Video interview: A Canadian at the centre of the Internet

The road to being an Internet infrastructure entrepreneur can sometimes be a twisty one. For Al Burgio, it wound from an Ontario farm, an accounting degree, being at the centre of the dot-com boom and stint in the food processing business.

Now he heads a Silicon Valley company with customers like domain registrar and Web hosting provider GoDaddy, Linkedin and TripAdvisor.

Burgio’s company is International Internet Exchange (IIX), which allows enterprises and content providers needing low latency and security to directly connect to other Internet exchanges around the world.

The usual way organizations send data back and forth is through Internet transit, which lets bytes cross networks of big carriers – Bell, Rogers, AT&T, Deutsche Telecom, NTT Communications – and small.

But if your service is latency sensitive – like the VoIP service Burgio’s co-founded in 2006 – transit isn’t good enough. So he began thinking of a better way.

Transit “is a best efforts utility,” he said in an interview in Toronto. “It is wonderful, it’s done great things to inspire growth and fuel the Internet economy, but it is a constant headache for a network engineer in big companies or enterprise.”

There are direct connection exchanges like TorIX in Toronto, Equinix in New York, the London Internet Exchange (LINX), the Amsterdam Exchange (AMS-IX) and the Frankfurt Exchange DE-CIX), but few enterprises use them. Those that do connect locally. His idea is an service that connects exchanges globally, with software that automates the routing so customers can join and drop exchanges when needed.

“IIX can be thought of as the Linkedin for enterprise networks,” he likes to say: With the click of a button a customer can connect to an exchange.

IDC analyst Brad Casemore noted in an email that companies typically peer with one another to reduce WAN expenditures and to directly exchange traffic and data. Usually, though, it’s done on an ad hoc basis, and the relatively high costs of peering services limited their reach. But the cloud has put the technology back in the spotlight, he said.

IIX has placed its switching platform in a number of locations, and it’s charging on megabits-per-second (Mbs) consumption, effectively a usage-based business model, he noted, and made it easy for customers to connect.
“The company’s executive team” — which includes board member Phillip Koen, a former Equinix president, and Equinix co-founder Bill Norton, now IIX’s CTO — “definitely comes from this world, and they have the credentials and qualifications to succeed,” he said.

Born in southern Ontario’s wine and tourism area, Burgio was a young teen when the Internet started sprouting in the 1990s and was smitten. “I grew up in Niagara on the Lake — it’s a farm community. And I could connect to the world from a farm.”

While he wanted to be part of the community, he decided to take accounting and finance at Brock University.

It wasn’t too long before he was working for an accounting firm and on the side dispensing advice to fledgling Internet companies. Then he began founding and selling them.

But when the Internet bubble burst he took a hiatis. That ended in 2006 when he co-founded VoIP providerTalkWorks and began thinking about a better form of transit. After working on the bones of the solution, in 2011 he and a group were introduced to Innovate Niagara and its angel network, which led to the Waterloo-area Communitech hub and its Golden Triangle Angel Network for early financing. With the help of another tranche from a Manhatten group they opened an office in the spring of 2013 in Silicon Valley, hired a team of software engineers to hone the software and quietly launched in the fall.

IIX now has 100 customers and an number of exchange partners in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. It made enough progress that in July IIX raised US$10.4 million in series A funding from New Enterprise Associates, which will be used to expand the current staff of 15 to 50 (including adding more to the St. Catherines, Ont. office) and expand to customers and exchanges in Asia/Pacific.

The company offers three services: Local Peering, (first port is free); PeeringCloud (to connect to other regions); PeeringCloud Tethering (also called remote peering) and private interconnect. Burgio is cagy about talking price publicly, only saying that “the pricing is at our below the price of transit today, which is below a dollar a megabit per second.”




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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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