Google cache servers drive interconnection in Africa


The availability of Google cache servers has encouraged more African Internet and content providers to exchange content locally, according to experts at last week’s Africa Peering and Interconnection Forum in Accra, Ghana. Google cache servers allow YouTube, search and other services to be available locally, which means lower latency for users because there is no international transit involved.

Africa has 15 Internet exchange points, and they all acknowledge that the presence of Google cache servers has been a major motivation for ISPs and other content providers to exchange content locally.

"Google cache has been a major attraction," said Ayitey Bulley, a network consultant. "Telcos are advertising how YouTube videos do not buffer and download faster on their network, but it is only because they are peering at the exchange."

With the recent entry into Africa of several fiber optic cables connecting the whole continent, focus has shifted from infrastructure projects to ways to make connectivity cheaper. Local hosting and peering has been identified as a major factor in lowering Internet connectivity.

"Africa is having extensive infrastructure but we cannot lower costs if we keep buying transit links instead of exchanging content locally," said Adiel Akplogan, AfriNIC CEO, speaking at the opening ceremony of the peering forum last week. "Efficient interconnection is the critical element to lower costs."

Google has a policy of encouraging the establishment of cache servers, mainly within bigger ISPs carrying volumes of traffic. In areas where there is higher traffic, Google sets up Points of Presence (PoP).

Google has also been working closely with Seacom, one of the fiber optic cable providers, to host some of the servers and allow providers to exchange content at a neutral point.

"Seacom has an open policy, we work with all providers to encourage content exchange," said Willem Marais, head of sales, Southern and West Africa for Seacom. "We are hoping to bring in other content providers, which will lead to growth."

For the last four years, Google has been leading the drive to develop more African online content through app contests, university interconnection program and the digitization of government data.

"At the Nigeria IXP, we have a Google cache server and four universities are peering in order to interconnect to the Google program, which has driven up the content at the exchange," said Yen Choi, a board member at NIXP.

While it has been easy for some IXPs with high numbers of Internet users to attract Google, it has not been easy for Malawi. The country has eight major ISPs peering at the Malawi IXP but the policy was that only members could see the amount of traffic and activity. Two months ago, the members decided to use public IP addresses instead of private IP addresses and now the IXP has initiated the process of obtaining Google cache.

However, the issue of private IP addresses has affected Africa’s global appeal to content carriers. With private addresses, the number of users are not publicly visible online. In some cases, 2,000 users are able to use two public IP addresses, meaning to an international content carrier viewing online, there appears to be only two users.