OpenDNS, Google, and a few others have built a new technology into their Internet operations that’s designed to speed up the delivery of data around the globe.
The technology augments the Domain Name System that provides the numeric Internet Protocol (IP) address needed to get data to an Internet domain such as news.com. Those that developed it include OpenDNS, Google, and VeriSign. Called edns-client-subnet in technical circles, or more ambitiously the “Global Internet Speedup,” it uses geographic information associated with IP addresses to help computers fetching data get it from the closest–and therefore fastest–server.
“Anybody using OpenDNS or Google Public DNS will immediately get the benefits of this technology,” said OpenDNS Chief Executive David Ulevitch in an interview. Using it, “the worst-case scenario is that things remain they way they are today,” and the best-case scenario is that network delays are as low as they can be, he said.
Google proposed the technology last year, though Ulevitch said it’s been under discussion for longer than that. Google has a powerful interest in making the Web faster, including through the use of its own Google Public DNS service, and its Internet operations are big enough that it can use the technology both when requesting data from other servers and when others request data from its own servers.
Google endorsed the work, too. “Google is committed to making the Internet faster–not just for our users, but for everyone,” said Google Distinguished Engineer Dave Presotto in a statement. “We will do that any way we can, by improving protocols, browsers, client software, and networks.”
The tried and true analogy for DNS is that it acts like a phone book (tried and true, at least, if you remember what phone books were): you look up a person’s name and the book provides the phone number. Ulevitch likens the new technique to a phone book that gives a bit more information based on part of your own phone number.
Specifically, it uses the first three quarters of an IP address. That’s enough to narrow down your location generally but not pinpoint it. A server called a DNS resolver–typically operated by an Internet service provider–has the job of finding the IP address of the server you’re trying to reach then providing your computer with the answer. In the phone book metaphor, it’s as if you provide the area code and prefix of your phone number, but not the entire thing, and the phone book provides you with the number of the oil-change service station that’s close to you rather than across town.
Advocates for the technology have signed up some partners in the content delivery network (CDN) industry. These companies specialize in mirroring Web sites or other Internet operations around the world so that a person can get access to the data without having to request it from a server that’s on the wrong side of an ocean.
Participating CDNs are Bitgravity, Cloudflare, Comodo, CDNetworks, DNS.com, and Edgecast. The two biggest CDNs, Akamai and Limelight Networks, aren’t partners, though a representative from Akamai reviewed draft versions of the technology.
Ulevitch believes they’ll come around. “I do hope to have all of them on board,” Ulevitch said. They’ll need to be convinced the engineering and testing work is worth it, but Ulevitch says their services will grow more efficient with the technology.
That’s because with it, they can deliver data more smoothly. Even if a person has a high-speed Internet connection and the server has high data-transfer speeds, that person’s machine and a distant server has a greater lag in each step of their numerous back-and-forth communications. That lag, called latency, makes a Web site feel less responsive, and it contributes to problems such as lost data packets, Ulevitch said.
“Latency is king,” he said.
The technology isn’t standardized, but advocates hope it will be. It’s described in an informational draft at the Internet Engineering Task Force with the drab name of “Client subnet in DNS requests,” and the approach was hammered out by multiple companies.
“I think it’ll happen within a year,” Ulevitch said of standardization. “There have been a couple false starts…There were people who were ambivalent about it. [But] once something gets a significant amount of vendor adoption in the real world, that ends up speaking loud enough to make something a standard anyway. It’s more likely fast-tracked for the standards process.”