It is amazing if you stop and think about it, how much we utilize DNS services, and how little we think about them. Every organization out there is running DNS, and yet there is not a ton of traction in making certain your DNS implementation is the best it can be. Oh sure, we set up a redundant pair of DNS servers, and some of us (though certainly not all of us) have patched BIND to avoid major vulnerabilities. But have you really looked at how DNS is configured and what you’ll need to keep your DNS moving along?

If you’re looking close at IPv6 or DNSSEC, chances are that you have. If you’re not looking into either of these, you probably aren’t even aware that ISC – the non-profit responsible for BIND – is working on a new version. Or that great companies like Infoblox (fair disclosure, they’re an F5 partner) are out there trying to make DNS more manageable.

With the move toward cloud computing and the need to keep multiple cloud providers available (generally so your app doesn’t go offline when a cloud provider does, but at a minimum for a negotiation tool), and the increasingly virtualized nature of our application deployments, DNS is taking on a new importance. In particular, distributed DNS is taking on a new importance. What a company with three datacenters and two cloud providers must do today, only ISPs and a few very large organizations did ten years ago. And that complexity shows no signs of slacking.

DNS.CompositeNetwork

While the technology that is required to operate in a multiple datacenter (whether those datacenters are in the cloud or on your premise) environment is available today, as I alluded to above, most of us haven’t been paying attention. No surprise with the number of other issues on our plates, eh?

So here’s a quick little primer to give you some ideas to start with when you realize you need to change your DNS architecture. It is not all-inclusive, the point is to give you ideas you can pursue to get started, not teach you all that some of the experts I spent part of last week with could offer.

  • In a massively distributed environment, DNS will have to direct users to the correct location – which  may not be static (Lori tells me the term for this is “hyper-hybrid”)
  • In a IPv6/IPv4 world, DNS will have to serve up both types of addresses, depending upon the requestor
  • Increasingly, DNSSEC will be a requirement to play in the global naming game. While most orgs will go there with dragging feet, they will still go
  • The failure of a cloud, or removal of a cloud from the list of options for an app (as elasticity contracts) will require dynamic changes in DNS. Addition will follow the same rules
  • Multiple DNS servers in multiple locations will have to remain synched to cover a single domain.

 

So the question is where do you begin if you’re like so many people and vaguely looked into DNSSEC or DNS for IPv6, but haven’t really stayed up on the topic.

That’s a good question. I was lucky enough to get two days worth of firehose from a ton of experts – from developers to engineers configuring modern DNS and even a couple of project managers on DNS projects. I’ll try to distill some of that data out for you. Where it is clearer to use a concrete example or specific terminology, as almost always that example will be of my employer or a partner. From my perspective it is best to stick to examples I know best, and from yours, simply call your vendor and ask if they have similar functionality.

Massively distributed is tough if you are coming from a traditional DNS environment, because DNS alone doesn’t do it. DNS load balancing helps, but so does the concept of a Wide IP. That’s an IP that is flexible on the back end, but static on the front end. Just like when load balancing you have a single IP that directs users to multiple servers, a Wide IP is a single IP address that directs people to multiple locations. A Wide IP is a nice abstraction to actively load balance not just between servers but between sites. It also allows DNS to be simplified when dealing with those multiple sites because it can route to the most appropriate instance of an application. Today most appropriate is generally defined by geographically closest, but in some cases it can include things like “send our high-value customers to a different datacenter”.

There are a ton of other issues with this type of distribution, not the least of which is database integrity and primary sourcing, but I’m going to focus on the DNS bit today, just remember that DNS is a tool to get users to your systems like a map is a tool to get customers to your business. In the end, you still have to build the destination out.

DNS that supports IPv4 and IPv6 both will be mandatory for the foreseeable future, as new devices come online with IPv6 and old devices persist with IPv4. There are several ways to tackle this issue, from the obvious “leave IPv4 running and implement v6 DNS” to the less common “implement a solution that serves up both”.

DNSSEC is another tough one. It adds complexity to what has always been a super-simplistic system. But it protects your corporate identity from those who would try to abuse it. That makes DNSSEC inevitable, IMO. Risk management wins over “it’s complex” almost every time. There are plenty of DNSSEC solutions out there, but at this time DNSSEC implementations do not run BIND. The update ISC is working on might change that, we’ll have to see.

The ability to change what’s behind a DNS name dynamically is naturally greatly assisted by the aforementioned Wide IPs. By giving a constant IP that has multiple variable IPs behind it, adding or removing those behind the Wide IP does not suffer the latency that DNS propagation requires. Elasticity of servers servicing a given DNS name becomes real simply by the existence of Wide IPs.

Keeping DNS servers synched can be painful in a dynamic environment. But if the dynamism is not in DNS address responses, but rather behind Wide IPs, this issue goes away also. The DNS servers will have the same set of Name/address pairs that require changes only when new applications are deployed (servers is the norm for local DNS, but for Wide-IP based DNS, servers can come and go behind the DNS service with only insertion into local DNS, while a new application might require a new Wide-IP and configuration behind it).

Okay, this got long really quickly. I’m going to insert an image or two so that there’s a graphical depiction of what I’m talking about, then I’m going to cut it short. There’s a lot more to say, but don’t want to bore you by putting it all in a single blog. You’ll hear from me again on this topic though, guaranteed.

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