DNS servers are the backbone for any website. They are the link that allows consumers to visit the website. They are a significant deciding factor in how fast the website loads. They are crucial to providing security for the website and its visitors. For this reason, many businesses want to have more control over the DNS server that they rely on. To gain this control, some companies will opt to run their own DNS server.
However, this does not mean that most organisations should oversee their own DNS infrastructure. This infrastructure must be thoughtfully designed and provide redundancy, the complexity of which can come with myriad challenges. Alternatively, to avoid the complexity yet still gain the benefit of internal hosting, companies can run out-of-box DNS software on generic internet hosting services. Unfortunately, the challenges of self-hosting are not limited to DNS knowledge.
The Challenges Of Hosting A DNS Server
There are a number of problems that can come with hosting a DNS server. Understanding these allows businesses to best evaluate their options and make more strategic IT decisions. One of the most significant problems that websites see with their DNS server is response time. When businesses host their own DNS server or even use a register’s free DNS alternative, it means that query resolution is generally accomplished from one physical location. This can significantly slow DNS response time for visitors who are far away from the server.
Another, potentially detrimental challenge is downtime. DNS servers sometimes go down, whether it is due to a malfunction or a malicious attack. When this happens, a company needs first to identify the issue, then debug it, and finally deploy a fix. All of this means the server is unavailable, which can cause significant losses.
Moreover, then there is security. Every day there is a new cyber threat that bad actors develop and deploy. Providing comprehensive security for the DNS can turn into a full-time job. Companies must protect against DDoS attacks on the DNS, as well as hacks, viruses, and more.
Finally, a challenge that many companies face when attempting to host their own DNS server is the skill level required. While running a DNS server is far from impossible, it can only effectively be done by someone who has a deep set of skills and specific DNS knowledge. Many businesses have this resource within their IT department. However, these IT specialists only have so much time in a day and adding the task of running a DNS server to their to-do list can pull them away from other essential IT functions and responsibilities.
The Benefits Of Hosting A DNS Server
There are clear hurdles that companies must overcome when they choose to self-host their DNS server. However, self-hosting is far from being all negative. There are a handful of lucrative benefits that can sometimes outweigh the downsides. One of the most significant upsides to self-hosting is the ease of movement that it allows. With self-hosting, the backup and restore process of moving to another host is much simpler—mainly because the virtual private server contains the nameservers. This can be seen by the fact that even in virtual private servers that contain hundreds of websites, a host move would only require changing a handful of IPs—after all, most of the websites will either be pointing to dns1.mainserver.com or dns2.mainserver.com.
Additionally, while there is the possibility of problematic downtime, there is the argument that self-hosting can increase uptime potential. The reasoning behind this is that it is the larger DNS providers who are targets for attacks, DDoS and otherwise. Many of these bigger and better-known servers have seen significant downtime due to attacks over the last few years. When this happens, companies must rely on the host to quickly address the problem so that consumers can access their website. Those who choose to self-host are not at the mercy of others and are rarely targets for attacks.
Finally, there is a response time potential. A DNS lookup is the first action that takes place when visitors enter a company’s website into their internet browser. If a DNS server is overloaded, this can delay the website from loading, which can damage brand reputation and encourage consumers to opt for a competitor whose website loads faster. Self-hosters can prevent their server from overloading, ensuring that it responds quickly. Additionally, if the VPS or DNS are physically closer to most visitors’ location, DNS requests will be even faster. For companies that have most of their customers in a single city or region, self-hosting can provide excellent results.
Alternatives To Self-Hosting
In short, self-hosting can be the right DNS hosting option for some organisations and the wrong option for others. When this solution is not ideal, there are alternatives.
For websites that do not consume significant resources, shared hosting can be a good option. This DNS hosting alternative allows multiple hosting accounts to share a single server—some accounts will even share the same IP address. The main downside of this hosting alternative is that users will have limited resources and features at their disposal.
This type of DNS hosting falls into the business category of service outsourcing. Companies hand over the responsibility of hosting to a third-party. The significant benefit of this DNS hosting choice is that it creates renewed simplicity—the entire setup and maintenance of the DNS server is taken care of.
Virtual Private Server
A VPS can sometimes be an aspect of self-hosting. It allows organisations to use a single server that acts as a dedicated server. In reality, the single server is partitioned so that it becomes multiple servers and each of these partitioned servers uses its own operating system. This DNS setup gives companies significantly more control over their nameservers. For example, businesses can isolate each of their servers, providing two benefits. The first is that each server can get a pre-designated and specific amount of resources. The second is that if one of the servers experiences an attack, it does not affect any of the other servers. In addition, it enables webmasters to save money by cutting the added expense of a dedicated server.
Dedicated DNS providers are the giants of the industry and are easily the most potent DNS hosting option. These servers are intentionally designed to host only DNS query traffic, instead of just being generalised servers. This means that they offer a more reliable service and can handle traffic faster.
This DNS hosting option is the bare minimum companies can do to cover the DNS requirements for their website. This type of DNS hosting is not a practical option for any website other than an individual’s tiny website that does not have eCommerce options. Some free hosting providers even include effective firewall policies, blocking, rate limiting, and filtering, which helps to cut down on DDoS attacks. Inevitably, though, there will be an attack that can cause downtime that lasts as long as a few days.
These DNS hosters go above and beyond the basics of hosting. They provide premium features that guarantee better results, including more uptime, enhanced support, and better security. This hosting option is ideal for commercial websites. When it comes to the logistics of premium DNS hosting, they work by pointing a business’ domain to the premium nameservers and then setting up the website’s records on the nameservers. Companies can expect most premium DNS service providers to offer Dynamic DNS, secondary DNS, a management interface, reporting, administrative control, two-way authentication, and DNSSEC support, among other features.
Whether a business opts for a free DNS or a premium one, they should consider what tools they can add on top to give them more control and support. A smart option is a DNS management tool. The right tool will offer more security features, as well as centralisation and increased resiliency in overseeing DNS operation, no matter the platform. Companies should look at this tool as an additional layer that they place on top of their DNS server infrastructure, whether it is on-premises, in a cloud or multi-cloud network, or a hybrid. In the end, it provides more flexibility, system health, and risk reduction. For more information on making the right choices for a strong digital transformation, download our Guide To Digital Transformation.