Free Peering vs. Paid IP Transit: A Quick Explanation

By , April 1, 2016

A prospective customer asked one of our agents,

Why can’t I just connect to the internet using free peering? …  I see that Hurricane Electric peers on [a particular Internet Exchange Point] and it is ‘Open BGP,’ meaning they take all peers…  Theoretically that implies we can get to the internet via that path… right?  Something seems wrong here… right?”

Correct: something is wrong with this theory.

Peering is for traffic directed to another peer’s own network and that peer’s paid customers.  Hurricane Electric will accept traffic from a peer if it’s for one of our customers (as announced in our massive BGP routing table at each location), but not if it’s for somewhere beyond our network.  And the “whole internet” isn’t accessible through free peering, because some of the largest networks won’t peer (ever) with smaller networks for free, so peering will always work only for a portion of internet traffic.

In contrast, our IP Transit customers can give us ANY OR ALL of their traffic, no matter where the destination is.

You can view our peering relationships at http://he.net/peering and see the connections we have to each of the 128 internet exchange points where we peer. Mostly, the connections are 10Gbps or more, but they range from 2 x 100Gbps ports in Frankfurt (DEC-IX), to as little as 1Gbps at a few small exchanges.

We can sell IP Transit across most exchanges. If the customer is going to use an exchange anyway, this eliminates the extra cross-connect to connect to us directly, but in some cases that will be offset, in part or whole, by fees charged by the exchange, which may also impose limits on paid exchange traffic.

Note that at our own Fremont data centers, both AMS-IX Bay Area and SFMIX are present, and both currently provide completely free peering services (though they’ll likely add fees sometime this year).  We provide free cross-connects (no NRC or MRC) for both IXPs, to any of our Fremont colocation customers, in addition to free cross-connects for our own IP Transit service there, and more.

For a list of the largest internet exchange points (including some where we aren’t yet connected), see http://bgp.he.net/report/exchanges

If you want a detailed explanation of peering, see Bill Norton’s web site at drpeering.net and/or spend $10 on the Kindle edition of his excellent book, The 2014 Internet Peering Playbook: Connecting to the Core of the Internet.

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