DevOps is revolutionizing how developers create and deploy applications. Cloud services have both enabled and necessitated a distributed model for applications. In the midst of this profusion of new technology, an old-school player has emerged to enable the reliability and performance that apps and their users demand: DNS. Originally created to make it easy for users to get to the websites they wanted, today’s DNS and traffic-management platforms are now capable of real-time intelligent routing to improve both performance and efficiency of today’s distributed applications.
Not a moment too soon, either. Consumer expectations are high when it comes to fast load times, and Google rankings are affected if a website loads slowly. What’s slow? Two seconds, by Google’s reckoning. The average human attention span is now about eight seconds—less than that of a goldfish—and it translates to abandoned shopping carts and lost revenue if sites aren’t performing optimally. This expectation of uptime and performance will only increase over time and has a direct impact on businesses’ top-line revenue.
Responsible for translating human-readable domain names to IP addresses, DNS is popularly regarded as the Internet’s “phone book.” But times—and the Internet’s geography—have changed, and the technology powering modern DNS has evolved to keep pace. As a result, DNS is now more important than ever for the developers, engineers and operations teams who build modern applications and websites.
DNS Gets a Reboot
DNS services have the important job of quickly responding to requests for service information about domains so people can access the applications and websites they need. If the DNS service responsible for an application’s domains fails, the apps and sites become unavailable—essentially “invisible.” The result is downtime and loss of revenue. But beyond this obvious downside scenario, DNS presents a powerful opportunity: it is the ingress point to most applications and websites. That means DNS lookup has the potential to be the first and most impactful chance to make a decision about which application end point should service a user.
A whirlwind of technological advances in the last few years has sprung up to enable distributed applications: automation tools, application frameworks, IaaS offerings, database technologies and increased bandwidth among them. But DNS and traffic-management technology have historically not evolved at the pace of applications, and DNS-based routing decisions are often limited to “geographic routing,” which attempts to route users on the basis of metrics (such as distance) that may not actually take a user on an ideal path through a complex Internet subject to congestion, peering constraints, fiber cuts, malicious traffic and other factors. Until recently, we were in a state of “dumb DNS.”
The new era of DNS solutions are intelligent: they go far beyond the rote capabilities of traditional DNS and can dramatically improve application performance as well as end-user experience. On the network side, intelligent DNS can help solve a number of common application-delivery problems by directing users to application end points that minimize packet loss, jitter, latency and other factors. On the infrastructure side, intelligent DNS helps route traffic around outages, optimize end-point selection on the basis of real-time telemetry and even cloudburst to meet spikes in demand. These capabilities are driven by the ability to ingest infrastructure and network data, often specific to an application, and automatically make decisions based on that data in real time.
Modern DNS Delivers
App developers today need reliability, speed and greater operational control, which is what next-generation DNS solutions offer. They boast the intelligence and capabilities that traditional in-house and legacy solutions simply cannot offer. These features can be used via SaaS-model managed DNS networks or even in fully managed on-premises deployments for internal use cases, such as service discovery and corporate DNS. Increasingly, managed DNS and on-premises DNS are tightly coupled for single-pane-of-glass manageability, visibility and automation of DNS and traffic management across a company’s infrastructure.
The new crop of DNS services offers critical capabilities, such as the following:
- Real-time data feeds, as well as the ability to integrate with third-party monitoring services or to use built-in monitoring capabilities to prevent downtime and route traffic on the basis of data from multiple sources.
- The technical understanding and real-time visibility to keep critical systems up and respond to increasingly complex threats. The expertise, resources and experience behind a managed-DNS provider ensure a resilient and available system. Identify providers that use multiple upstream carriers to prevent failure due to network outages, that can effectively manage threats and that offer a global, anycast network for optimal resilience.
- The ability to spread traffic across your application end points to make sure you are using your infrastructure efficiently and that no single node gets overloaded. Ask potential DNS providers what types of load balancing they are capable of—from simple round-robin load balancing to advanced configurations including weighting, session affinity and load shedding.
- Traffic-routing features like geofencing and performance-based routing. These features help you scale or segment your users or direct them on the basis of fine-grain real-time telemetry to the optimal application end point. Ask providers what types of routing filters and algorithms they have available to help meet your traffic-management needs.
Digital transformation has taken hold of the business world and is unlikely to let go. Behind the scenes, one of the Internet’s backbone technologies—DNS—has undergone a transformation of its own. This critical yet often forgotten aspect of Internet infrastructure now has the capability to route traffic intelligently, speed performance and improve user experience. In this era of short attention spans, it’s a welcome change.
About the Author
Kris Beevers is an Internet infrastructure geek and serial entrepreneur who’s started two companies, built the tech for two others and has a particular specialty in architecting high-volume, globally distributed Internet infrastructure. Before NS1, Kris built CDN, cloud, bare-metal and other infrastructure products at Voxel, a New York–based hosting company that sold to Internap (NASDAQ:INAP) in 2011.