DE-CIX, at the Heart of the Internet

In this exclusive feature story, IG Magazine takes you on a remarkable journey of 25 years that led to the rise of an Internet Exchange formed in 1995 in an old post office in Frankfurt, to becoming the largest neutral interconnection ecosystem on the planet.

Published in Issue 4 | July 31, 2020

HARALD SUMMA

CEO, DE-CIX Group AG | Chairman Of The Board, DE-CIX Group AG | CEO, Eco Association

IVO IVANOV

CEO, DE-CIX International AG | COO, DE-CIX Group AG | Board Member, DE-CIX Group AG

In 1995, in an attempt to improve latency and reduce costs for backhaul connectivity, a prudent partnership between three leading Internet service providers MAZ (Hamburg), EUnet (Dortmund), and XLink (Karlsruhe) opened doors to DE-CIX (German Commercial Internet Exchange) in an old post office in the Gutleut quarter of Frankfurt. The meticulous business model was elevated with a modest motto: We make interconnection easy, anywhere. “And fast information exchange was exactly what we could offer our customers,” reminisces Arnold Nipper, the co-founder and current Chief Technology Evangelist, DE-CIX.

Today, 25 years later, the company is a global Internet exchange operator legend, and still holds fast to its humble proclamation of purpose. The company that started in Germany now has a footprint across four continents in 13 countries spanning 23 markets, from Frankfurt and Madrid, to Dubai, New York and Kuala Lumpur, with an ever-increasing customer base that’s just shy of 2,000 worldwide.

Humble Beginnings

Until DE-CIX’s founding in 1995, data streams between different providers in Germany had to cross the Atlantic twice, even when the sender and receiver were only a few kilometres apart. “And this was, of course, very expensive. At that time a two-megabit line, I think, was about four or five hundred thousand German marks, was pretty expensive—a privilege to have such a line, but costs were too high. At the same time performance was bad because of the long way packets had to travel. And, therefore, the providers came back to the idea that is implicit to the Internet: to keep traffic local,” reveals Harald Summa, CEO of DE-CIX and eco—Association of the Internet Industry.

Until Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) was invented, there was no other way for two networks then to pass traffic upstream until it hit the Internet backbone. From there, it went downstream to reach its final destination. Hence, in the early 1990s, the first Internet Exchange (IX) has been up and running. The biggest IXs in Germany, EUnet and XLink already exchanged traffic in Munich since around 1993 via Exterior Gateway Protocol (EGP) backdoor route. Therefore, both companies together with Hamburg’s MAZ talked about creating a German IX around mid-1994. This vision and conversations eventually led to DE-CIX going live in June 1995.

THE HUMAN CONNECTION

For all the technical excellence, one thing is certain: thousands of operators, billions of users of the Internet, DE-CIX employees, visionaries, and all the players who make the Internet possible in all its varieties can be credited to keep DE-CIX relevant and resurgent. It’s only fitting that the brand launched its ‘Without You’ campaign recently as it celebrates its 25-year-milestone in 2020. Just as its name suggests, the campaign is a tipping of the hat to every single individual involved in making DE-CIX as we know it. Moreover, it reveals DE-CIX’s quest for the years ahead: an unwavering commitment to create a resilient and robust digital infrastructure.

For us the ‘Without You’ campaign is a thank you to all our customers, to all our partners, to everyone involved in our business. We are nothing without our customers and our partners. We focus on a huge community and the campaign is our way of saying thank you to everyone involved with us. -Harald Summa