Walt Disney was right: it’s a small world, after all. The internet provides the foundation for entire industries, enabling connections that just a few years ago had not been conceived. This connectivity is essential to most businesses today – and to most people. However, despite the enormity and complexity of today’s online applications, the internet functions via a rather small number of systems.
Over the years, areas of deep knowledge and operational expertise around these key systems have developed. There are tight-knit and cooperative communities focused on network operations, infosec, email and HTTP, to name just a few.
The same is true for DNS, the fundamental system that maps human readable domain names like example.com to the IP addresses computers use to interconnect behind the scenes. DNS is a key anchor of the internet and the entry point to nearly every online application. A relatively small community of deep experts and operators drives the protocol and its key operational aspects. Homes for this community include DNS-OARC, IETF/ICANN, email lists and regular small meetings of key operators.
In a very real sense, DNS is what holds modern cloud infrastructures together and drives the digital transformation efforts underway at most major enterprises. As audiences have become more global and applications more dynamic, DNS and DNS-based traffic management are enabling organisations to maximise performance and operational efficiency across increasingly complex environments. And at the same time, DNS is becoming more mission critical, as it sits in the delivery path for applications we rely upon for everyday life. It also is increasingly the target of malicious activity.
In this scenario, it is supremely helpful to have a strong community of like-minded organisations that understand core issues. Despite the fact that there may be competition on the commercial side, DNS businesses are fundamentally technology- and engineering-oriented. Distributed, “neutral” systems like DNS only succeed with cooperation because such systems depend on agreed-upon protocols and behaviours.
And in times of duress, this cooperation becomes critical to the continuing operation of the DNS ecosystem. Vendors who may be commercial rivals can work together for the common good of the internet to devise operational practices, protocol changes and other approaches for combating malicious actors or scaling challenges.
Building positive working relationships with other operators and organisations in the ecosystem is one of the most gratifying aspects of working in the DNS and traffic management industry. Diagnosing ecosystem issues, responding to active incidents and identifying opportunities to move the protocol and operational approach forward are common drivers of collaboration within the industry.
Following the large DDoS incident against Dyn in October 2016, the DNS community showed its stripes. During the incident, there was a quick outpouring of support and offers of assistance. (Such supportiveness is a common way of responding to active incidents in the internet infrastructure industry as a whole. If you want to see operator empathy in action, search for #hugops on Twitter.) There’s an understanding that being a good internet citizen is about recognising that as an ecosystem, we are all interdependent, and when we can help each other in times of duress, we should.
When the attack was over, the industry quickly responded with education for the broader community on best practices for DNS resiliency, technical deep dives and transparent information sharing among major operators. This resulted in a better-connected operational ecosystem overall, with deeper relationships among key DNS operators and lasting impact on the resilience of DNS and the internet.
Major authoritative and recursive DNS network service providers, the largest operators in the DNS ecosystem, are among the most active participants in the collaboration driving the DNS technology and operational landscape forward. This has become a key source of value for the customers of these services, who stand to benefit from the information sharing, collaborative incident response and shared technology direction driven by the friendly interactions of their vendors.
Now is the ideal time to confront the difficulties that the DNS ecosystem faces. Though vendors are vying for the same customers, they participate in a “coopetition” mindset due to their shared engineering culture. This enables advances in the technology and operational aspects of DNS, which benefits both vendors and customers. Companies that do business online must have a reliable, flexible DNS provider that can address a complex web of needs and functionality because DNS is pivotal to modern business success. The internet is better off due to the collaborative community of infrastructure providers that exists today.