Recently I had a question from an associate regarding her website . It soon became apparent from the conversation, that she did not really understand how websites worked, what hosting was and what DNS was. I thought about it a bit and came to the conclusion that most people, like her, would not fully understand what is required so I thought I would write a blog post to explain it.

Today’s modern businesses have started the move to cloud based services for many mission critical functions. More and more are starting to use services like hosted Exchange servers, hosted databases, Cloud based computing and so on. What most people don’t realise is that all of these services rely of DNS to be found and connected to.

What is DNS I hear you say? Isn’t that just part of my website?

A bit of background first. Did you know that all website actually rely on two different types of hosting?

The one that most people know about is the hosting of the website. Effectively this is a server connected to the internet which holds the files for your website. The is known as web hosting. Typically that server will be running some sort of website hosting software such as Apache or Microsoft Internet Information Services. The files that make up your website can be coded in a variety of languages. You may have heard of things like HTML, PHP, ASP.Net and so on.

Now, regardless of the language and regardless of the system that it is hosted on, the aim of this technology, is to deliver a webpage to a browser which has been pointed to look at that server.

On the Internet, webservers are known by their IP address. Moreover it is possible that one webserver can host multiple websites. So when someone wants to open up a particular webpage e.g. www.markbuhagiar.com, they would normally just type in the name of that website and expect the site to come up. They certainly do not want to type in the IP address of 97.79.238.13.

Unfortunately at this point your workstation has no idea where in the world the markbuhagiar.com website is hosted so it uses a facility called DNS to find out.

DNS – The White Pages of the Internet

DNS is the second type of hosting I was speaking about. DNS stands for Domain Name System and the easiest way to think about it is to compare it to a telephone directory or White Pages. If I had the white pages in front of me I would look up your name alphabetically and with any luck find your entry. I would then scan sideways and see your phone number. To complete the process I would pick up the phone, dial the number and we would hopefully have an intelligent conversation.

In a very simplified explanation, this is exactly the same process that DNS uses. It looks up the domain name that you typed in and the DNS servers which host your domain name reply back to your workstation with the IP address of the server where that Domain’s website files are hosted. In this case it will be looking up the “www” record for the domain name.

Now, think back to the example of the White Pages, you can have an extended entry which lists not only your home phone number but also your mobile number and your fax number. DNS has exactly the same facility. Your domain name can be used for multiple things – your website (www) is just one record. You can also point an entry for your email to mail servers so that you can receive email addressed to the domain e.g. mark@markbuhagiar.com. These are commonly referred to as MX (Mail Exchange) records but there are many other records that can be created for each domain including entries for Terminal Servers and Cloud hosted databases.

Don’t Website Hosting Providers Also Include DNS for Free?

Many website hosting providers also include DNS hosting as part of the deal. Unfortunately it is really designed to be useful for hosting the website and standard email but very little else. It is difficult to modify and in some cases lacks reliability.

For many of our clients it has become more and more important that they have a reliable and fully managed DNS service, one that is independent of any other service.

Full Service Managed DNS

It is now becoming increasingly important when you are buying a domain you not only need to think about hosting for your website but also hosting for your domain name. Even with the best website hosting in the world, it is of no use unless people can find it and if you are moving to the Cloud or even planning to move, DNS hosting becomes a critical service that needs to be managed for the organisation as a whole.

My company Austlink, provides a fully managed DNS service utilising the Route 53 facility from Amazon Web Services. It is one of the most reliable systems available and one capable of scaling to cope with any amount of traffic and any amount of entries. At less than five dollar per month, can you afford not to have it? If you are interested call us on 1300 766 812.

Let me know what you think using the comment box below.

Enjoy the Journey.

Mark

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