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DNS is busting out all over

New uses continue to be found for 20-year-old 'Net technology.

By , Network World
July 28, 2003 12:08 AM ET

Network World - After 20 years as one of the cornerstones of the Internet, DNS is being tapped to revolutionize corporate supply chains, IP telephony, real-time communications and security.

DNS is being used to support two hot emerging technologies, radio frequency identification (RFID), which is expected to slash costs and streamline corporate supply chains, and the proposed IETF standard called Electronic Numbering (Enum), which promises to marry the PSTN to IP networks. DNS also is being adopted for IPv6  and could provide a foundation for a new-fangled public-key infrastructure (PKI) system and to help combat Internet-based identity theft.

While RFID and Enum still face privacy and political issues before mass implementation, DNS is helping prove these technologies are solid. Along with intranets, RFID and Enum are fueling the growth of DNS, with DNS entries expected to double in number every year for the next five years.

DNS has been humming along since June 1983, matching Internet names to IP addresses and helping deliver e-mail and Web pages. The largest and most successful globally distributed database, with 1 billion entries, the 20-year-old lookup service need not be reinvented to be an integral part in the new crop of potentially revolutionary technology advances.

"In a sense, we have moved up one level in the kind of problems that people are thinking of attacking with DNS. It's not just keeping track of hosts now. It's now higher-level services," says Paul Mockapetris, who created DNS at the University of Southern California and is now the chief scientist and chairman of Nominum, which develops IP address management software. Mockapetris says DNS also one day could help simplify PKI security.

The new capabilities debunk what Mockapetris says is one of the biggest myths about DNS - that it has peaked.

"DNS has turned into a building block underneath a number of these other naming systems," he says.

In 1999, researchers at the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology theorized that they could make RFID tags less expensive by offloading some data stored on the tags to the network, therefore reducing data storage and silicon needs.

"But the question was, how do you connect the unique number associated with the RFID tag to the data?" says Sanjay Sarma, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and chairman of the Auto-ID Center. The center is a non-profit partnership between 100 global companies, MIT, the University of Cambridge in England, the University of Adelaide in Australia, Keio University in Japan and the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. The center is working on creating the standards and assembling the building blocks needed to create an "Internet of things."

To make the connection between the RFID tag and the network-stored data, the center developed the Object Naming Service (ONS), which is built on top of DNS. ONS converts an electronic product code into a domain name that can be looked up on a local DNS cache or a DNS server on the Internet. Once the DNS pinpoints where the product data is stored, it can be downloaded.

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