected networks is one of its most important benefits and attributes to its success.”

Fast growing data exchange

Back in 1997, AMS-IX experienced peak traffic of 2 MB/s. Today, peak traffic exceeds 3 TB/s. “From 1997 onwards, AMS-IX became so successful that SURFnet had to relinquish the management of the exchange in 2000,” says Hartsuiker. “Job Witteman, a former board member of the AMS-IX Association, applied for the job of Managing Director and set up a Ltd company. This further strengthened the neutral positioning of AMS-IX.”

And of course, internet traffic has permanently been on the rise since. “With the Internet of Things, the growth of cloud solutions and the ever-increasing popularity of streaming services, there is a strong growth in traffic volumes,” says Hartsuiker. “This is something AMS-IX is very aware of. We always need the newest, biggest and most powerful equipment that suppliers can provide. The fast growth of traffic and customers at AMS-IX is quite challenging for our hardware suppliers. AMS-IX therefore has been working very closely with its hardware supplier in an advisory capacity.”

The success of AMS-IX translated into advantages for its users. “We currently have close to 700 connected peers,” says Hartsuiker. “And every one of those AMS-IX participants benefit from the profits that are made: AMS-IX has regularly lowered the port prices in previous years.”

Data capital Amsterdam

“At around the same time AMS-IX was established, other European metropolises, such as London and Frankfurt, started their own exchanges,” says Hartsuiker. “These cities meant business and had a lot to offer. But Amsterdam benefitted from the early participation and support of the telecom giants, giving it a technological head-start.”

Hartsuiker adds: “Since the exchange was considered neutral territory by foreign companies, international cooperation through AMS-IX became very attractive for them. The presence of these influential companies attracted other companies, making the exchange bigger and even more attractive. A virtuous circle was born.”

Thanks to the presence of AMS-IX, the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area is one of the best places on earth to work within the internet data exchange field. And at AMS-IX, they are determined to keep it that way. “One of the most important rules of the AMS-IX is that it always has to be able to handle more than double of what’s necessary,” says Hartsuiker. “Usage is currently peaking at over 3 TB per second, so we’ve made sure it can handle more than 6 TB per second. We’re always a couple of steps ahead.”

AMS-IX  international

Since 2012, AMS-IX has been expanding all around the world. “To become part of the rapidly emerging Asian internet market, we’ve started a new exchange platform in Hong Kong,” Hartsuiker says. “The AMS-IX exchange in Hong Kong is now developing well. This benefits us, especially when larger companies linked to AMS-IX Hong Kong decide to venture into Europe as well. These companies are already familiar with our services and therefore usually decide to join the Amsterdam exchange instead of choosing another European location.”

Hong Kong is not the only international AMS-IX location – others include the US markets of New York, San Francisco and Chicago, where the European approach can be of a particular advantage, according to Hartsuiker. “It seems that the European way of building an internet exchange is not commonplace in the United States. This gives AMS-IX great growth possibilities, despite the late entry into the American Internet market. Our strong point is that we offer a neutral and resourceful alternative to the local possibilities. And this ultimately benefits the exchange in Amsterdam as well.”