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What is Internet Peering?

What is Internet Peering?

Internet peering is a connection between two IP networks that allow traffic to flow from sources in either of the networks to destinations in the other without allowing traffic to flow to destinations traversing the peer—or in other words, to travel via the internet.

Peering is configured using BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) which exchanges routing information between two systems, defined by their Autonomous System Numbers (ASNs). The configuration of BGP on both sides of the connection determines whether the connection is a “peering” or an “internet access/transit” type of connection.

Peering is an essential strategy for businesses that:

  • Want to reduce their cost of transit
  • Want to reduce the complexity of their connection to a destination by connecting directly
  • Require higher network performance
  • Seek greater security

How does peering work?

Peering works by allowing devices on one network to send traffic directly to devices on another network. Peering provides more direct control over how you participate in the internet.

For example, a business might have an application hosted on-premises to download data from the public cloud. The application could access the data over the internet, the typical approach.

However, if the business sets up a peering connection between the on-prem location and the public cloud, data is downloaded directly without using the public internet. In other words, the data downloads without using third-party providers that do not provide the level of control needed.

Two types of interconnections: transit vs peering

Let’s take a little broader view for a moment, just to put internet peering in context. Peering is a type of interconnection, and generally, there are two types of interconnections:

  • Transit: The networks interconnect so that one (usually an ISP, telco, or carrier) can provide reachability to the entire Internet for the other, which is typically an “endpoint” entity (e.g., enterprise, content or application provider, residential broadband provider, etc.). In most cases, there is a commercial relationship. The endpoint entity pays the ISP to carry traffic to and from the Internet.

  • Peering: The networks interconnect to exchange only traffic that originates or terminates within their networks (or perhaps the networks of their direct customers). Peering is usually between—not surprisingly—peers, meaning entities that are comparable.

Historically, peering was established between networks that found a mutual benefit from the connection without payments between the parties.

How to set up peering

For an IP network to peer, it needs an ASN (Autonomous System Number) and its own IP address space. Peering is then configured using BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) which exchanges routing information between the two ASNs. BGP is also used for internet access when businesses have an ASN and their own address space. The configuration of BGP on both sides of the connection determines whether it is a peering or internet access/transit connection.

BGP is used for the logical connection but needs a physical or virtual path between the two networks that connect. The most common approaches for this are:

  • Establish a point of presence for the business’ network in a data center with the presence of IXPs, public clouds, and other networks and connect.
  • Use a metro fiber or similar to connect to the IXP, the public cloud, or the network to whom you want to connect.
  • Configure a virtual path on your internet access connection to the IXP, public, or the network to whom you want to connect.
Discover internet peers in the Kentik platform

The benefits of peering

By making it possible to avoid routing traffic over the internet, peering provides several significant advantages:

  • Security: While peering doesn’t prevent all types of network-borne threats, it can reduce the risk of data sniffing and internet-based exploits.
  • Performance: Since peering is a direct connection, latency and capacity are controlled by only the two parties in the relationship. For this reason, performance is often better than when routing via the internet.
  • Reliability: Similarly, peer networks may be more reliable because they won’t be disrupted by issues such as a DDoS attack against an ISP’s infrastructure.
  • Lower costs: Although peering can require significant investment to implement, one can reduce ongoing operating expenses, especially when businesses have to pay high transit costs to send data over the public internet.
  • Control: Connecting directly to the networks that provide critical service for your or your customers increases your control over the quality of the service.

When to use peering

While peering provides many advantages, it’s not trivial to set up or manage. So, how do you decide if peering is the right choice for you and develop an understanding of potential peers and with whom to partner?

About Kentik’s peering solution

Kentik can help you find peering targets and understand the impact on connectivity. You can optimize cost and improve performance by peering more efficiently. Kentik enables you to evaluate potential peering partners, measure traffic ratios, and build data-driven business cases to support interconnection decisions.

Start a free trial to try it yourself.

Related internet peering and BGP peering topics

Updated: May 12, 2022
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