VeriSign unveils managed DNS service

VeriSign Inc., the 800-pound gorilla in the Internet's Domain Name System, has announced a new service for companies that want to outsource their DNS server management. However, VeriSign faces several upstart competitors that already offer top-notch performance guarantees at lower rates.

VeriSign operates the central registry for domain names ending in .com, .net and .org and runs domain name servers at 12 data centers around the globe. VeriSign's new managed DNS service will operate out of the same data centers. VeriSign is promising fast, reliable resolution of domain name queries and a service-level agreement that guarantees 100 percent uptime.

Network managers typically operate their own DNS servers, a process that requires manually updating domain name zone data several times a day. Network managers update DNS data when they add domain names, upgrade servers and conduct maintenance. The DNS translates domain names to IP addresses and back, and it is a critical service for accessing e-mail and Web sites.

With VeriSign's Secondary Name Server Hosting Service, network managers retain control over their zone data, but VeriSign handles the distribution of zone data changes across the Internet. For an added fee, VeriSign offers e-mail alerts and reports to let customers know when errors are found in their zone data. VeriSign also offers real-time statistics about zone data.

"We see bad zone data all the time," says Cricket Lui, director of DNS product management at VeriSign. "We estimate that 75 percent to 80 percent of the Fortune 500 have some bad data in their zone that could cause configuration problems."

VeriSign is charging hefty fees for the hosting service. A typical enterprise would pay US$25,000 a month, or $300,000 a year, for a managed DNS service running at four of VeriSign's sites. VeriSign has not yet lined up any customers.

VeriSign faces several competitors including:

UltraDNS, which has been selling outsourced DNS services since last August and already has 220 customers, including K-Mart, Hewlett-Packard and Pacific Bell. UltraDNS uses proprietary technology instead of the Berkeley Internet Name Domain (BIND) software that runs on most of the world's DNS servers, including VeriSign's. UltraDNS offers a 100 percent uptime guarantee, operates in nine sites globally, and says its rates are about 30 percent lower than VeriSign's.

Nominum, which created BIND and launched its Global Name Service in February. Nominum's service includes support for emerging technologies such as the DNS Security extensions, which prevent hijacking of domain names, as well as IPv6, an upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol. Nominum offers 99.99 percent uptime and is available at three sites.

Industry observers say the success of these rivals may turn on pricing.

"It makes perfect sense to outsource your DNS, but it's crazy to spend more than $50,000 a year on it," says Paul Hoffman, director of the Internet Mail Consortium. "Microsoft had the most public DNS failure in the universe recently, and their stock didn't go down."

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