Internet Exchange Point

The very early days of LONAP – The London Neutral Access Point


Raza Rizvi is an early pioneer of the internet in the UK. He spent ten years on the board of LINX and was one of the founding signatories of LONAP. In this very interesting post he discusses the early years of internet peering in the UK and how the founding of LONAP came about:

Back in the middle of the second-half of the 1990s if you were a UK ISP that wanted to show you were serious about providing quality Internet access to your customers, you had to be seen to be connecting, or peering, with other ISPs.

The simplest mechanism to do this was to join a peering point. The London Internet Exchange (LINX) was the one we all hankered after, but at the time it had strict rules to allow only ISPs that had international transit (via the US). The company I worked for, REDNET (AS8586), didn’t at that time.

We had known about i-Exchange, a peering point that had been set up by Mobasshar Ahmed of ON-net, since July 1996. The costs were acceptable, as shown in the snippet below from their FAQ (sic):

Q. What are the costs involved?

  Cost £
Installation costs  
Serial 64K (includes BT 64K kilostream installation to mainland UK) 2,000
Serial (upto 2Mbs) 3,000
Terminating equipment for above extra (G.703/T1 CSU-DSU) 1,000
Ethernet 10baseT (connected to a switch) 2,000
Ethernet 100BaseT (connected to switch) 5,000
FDDI – multi-mode fiber 10,000
ATM – single-mode fiber 15,000
HSSI 15,000
Quaterly Rental:  
Level 1 – Peering, News Feed, Secondary DNS, FTP mirror  
(64K serial service includes telco charges to most of mainland UK) 1,500
Level 2 – Level 1 + web cache, international transit 3,000

Since we wanted to connect in Telehouse, and didn’t yet have a circuit to there from High Wycombe (or an AS number), we held off.

In August 1996, i-Exchange separated from ON-Net (sic):

Subject: i-Exchange Press Release

i-Exchange has now formally split from ON-Net (even though we are using some ON-NET resources at the moment).

The reason for splitting i-exchange is to give it greater independence and give the members more say in running it. We really want i-Exchange to be for the benefit of the UK internet community and not a profit making facility.

i-Exchange is now only a peering point (as LINX). This will provide you with the benefit of fast (10/100 Mbs) connectivity into the UK internet community without the joining restrictions of LINX. i-Exchange won’t provide International Transit but is is available through some of the members who are connected to i-Exchange. The connection cost to i-exchange is £2000 (once off to cover port costs) and then annual maintenance fees of £2000 (paid annually). (This is to cover our operational expenses and enable new services). There will be no other costs. This makes the applicant a member in i-Exchange.

At the moment we don’t have connectivity to LINX but we hope to address this within a month through one of the members. This will be a single hop only.

This made sense because independence from a competing ISP made it more likely that ISPs would join to peer.

Older readers might remember what the final paragraph finally ended up as (http://www.gossamer-threads.com/lists/nanog/users/15523)…

Our first invitation to BGP peer came from Justin Kerry of Cerbernet in late November 1996.

We’re treating I-Exchange as a positive step away from dependence on the large “cartel” of ISPs, and also as a “toe in the water” with BGP routing. You don’t actually have to run BGP though, because the routes can be advertised to you using RIP-2.

I-Exchange also offers a back-door to LINX via 10Mb Ethernet, albeit shared with other ISPs, which we have not yet tried.

I’m not trying to sell you anything! We would like as many non-LINX ISPs to join I-Exchange, so as you’re not LINX members and you seem like good people, we would be glad to see you aboard I-Exchange.

Now we had no plans to run RIPv2 but getting an invitation to peer was something we saw as a positive step in our growth, once we understood what this BGP thing was all about!

We undertook some BGP training with Cisco, played around with it in the lab, and we also started planning to run our own access modems instead of relying on PIPEX. We took space in TFM6 in Telehouse North. Everything was coming together nicely.

In July 1997 Alex Kinch (of Ftech) took over the running of i-Exchange from Mobasshar Ahmed after ON-net disappeared.  However soon after this i-Exchange itself died, probably as a consequence of the loss of ON-net resources (allegedly unpaid bills for cabinets in Telehouse North). Shortly before Alex took over, we noticed a cheeky cable had been pulled to our cabinets to allow us to connect to i-Exchange, which we queried and were told it was “in case we might want to connect”!

With our own modems in place in October 1997 we turned back to thinking about BGP peering. The Manchester Neutral Access Point (MaNAP) had launched in September 1997, growing from 4 initial members to 10 members, but London now had just LINX.

Justin Kerry of Cerbernet, who had been interconnected to i-Exchange, together with Adrian Mardlin of Nildram, discussed the situation of being unable to connect to LINX because of the ‘US transit’ rule with me. With the demise of i-Exchange there was only one thing to do – start an Exchange point of our own – which was named the London Neutral Access Point. LoNAP was born, at least in idea. I volunteered a colleague, Elliott Atkins (who ran my UNIX team) to help.

We quickly roped in Alex Kinch, who had gone back to his day job at Ftech, as he has the practical experience… and the keys to the i-Exchange cabinets. A deal was struck with Telehouse to take over the cabinets so that the existing wiring could be reused.

By mid November all the equipment was in place and the original members of i-Exchange were connected to the LoNAP platform.

At the very start of December 1997 we got our connection notice from Justin:

OK… so you now have a connection to Telehouse, and we’ll be peering with you at the LONAP.

We are now offering dedicated clear IP connections to New York. Unless the rules change, our service should qualify you for LINX membership etc etc

You can take a service at 128K, 256K, 512K etc

speed /bps Price £/year
128K 25,000
256K 40,000
512K 80,000
1M 120,000
1M 180,000

Thankfully transit prices have somewhat tumbled since those early years of UK Internet!

LoNAP was formally incorporated in 25th March 1998 with Keery, Mardlin, and Atkins as directors. This was also around the time when LINX dropped the (by then easily abused) US transit rule and I recall that REDNET, Cerbernet, and Nildram all joined within a month. In due course I became a director of LINX (2002-2012) and I continue to hold both exchanges in high regard.

LoNAP, or LONAP as it is now typed, continues as a very useful second Internet Exchange point in London, present in multiple locations. It provides architectural and administrative diversity to LINX members and retains the friendly community spirit in which it was founded.

You can find Raza on LinkedIn at http://uk.linkedin.com/in/rrizvi/

Footnote by Trefor Davies: If you are a layperson reading this and have made it to the end of the post it is worth noting the £180,000 pa internet transit costs. This is the price your ISP would have paid to carry your traffic to the internet. Imagine how much your broadband line would cost at £180k/meg – even if it was contended (shared bandwidth). Because bandwidth usage has rocketed the volume of traffic now combined with advances in technology mean that transit costs will typically be down below £1.

Trefor Davies is a Director of LONAP.

This article first appeared in the trefor.net peering week series and is reprinted with permission.

Introduction to Peering and BGP Routing Training (June 2018)