More than 100 attendees, presentations from international speakers, a panel of Albanian ISPs: the first Albanian Network Operators Forum (ALNOF) was a great success! The event, organized by RASH (the Albanian Academic Network) and NaMeX, laid the foundation for an Albanian Network Operators Group and a brand new neutral Internet Exchange Point in Tirana, wich will be called ANIX. We re-publish below the interview of our Project Manager Daniele Arena with Seeweb on our partnership with RASH to create the first neutral IXP in Albania.
NaMeX has partnered in the creation of the first neutral IXP in Albania, a country with great potential, teeming with ISPs.
Liftoff in Rome with NaMeX, Italy’s second largest Internet Exchange Point with 80 ISPs and traffic running at 40 Gbps. NaMex promotes and facilitates the interconnection of networks.
Splashdown in Tirana, a modern, bustling metropolis loaded with millennials on the go, looking to make it in a market with zero bureaucracy for startups. Albania, overlooking the Adriatic Sea and set just below the heart of Europe, has enormous potential to become the hub of the Balkans.
This is a positive moment in Albania’s history, no, less promising for investors who sniff an opportunity.
On a technological note, Albania is an ISP-rich environment, but at the same it is hindered by having just one IXP: ALB-IX. And that sole IXP isn’t neutral. But these hindrances will end this autumn, because NaMex, intent on building a neutral Internet Exchange Point in Tirana, will cut the ribbon in November 2017.
Seeweb, a NaMex consortium member, is pleased with this giant step towards innovation, not least because of our natural predilection for a neutral Internet, one that fosters the growth of knowledge and culture, whether technology-based or not.
Not coincidentally the project grows out of a partnership between NaMeX and RASH – the Albanian Academic Network – whose joint aim is upgrading university networks and the technological instruments at the disposal of teachers and students.
Daniele Arena, NaMeX project manager, has more to tell us about the beginnings and end purposes of this splendid project.
Seeweb: Daniele, how did the partnership with RASH start?
Daniele: We were in contact with RASH even before they came into being. The Albanian academic network was created thanks to a project financed by Italy’s cooperation framework. Maurizio Goretti, overall Director at NaMeX, and I were working on another project, designing the network infrastructure that interconnects all of Albania’s public universities, and further connects them to the European network, GEANT, and to the Internet. It was at that stage – we’re talking about 2010-2011 – that we had a chance to meet personnel from RASH, in particular the Director, Arjan Xhelaj.
Seeweb: How did the idea of an IXP in Tirana arise?
Daniele: Right from our first site inspections and meetings in Tirana centered on academic network planning, we realized that there was no Internet Exchange Point in Albania. As you said, Albania is teeming with ISPs but traffic between one provider and another often exits national borders, only to come back again. It is not unusual for data packets to pass through Vienna, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, even London. Such a situation is problematical, as regards both efficiency issues and national security: it’s risky to route classified data through other countries.
ALB-IX started up a few years ago, hosted and managed by the Albanian incumbent AlbTelecom. It is therefore not a neutral IXP: several Albanian ISPs didn’t connect to it because they didn’t trust the IXP manager. In any event, the Internet Exchange Point model is based on neutrality, especially in Europe, where European IXPs are mostly overseen by associations or consortia, such as the NaMeX consortium, by academic networks or by universities.
When the services of the Albanian Academic Network first got going, we noticed that the RASH data center, located in the center of Tirana and fully equipped, was perfectly able to host an Internet Exchange Point. The neutrality of RASH as an academic network, supported by our know-how, turned out to be the spark for the first neutral IXP in Albania.
Seeweb: We’ve heard a lot about Albania becoming a Balkan Hub, great possibilities for growth. Have you been able to experience positive outlook?
Daniele: Absolutely! Albania is a young country, growing fast and trying to make its mark. Tirana is a lively European capital with plenty of cultural and natural attractions waiting to be discovered by the general public. Italians think of Albania as a faraway place, but after an hour in the air, you’re there! What’s more, a lot of Albanians speak or at least understand Italian, have worked in Italy and come back. That trend might be reversing: more and more often I hear about Italians going to Albania to study and work.
Albania is also nearby as concerns net infrastructure: there’s a direct cable connection across the Adriatic, linking Bari to Durazzo. What an excellent opportunity for Italian operators looking for a stepping off point in the Balkans!
Seeweb: What was it like to partner with RASH on this project?
Daniele: RASH is a young, sporty outfit. While most academic networks came on stream with the advent of the Internet or just after, RASH started just a short while ago and are hard at work closing the gap. From the outset, they took to the idea of a neutral Internet Exchange Point idea and as I speak, they are setting up the switch donated by NaMeX, which will serve as star center for the IXP.
Seeweb: What are you doing to promote the IXP among Albanian ISPs?
Daniele: We went to Tirana several times and talked to numerous ISPs, large and small. The support for our initiative was remarkable. We got the impression they’d been waiting a long time for something like this, but it’s only now that suitable conditions are in place.
We are furthermore organizing an event that will take place in Tirana on 14 November, called ALNOF (Albanian Network Operators Forum). About 100 people have already signed up, including more than 20 ISP delegates, counting both Albania and Kosovo. The key notion is that an internet exchange point is a physical place where internet providers swap data flows, but that won’t happen if we don’t set up a community of ISP professionals who know each other and liberally share ideas.
Thus we want to foster the creation of a Network Operators Group, like the ones we already have in Europe, like ITNOG in Italy, able to incentivize the development of a neutral exchange point such as we are building in Tirana.
Meanwhile, we’re getting lots of support from associations and international NGOs, such as RIPE NCC and Internet Society – also sponsors di ALNOF – as well as from big content providers, CDNs and OTTs that we’re already in contact with, among which Facebook and Google, keen to bring their content to Tirana, putting it closer to Albanian users.
Seeweb: What do you see happening after the launch of the IXP?
The immediate advantages of a neutral IXP are enhanced internet traffic security and efficiency within Albania. Albanians will enjoy a faster connection when connecting their mobile devices to a server just across the street.
Looking ahead, we have a topic taking in hosting and cloud providers like you. The absence of a neutral IXP in Albania has curtailed the business of local hosting, cloud and collocation providers: if traffic gets routed to countries abroad, operators will tend to maintain their servers abroad. While these kinds of services are available, little value is added locally. Having an IXP in loco, accelerates traffic, allows contents to be hosted in Albania without performance loss, thus spurring the overall business of local host and cloud providers.