In July 2007, Netflix went down for 18 hours. The company’s stock immediately went down as well, to its lowest price in two years. Less than a year later, Netflix suffered another outage, this time for 12 hours, delaying shipments of DVDs.
In December 2010, the main websites of MasterCard were knocked offline in a large distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack launched in retaliation for the credit card company’s decision to cut off services to WikiLeaks. The attacks also slowed Web traffic to the Visa site and drew reams of adverse publicity to both companies.
The short history of the Internet is replete with stories of major crashes, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and just plain downtime, but the ones we hear about always involve big names. The outages are embarrassing and costly. Maybe a few IT heads get to roll, but the companies get past it. For small and mid-sized businesses, it’s different: Spikes in online traffic are welcome, but network outages spell doom — those potential customers are never coming back. In fact, small firms lose more revenue through IT downtime than any other sector, more than $15 billion per year.
Bottom line: Just to survive, let alone thrive, smaller businesses need a complete Web infrastructure that is stable, scalable and secure. And it begins at the very first point of contact between vendor and customer: DNS, or Domain Name System.
This problem is the focus of a new research initiative from Neustar. Neustar is a leading a leading provider of directory and Internet infrastructure solutions such as UltraDNS. Neustar provides companies with managed solutions for external DNS without additional investments in hardware and software. A survey of 300 IT specialists at small businesses underscores the importance placed on a stable and scalable DNS infrastructure. It also highlights the apparent gap between what’s needed and what’s actually in place.
"The DNS is like a bridge to the whole world," said one survey respondent. By all accounts, the concern over a stable and scalable DNS service doesn’t translate into specific purchasing decisions. In fact, with the majority of companies surveyed, the preference seems to be for the default choice.
Respondents agree that DNS has critical importance beyond uptime and availability. "DNS stability and security are essential for our company to keep running at the level we operate," said one small business IT professional. "We’re always looking for the most reliable security measure that is also compatible with our DNS," said another.
"To put it in terms that every entrepreneur can understand, these free services, and many of those that have a low cost, can come at a steep price," said Alex Berry, senior vice president, Internet infrastructure services at Neustar. "As these IT professionals acknowledge, the DNS service is nothing short of mission-critical, and cutting corners leaves not just the network but potentially the entire business vulnerable to DDoS attacks and other threats."
In fact, this is an increasingly serious issue: There are now more than 7,000 DDoS attacks a day, and the size of these attacks has doubled in just a year. These threats require a high level of technical expertise to carry out — there’s a range of free enabling tools available online, and they’re helpfully passed along through numerous social media channels.
The respondents seem to be aware of the potential for trouble — especially if the success they’re pursuing becomes a reality. For example, more than half the IT professionals surveyed, or 55 percent, are confident they can handle a 100 percent spike in online traffic, but the number falls to 27 percent when asked about a 200 percent spike. Worst of all, only seven percent say they can manage growth of 300 percent.
In a conventional business model, a 300 percent rise in online traffic can seem unrealistic. However, according to one recent study, companies that update their sites more than five times a month (against those that don’t) see traffic increase by … 300 percent.
"The business history of the Internet is defined by companies that experienced rapid and sudden online growth, and were able to manage that process effectively," said Gene Marks, a noted SMB consultant and columnist who runs an Internet-enabled company of his own. "Driving the traffic is only part of that story — generating repeat business is the real engine of success, and for that companies need Web infrastructures that are stable, scalable and secure."
So how do SMBs go about building that infrastructure? The varied responses from the IT professionals surveyed offer a candid view into this process.
It’s no secret that IT specialists, just like their counterparts in any other discipline, need to compromise in order to get the job done. But the underlying assumption is that in any business, the IT infrastructure is important; in an e-commerce environment, it’s mission-critical. Yet only 12 percent of those surveyed expressed willingness to fight for an "optimal" network regardless of cost. Meanwhile, a stunning 76 percent either make a recommendation before compromising, or go automatically for the free or low-cost option.
So what makes for an optimal solution?
"We’ve faced exactly these issues, only on a larger scale," says Phil Chen, director, systems engineering at VMIX, a provider of online-video and rich-media solutions to more than 450 media, entertainment and enterprise websites worldwide. "We knew that to go after international customers, we would have to replace our legacy DNS, and we didn’t have much time to do it. There were hardware solutions available, but they required a much larger investment of resources." VMIX opted for the UltraDNS Solution, and it was up and running in a week. With the simple and secure UltraDNS Web portal, the company now redirects traffic on the fly.
In a recent test, Neustar UltraDNS solutions resolved all but 0.3 percent of queries in a timely manner, while other services failed to resolve up to four percent of queries before most users would move on to another website. UltraDNS, a cloud-based service, offers 100 percent uptime SLA without requiring additional hardware, software or in-house expertise. It protects against DNS DDoS attacks, does not permit access to server source code, and is not prone to hijacking, spoofing or viruses. The Global DNS network can seamlessly accommodate growth. It is available exclusively at http://www.ultradns.com/.
For companies that want to secure the front end of their Internet presence, the way forward is clear:
1. IT and management must agree on the basic parameters of a solution that balances quality and cost to develop a stable and secure DNS
2. Identify a solution that is both viable and affordable, without requiring any additional capital expenditures
3. Make implementation a top priority, particularly ahead of any marketing initiative that will drive traffic.
"DNS is more than just another piece of the architecture — it’s the entry point to the entire business, and companies need to find ways to make the process very easy for customers and very hard for hackers," Marks stresses. "Otherwise, any new-found success could turn out to be a flash in the pan."