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What Is Peering and Why Does It Matter?

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  • This article defines peering and the major types of peering. It also explains why businesses choose peering and why it matters for third party data centers.

  • Across the internet, network operators may at times find it beneficial to voluntarily share traffic, connecting users beyond the parameters of their own services. This exchanged traffic is provided without exchange of payment, with each network deriving revenue from its own user base. This agreement is known as “peering.” Motivations to peer networks are usually derived from mutual benefit: since the internet is designed to connect users end-to-end, navigating from network A to network Z must feel effortless and instantaneous. However, what users often don’t realize is that behind the scenes, network operators must pay other network providers–often a third party–to facilitate those interactions. With peering, transit services between two or more networks happen without these settlements taking place, allowing information to flow freely between those interconnected networks

  • Why Peer?

  • Of course, peering has additional benefits beyond those that are purely financial. To speak metaphorically, this is when the internet truly earns its nickname, “information superhighway.” On a regular highway, to get off one major thoroughfare and onto another, you’d need to go through a tollbooth or an exit ramp, something that creates some amount of blockage, costs money, and slows traffic. By increasing the amount of pathways you can travel on freely and removing the costly barriers between them, there is an overall decrease in bottlenecked traffic and an improvement in flow and usability. Cars get around more easily with increased connections between accessible paths, and likewise, users can spread around information more easily between peered networks.

  • Types of Peering

  • Since peering really just describes two networks that are interconnected, it is helpful to know the differences between the major types. Public peering, the most common method, is done via an ethernet switch housed in a colocation facility, with carriers connecting over a single port. These public peering locations were historically known as NAPs, or network access points, but today you will hear them referred to as IXs, or internet exchanges. At their largest, these IXs can have hundreds of users and be spread across data centers, across cities, all using a single connection. The DE-CIX and AMS-IX, based in Frankfurt and Amsterdam respectively, even connect users and information across continents with nodes in New York and other major North American metros. Entire groups of countries are connected together using some of the largest IXs out there on the internet.

    Private peering uses two routers housed in the same building, but connects them via a physical cable versus an ethernet switch. This is more useful when networks are sharing a large volume of traffic that won’t fit through a single access point. This practice dates far back to the early days of the internet, in which private peering occurred using SONET circuits between individual carrier-owned facilities. In the modern era, however, most private peer connections are formed between carrier-neutral colocation facilities, where connections between networks can be negotiated for much lower costs than between regular telecommunications providers. Modern peering is also done with the assistance of meet-me rooms, or physical places that provide a safe production environment for telecommunications companies to provide essential services without incurring subscription fees

  • Peering and Data Centers

  • When it comes to the needs of a data center, connecting users to data quickly, securely, and economically are the top priorities, and it is in these categories that peering excels as a solution. As stated above, peering between networks, whether public or private, means reduced latency and packet loss and better routing of internet traffic. Additionally, implementation of peering leads to an increase in network paths for efficiency, more predictable routing, and cheaper overall network costs. Without a third party involved, networks can establish key co-beneficial relationships with their partners, and fully maintain and manage those relationships.

    As the amount of data we create, consume, and exchange every day continues to grow, content providers must move that content more efficiently to their end users. This creates greater incentive for peering so that providers can use uncongested routes to get that content to users in a manner that is efficient and cost-effective. Colocating in data centers with dense network interconnectivity will allow access to the advantages of peered routing, which keeps downward pressure on connectivity costs.

    Find your data center today with UpStack’s marketplace or contact an advisor to architect your optimal IT infrastructure solution.

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