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    Breaking down the basics of the new Internet Exchange and what it means for you, your business and Montgomery’s future. 

    By Meg Lewis

    Don’t know what the Montgomery Internet Exchange (MGMix) is? Don’t worry. Most don’t. Leave the details to the tech- nical folks, but don’t miss out on the transformative power this “magic box” holds for Montgomery’s economy and maybe even your business.

    The Montgomery Internet  Exchange (MGMix): It’s the only Internet Exchange in Alabama and one of only four in the entire Southeast.  It’s securely locked away inside a small box, behind layers of encryption and firewalls inside the RSA Datacenter in Montgomery. Most importantly, it has the ability to transform your business and Alabama’s economy in ways you’ve never imagined. Led by a visionary collaboration between Montgom-ery County, The City of Montgomery, research universities, Maxwell Gunter Air Force Base and the new Cyber College of the Air Force, it’s a powerful economic weapon for the capital city.

    How does it work?

    If you’ve ever experienced lag on a video conference call or webinar or had to wait too long for a simple file upload or for your Netflix movie to buffer, you’ve encountered one of the great limitations of the World Wide Web. While your network may offer lightning fast speeds, the distance that information has to travel to be exchanged between networks, and the quality of the exchange point, significantly affects your experience. That email you send to your coworker in the office down the hall may have to travel to Atlanta, Chicago or even farther before it arrives in their inbox.

    A solution is a local Internet Exchange. Service providers who peer in an Internet exchange can talk directly to each other, reducing the distance the information has to travel. Add forward caching capabilities and you get much faster speeds at lower costs for the user. 

    Having these capabilities at the Montgomery Internet Exchange (MGMix) could mean both serious savings and performance improvements for companies that move massive amounts of data. 

    Boyd Stephens, CEO of Netelysis and whose expertise as a network engineer has given him insight into many exchanges around the country, broke it down some. “You’d be surprised at what’s not there. The core of it is going through a big switch, probably a fiber-based switch, and in that switch you’ll have connections from all of the members,” Stephens said. “The switch can sit there, but that’s not the exchange. The exchange is the partnership between the members. The members all agree that they will share information. The owner of the switch provides the bandwidth and maintains a comfortable environment for the exchange to work in.”  

    Lou Ialacci, the Chief Information Technology Officer for the City of Montgomery who manages the exchange along with his staff, explained further. “There are two elements to the Montgomery Internet Exchange: the first is peering, where the big companies peer with each other. The other side is providing content to the local area, such as entertainment media and cloud services, which can free up bandwidth to allow larger companies to move content.”

    MGMix Glossary

    Don’t let high-tech talk keep you out of the conversation. Here’s a quick guide to some of the words and acronyms you’ll want to add to your vocabulary.

    Cyber – a prefix used to describe a person, thing or idea as part of the computer and information age.

    Forward Caching – A forward cache is a cache outside the web server’s network, e.g. on the client computer, in an ISP or within a corporate network.

    Gig City – a city that can provide one-gigabit upload speeds across the entire city.

    ISP Peering – the arrangement of traffic exchange between Internet service providers (ISPs) 

    Smart City – an approach to municipal government that emphasizes the use of IT systems to help increase oper-ational efficiency, disseminate information to residents and visitors, and improve the quality of government services.

    Transit – the connection to and use of a telecommunication path provided by a vendor. Transit may be billed  separately or, where peering is also provided, may be billed as part of the peering charge.


    Alabama’s economic stealth weapon is not where you might expect. A powerful combination of unique assets set the Montgomery Internet Exchange apart from any other. One is the fact that it is collocated in the state-of-the-art RSA Datacenter, where companies that handle highly secure information, such as financial institutions, defense contractors or even the U.S. Air Force itself, can not only tap into the high speed of the exchange, but rest assured that their data is backed up and locked down. 

    “We pride ourselves in having a world-class datacenter, and our job is to continue to recruit ISPs,” said Renee Borg, Technical Marketing Specialist with the RSA Dexter Datacenter. “Along with that, we encourage them to connect to the exchange. The success of the Montgomery Internet Exchange relies heavily on the success of the Datacenter.” 

    Stephens praised the Datacenter’s capabilities. “It’s fortuitous when an exchange is collocated in a datacenter that is well run and operated. I’ve seen larger datacenters, but not one that is more technically accommodating,” he said. 

    But how does the Montgomery Internet Exchange stand up against “Gig City” capabilities such as those in Chattanooga, Opelika or Kansas City, places that offer one-gigabit upload speeds across the entire city. Joe Greene, the Chamber’s Vice President of Military and Government Affairs and Innovation sees a distinct economic advantage. “The difference between us and a utility-provided internet is that businesses have access to high-speed service from more ISPs than just one. More options provide greater competition for better service.”

    What does the Montgomery Internet Exchange mean for economic development?

    According to Steve Meany, CEO Information Transport Solutions, Inc., it means big things. “Businesses will want to move closer to the Exchange because one, it’s going to offer them faster speeds on the internet, as well as lower prices, and potentially the ability to bring traffic or bring content locally and store it at the exchange level,” he said.

    In addition to lower costs and better service, companies who connect to the exchange can locate employees in Montgomery where they will find lower costs of living, a high quality of life and a burgeoning tech and innovation scene. 

    The exchange also creates an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to start their own Internet service provider companies, which can offer the same high quality service for competitive prices, again exerting pressures that drop prices and make the environment more attractive for businesses.

    The benefits extend to recruiting the creative class. Content providers such as entertainment media producers can now more easily afford access to audiences around the world through the exchange. 

    The prospect of an Innovation District, an area that would include office space, hotels, restaurants, bars – places to sit and work and have high capacity internet service and security – could also leverage the internet exchange to support the city’s recruitment and tech start-up efforts. 

    “In addition, the infrastructure of an innovation district could offer Maxwell Air Force Base the ability to collaborate with com-mercial entities and innovators through this fast, secure connection,” said Greene. “This common data network to find collaborative solutions to civic challenges would also be part of making Montgomery a Smart City. This feeds back into the vision for Maxwell as a Smart Base.”

    So what's next?

    Meany summed it up. “We’ve done a lot of good work developing the Montgomery Internet Exchange, but there’s a lot more work left to do. We’ve got to make sure that the Microsofts, the Netflixes and the Googles of the world all understand that the exchange exists here, and that there is fertile ground for the develop-ment of the tech community,” he said. 

    Representatives from the MGMix have attended two meetings of North American Network Operators Group (NANOG), the most recent trip resulting in Verisign, a leading Internet security company, choosing to connect. Ialacci and his team with the exchange, along with others in the business and cyber community in Montgomery, are working to recruit more service and content providers, as well as businesses that can benefit from connecting to the exchange. “The tipping point for the larger content providers is traffic through the exchange,”

    Ialacci said. “If we can get to five gigabits, we’ll start getting people’s attention. We’ve already hit that once – during the election coverage.”

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