Dec 152009

Look out below!

The first two weeks in December haven’t just been the glide path to Christmas this year. 2009 has belatedly turned into a year of innovation and business moves around the Domain Name System (DNS), a vital but under-appreciated protocol essential for the proper functioning of the Internet. All this news may finally propel awareness of DNS beyond strictly technical circles.

First off, let’s start with the big Internet whale. On 12/3 Google announced they were offering Google Public DNS, a free service that allows anyone to use DNS supplied by Google. The company already controls about 65% of online advertising, so why not control the on-ramp millions of consumers use to get online? Here’s TechCrunch’s take, just one story among much coverage.

When Google muscles into a market, they create a lot of waves. As TechCrunch points out, a startup called OpenDNS has been successful in the recursive DNS space. (quick DNS tidbit — recursive DNS returns answers to users, authoritative DNS provides the right answers) Both services are free — OpenDNS makes money by presenting ads to users who type incorrect URLs, or domains that don’t exist. Google says it won’t do this, and their “pure” DNS will deliver a not found response. (Google proudly saying no ads served — nice irony)

While this is going on, my client Neustar and Infoblox announce a strategic relationship. To over-simplify a bit for clarity, both are leaders in the area of authoritative DNS. Neustar is the number one provider via the cloud, offering¬† DNS as a managed service. Infoblox offers DNS management via an appliance approach, a “box” if you will that resides in the customer’s network. In the past these two have been competitors — now by working together they have created a potent, one stop shop for ISPs and top Internet brands. Here’s a good piece by Carolyn Marsan of Network World on the partnership.

Now back to OpenDNS. On 12/10 Neustar announces they have launched the Real-Time Directory service, the first fundamental change in how the DNS operates in about 20 years. Basically it allows changes made to DNS to be almost instantaneous, rather than waiting up to a full day for servers to ask for changes (due to something called caching). OpenDNS is the first recursive provider to sign up, making their DNS better than Google’s. Take that, you “do no evil” bullies! Here’s Cade Metz of The Register with a good synopsis.

So it’s been quite a couple of weeks for old DNS. And very exciting for me, and not just because my client is right in the middle of these developments. DNS is a protocol that really needs the attention, as was made plain by the Kaminsky vulnerability in July of 2008. Now it’s getting it, and with Google in the mix more media may pay attention.

So what’s next for DNS? I can’t say, but a great by-product of Google offering DNS is it makes the big ISPs take a harder look at how they do DNS. Up to now it’s been an after-thought – maybe now they will focus on ways to make the recursive DNS they provide millions of consumers more reliable and secure. And that’s something to be thankful for as you purchase your gifts online this holiday season.

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