Any2, the Law of Plentitude, and Chaos Theory
February 5, 2009 Leave a comment
My company, CRG West, operates one of the largest Internet Exchange points (IXPs) in the United States called the Any2 Exchange. This article explores the concept behind Any2, focusing on development of communities within the telecom and Internet industry. While we will concentrate on the Any2 Exchange, the idea behind Any2 could just as easily be applied to any other public or commercial IXP.
When we initially began the Any2 project, the intent was to create an environment where One Wilshire tenants could reduce some operational expenses through creation of a “utility” Internet exchange point, almost considered an extension to the 4th floor meet me room. While large networks were more than welcome, large networks generally are not interested in peering at a public exchange point, as that directly cuts into their transit business. So we envisioned a location where access networks and smaller networks could meet CDNs and each other in a low cost, high performance community.
Of course the Law of Plentitude took over, and the Any2 Exchange has grown beyond our expectations. The Law of Plentitude is an interesting concept, with many different definitions. I’ll look at a couple ideas in this article, and hopefully this will help explain how IXPs such as Any2 add value to our community.
John’s Definition of the Law of Plentitude. In any given community, when a new technology or group is created, there is a risk of adopting the new technology or join the new group. The risk is that either the technology will fail, or joining the new group will result in either relationship problems in existing groups, or that energy directed towards the new group or technology will be wasted, denying that time, energy, or resource from being applied to other activities.
This is true up to about 15% diffusion in the community. Once the community hits about 15% diffusion or adoption of that technology or group, then it becomes an even greater risk not to adopt the technology or join the group. An example is fax and email. A single fax machine has little or no value. You need at least two fax machines to gain any level of value, and each time you add an additional fax machine to the addressable community of fax machines, each additional machine adds an exponential increase of value to the community. At some point if you do not have a fax machine, then you are at risk of being denied participation in a given community, business, or group. This will come at great cost, because if you do not have a fax machine yourself, most likely you will need to find somebody who does have a fax machine to allow you access to the new group or community.
Ditto for email. Think back to the days in the late 70s and early 80s when an email address and use of email were frequently met with amused comments about “geeks” and wasting time. Today if you do not have an email address you are considered out of touch, and cannot participate in modern business relationships.
That is the second standard definition of the Law of Plentitude.
“More Gives More”
The sum of the network increases as the square of the number of members. The more plentiful things become, the more valuable they become! Each additional member added to the network increases the value of each individual member.
Not considerably different from our definition, and does add the idea that each additional member to a community adds an exponential value to the community.
Thus another descriptive analogy.
Since I am a country person, I’ll use the growth of a small town to explain the Law of Plentitude in non-networking and technology terms. Consider a cross roads in the country. Nobody really notices as you drive by, and is mainly used to change directions when necessary to get to another place. If you add a gasoline station at the crossroads, you might then get occasional travelers stopping by for petrol purchase. If at some point a cafe is built at the crossroads, then stopping for the average traveler has more value, and the number of travelers stopping will probably increase. Next we add a convenience store, and possibly a motel, and you would reasonably expect additional travelers to stop by for even longer periods. At some point one or more people may decide to build a house nearby the motel, gasoline stand, convenience store, or cafe, as it is then more convenient to work and support the needs of travelers. You might continue growing until you then at some point have a community.
Any2 is similar to that community. We started with a couple ISPs, added a couple of CDNs, a VoIP company or two, and gaming company and we had a small, robust and growing community. At some point the value of that community grew larger than the local group, and became interesting or important to other members who were outside of our local One Wilshire or California community.
As we added additional members from Asia, Europe, Russia, and Australia Any2 changed from being a local Internet exchange point, to a larger international gateway exchange point. As each individual member joined, even small networks and CDNs, there was an exponential increase in the value of that community. So the evolution of the Any2 Exchange has gone from a way to reduce OPEX, to a place where members could gain additional value in interconnection and performance, to becoming a mission critical component in both peering and international network disaster recovery or backup planning.
This is a classic example of the Law of Plentitude.
The second idea to review is a concept we discussed last year involving “Chaos Theory” and systems. With successful growth within the past few years, the Any2 Exchange has actually created a new system. This system is the high level view of how IP-enabled networks and operations interconnect and relate to each other. Five years ago the Any2 Exchange “ecosystem” did not exist, however in the past two years it has created a new ecosystem of how networks in the Los Angeles and international network community interconnect. The Any2 Exchange currently exists at the core or center of that new ecosystem.
As with any system, there is always a point when the core can become too rigid, and not meet the needs of the surrounding ecosystem. The core needs to be flexible, or the system will once again evolve and either create additional subsystems that avoid the core, or develop a new core. In the case of an Internet exchange point such as Any2, the danger of becoming too rigid, or making the exchange point a burden to the system could involve:
- Creating exclusive or closed community entry requirements
- Creating price points that make use of the exchange unattractive
- Not adding new features, services, or technologies needed by the community for expansion and growth
- Poor reliability
- other items that may impede development and growth of the community
So to continue growing in the system core, there must be continual change within the core that adds value, and will attract further more activity within the system centering on the core. For an IXP to continue being successful, through adding additional members or activity (at the Internet system core), there must be continuous change that will attract new members to the IXP, and keep existing members at the IXP.
Now that is an interesting problem. By nature an IXP must remain neutral. So, if the IXP is neutral, and simply provides value to a “crossroads” at the telecom community interconnection point, then how do you add value at an IXP that is compelling enough to attract more growth at the system core?
At a public IXP, such as the Seattle Internet Exchange (SIX) it is a simple equation. Proximity to a lot of potential system/IXP members, and very low cost of entry (it is a public, member-supported IXP). The success of the SIX is clearly a product of simplicity and low cost of entry.
For commercial IXPs the problem is a bit different. If you need to charge for an IXP port, then the value of the IXP must exceed the value of a small network or CDN simply connecting to a large Tier 1 Internet Service Provider who will provide them a one stop shop for all their Internet access requirements. Thus if the IXP cannot provide value simply on price, then there must be other compelling features to attract members such as greater control over peering sessions through strong statistics, analytics, and monitoring. Or through addition of powerful utilities such as routes servers, or flexibility on connections or connection policies.
So the concept of the Law of Plentitude tells us healthy community growth is exponential, with the value of a community or system growing with each additional member to the system. Chaos theory tells us a system evolves and interacts with a core that attracts system activity, but the core must continue to evolve and add value in order to dominate the system. The conclusion is that to continue growing and attracting new members to IXPs such as the Any2 Exchange, the IXP must continue to add compelling value to the community and members, or risk creation of other systems (IXPs) that could attract members into a new system (competing IXP). The Internet was conceived as a system that could easily adapt and evolve, finding ways to route around blocks or obstructions, finding the easiest and most efficient way between origination and destination points. To be effective the IXP must provide the easiest path, and ensure the IXP does not become a barrier that forces the system to develop an alternate routing model.