Neustar, a provider of managed DNS services to e-commerce sites, says it has developed an innovative, low-cost fix to a well-known problem that prevents DNS updates from getting propagated quickly across the Internet.

The company has launched the DNS Real-time Directory, a cloud-based computing service that will support the exchange of real-time updates of DNS information between the DNS vendors and ISPs that subscribe to it. 

The directory's goal is to provide a better, faster way of updating DNS information across the Internet, benefiting both web site operators and the Internet users who visit them.

"This is a fundamental improvement to the DNS," says Rodney Joffe, senior vice president and senior technologist with Neustar. "The advantage is significant for our customers because they will see their DNS changes propagated in real time...The accuracy of our service is significantly greater."

Neustar's DNS Real-time Directory fixes a feature of the DNS known as Time to Live (TTL), a waiting period that dictates how frequently DNS records that are cached within an ISP's infrastructure get updated. Today, it can take hours or days for a web site operator to let the entire Internet DNS infrastructure know that it has made a change or fixed an error.

With Neustar's DNS Real-time Directory, website operators are no longer constrained by Time to Live waiting periods when they need to change an IP address or add a new server.

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"A few weeks ago, Sweden had an error in their DNS zone. They discovered the error in a few minutes, but the effects lasted for 24 hours because when they published their zone, they had a Time to Live of 24 hours. Until the Time to Live expires, visitors would be sent to the wrong place," Joffe explained. Neustar's DNS Real-time Directory "would have solved this problem immediately....You can push the change to everyone long before the TTL expires."

Neustar's UltraDNS group is a provider of authoritative DNS services, which is how websites publish the latest information about their DNS and IP address changes over the Internet.

The first DNS provider to join Neustar's DNS Real-time Directory is OpenDNS, the Internet's largest provider of recursive DNS services, which is how Internet users access Web sites. OpenDNS supports 15 million users and 20 billion DNS request daily.
"Typically, DNS records can be cached for a day or more. It can take a week for the rest of the Internet to hear about a change," said David Ulevitch, founder and CTO of OpenDNS. "Now, whenever one of Neustar's customers makes an update, we'll get the update out in real time to all of our customers around the world."

OpenDNS and Neustar are already exchanging information through the real-time directory.

"This is a big innovation," Ulevitch says. "The DNS does not get innovated on very often...We're really happy to work with Neustar on this."

The relationship between Neustar and OpenDNS is not exclusive. Neustar is reaching out to other DNS providers and ISPs to join its DNS Real-time Directory.

"We're already working with other large recursive server systems to help them through the process of joining the directory," Joffe says. "Over the next four to six weeks, you'll see other announcements. OpenDNS was the fastest to respond."

Neustar's announcement comes days after Google entered the free recursive DNS business, which is dominated by OpenDNS.
OpenDNS says its participation in Neustar's DNS Real-time Directory gives it an advantage over Google's Public DNS.

"Google views DNS as important for the speed, reliability and scalability of the Internet. But what they launched is not even close to what we launched three years ago in terms of features and functionality," Ulevitch says. He adds that Neustar's Real-time Directory is "one more reason why we will have more accurate DNS services than Google."

Neustar wouldn't say if it is working with Google to join its DNS Real-time Directory. But it did say that joining the directory is not difficult or expensive.

"It's relatively easy" to join the DNS Real-time Directory, said Joffe. "We actually provide some open source code that they can run on their systems that interfaces with most of the publicly used name servers such as BIND and Unbound....We have to configure it on our end and give our own keys and interface to secure the process."

Neustar is hosting its DNS Real-time Directory on Amazon's EC2 web-based service. Neustar says putting the directory on Amazon's cloud platform is what made the service possible to offer without raising the rates of its UltraDNS customers who benefit most from it.

"We publish the directory into a repository that's publicly reachable be everyone. Amazon is used as the cloud storage for the publishers and subscribers," Joffe explained. "Instead of having to publish individual changes to hundreds of recursive servers, you can publish it once to Amazon. Anyone who wants to subscribe can join Amazon. They will get hundreds of feeds for not very much money. Amazon is just an economical way to do this."