Why Use a Managed DNS Provider?
Plain and simple, any business with resources (website, application, communication) that are dependant on the Internet should be using a managed DNS solution. DNS is so much more than a basic network utility, it’s becoming the decisive factor for performance and reliability for the modern web.
In this article, we are only going to talk about outsourced DNS management. That could be a third-party provider, domain registrar (that also offers hosting), or a free service. If you want to learn more about the benefits of outsourcing as opposed to an in-house solution check out this blog or this blog.
The Chinese Food Hypothesis
The best way to understand the difference between the quality of service from a managed DNS provider and the alternatives is to the think about where you would want to get your Chinese food. Seems, silly, but think about it. If you’re just feeding yourself, you probably go for the fast and cheap General Tso’s from a place you would only get delivery from.
But what would you do if this meal was for your business? Maybe over a meal with a potential client? You want authentic Chinese food with quality ingredients that are delicious every time you order. You want that consistent high quality, not the Americanized version that also has sushi on the menu, and could keep you on the toilet all night if you choose the wrong restaurant.
The same goes for DNS management. You want to make sure you are choosing a vendor that has the infrastructure and services designed solely for DNS management and nothing else. That way you know every time your domain is queried, your users are answered fast and reliably. The alternative could make your website load slowly or worse, offline.
So let’s talk a little more about those cheaper alternatives, the Chinese delivery versions of DNS management.
Using Your Registrar
Before we get too deep, it’s important to know the difference between a domain registrar and a DNS hosting provider. Your domain registrar is where you purchase your domain name. Usually, your registrar will only offer registration services, but in some cases, they may also offer DNS hosting.
DNS hosting is a service that allows you to create records that point your domain to an IP address or hostname. This information is stored in records that are stored on the DNS provider’s nameservers. DNS hosting services can be offered by domain registrars, specialized DNS management providers, or hosted in-house.
The problem is, registrars are only equipped for the bare minimum DNS service offerings. In most cases, all you are able to do is create a basic A or CNAME record that points to a web server or CDN. This can be really frustrating if you want more advanced services like Failover or load balancing.
But the biggest differentiator is technical support. If you need assistance setting things up or something goes wrong, it’s like pulling teeth to get the answer you need. In some cases, larger registrars don’t have dedicated support for their DNS services, instead, they use community support forums.
It really comes down to a simple platitude, “you get what you pay for”. If you are using free DNS, you will get free DNS.
Think about it this way., DNS hosting is an IaaS (infrastructure as a service) offering which means you are leasing a part of a DNS providers’ cloud. The provider has to build and maintain a global infrastructure, make partnerships with data providers, hire developers to create the service, support clients, etc. They need funds to maintain everything, but also the R&D to make sure everything is top tier quality.
If you are using a free service, the provider is more than likely lacking in a few of those responsibilities. It’s like the saying goes, you can only have one or two:
These “responsibilities” we’re talking about are industry standards for specialized managed DNS providers. They actually can have all three. And when you are researching these providers, you want to make sure the one you choose excels in all aspects.
Here is where we start to see some misconceptions crop up. From what we’ve talked about already, you know you need to pay for a DNS service. But how much?
DNS doesn’t have to be expensive. Of course, there are providers that will make you pay an arm and a leg just to get up and running. If you do your research and know what you’re looking for, you can find an affordable DNS management service that can actually save you money in the long run. Read on to find out how.
Choosing a Provider
By now, I hope you’re convinced that outsourcing your DNS management to a third party provider is the right choice for you. If not, at least consider a hybrid approach by supplementing your existing infrastructure with an outsourced provider.
Hybrid DNS allows you to use two sets of nameservers (using secondary DNS), which means both sets are equally authoritative for answering queries.
What to Look for
When it comes to DNS management, there are two different approaches you should consider. For many smaller organizations, DNS is a one-and-done task, so you would focus on reliability and fast resolution times. But for larger, more global organizations, DNS can be leveraged as an optimization tool. For the companies, reliability and speed are a given, so you need to shift your focus towards finding the right functionality, analytics, and technical support.
It’s important to know which strategy is right for you before you begin your research, so you have a general idea of what to look for. Here are just a few of the things we recommend you look for in a provider:
Ease of Use
- Intuitive control panel with 24/7 support included.
- A robust API so you can automatically create the appropriate DNS records every time you provision a new server.
- Extensive documentation and tutorials.
- Bulk pricing, like yearly plans or reduced rates for purchasing more of an item.
- Wide variety of additional services that can be added for a monthly or yearly fee.
Look at both third-party and client reviews. There are a few different DNS provider comparison sites and tools that are available for free.
Metrics to look for:
- Average resolution times (by region and globally)
- Uptime history
- Points of presence
- Upstream providers
- Security measures, etc.
At the bottom of every online businesses’ stack should be a DNS management service. Whether you are using it for simple security and performance, or actively as a way to optimize your network. Invest the time to find the solution that’s best for your business, and don’t settle for a “Chinese take-out” alternative.
Also published on Medium.