Moving fast and making friends: the power of a tight-knit industry community

Despite the gigantic weight of the industries built on the internet, at its core the internet operates atop a relatively small set of systems. DNS, the entry point to nearly every online application and a key anchor of the internet, is no different.

The internet is a smaller place than it seems. Despite the gigantic weight of the industries built on it, the near ubiquity of the internet in our lives, and the complexity and scale of modern online applications, at its core the internet operates atop a relatively small set of systems.

Pockets of deep knowledge and operational expertise around these key systems have developed over the years. There are tight-knit and cooperative communities focused on network operations, infosec, email and HTTP, to name just a few.

DNS—the entry point to nearly every online application and a key anchor of the internet —is no different. 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.

DNS is in many ways the glue that binds together modern cloud infrastructures 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 organizations to maximize 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's also increasingly the target of malicious activity.

The difference community makes

This is where a strong community of like-minded organizations that understand core issues comes in handy. 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 behaviors. 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.

One of the most gratifying aspects of working in the DNS and traffic management industry is building positive working relationships with other operators and organizations in the ecosystem. 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.

A great example of this is the reaction of the DNS community following the large DDoS incident against Dyn in October 2016. 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 recognizing that as an ecosystem, we are all interdependent, and when we can help each other in times of duress, we should.

After the incident, the industry rapidly formulated a response, which included 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.

The largest operators in the DNS ecosystem—major authoritative and recursive DNS network service providers—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.

Firm foundation for the future

There’s never been a better time to address the challenges and opportunities in the DNS ecosystem. Despite fierce commercial competition, the engineering culture of the organizations driving DNS forward has resulted in positive, forward-thinking collaboration on the technology and operational sides of the DNS business. Because DNS is foundational to the success of business today, companies that do business online must have a reliable, flexible provider that can address a complex web of needs and functionality. Customers of major DNS service providers—and the internet as a whole—benefit from this collaborative approach.

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