WiscNet Considers DNS Options

Intermittent outages spur Wisconsin service provider's evaluation. 

After a series of service outages drew sharp attention to a server-based system that was built more than 10 years ago, WiscNet decided it was time to look into options for replacing its aging Domain Name System.

WiscNet-the education and research network provider for K-12 schools, colleges and universities in Wisconsin-is running a DNS system that was developed years ago by engineers who have long since moved on.

It's a credit to these engineers' scripts and open-source BIND (Berkeley Internet Name Domain) implementation that DNS has worked for so long with so little development work at WiscNet. Moving the BIND servers onto modern hardware has helped mitigate risk, but outages occur from time to time.

So, WiscNet administrators asked, "Should the infrastructure be updated?"

To help answer that question, Wisc??íNet and eWeek Labs co-hosted a DNS Demonstration Day on Jan. 8 that brought together three DNS appliance vendors with WiscNet engineers and officials. Also present at the event were state network representatives from Michigan, Ohio and Missouri, as well as engineers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, where the event was hosted. (WiscNet and eWeek Labs first worked together in 2003, when six anti-spam vendors were brought in to prove their mettle at screening junk e-mail for WiscNet clients.)

In preparation for the event, Wisc??íNet officials, working with eWeek Labs, developed an RFP that would go out to DNS appliance vendors.

WiscNet services more than 1,200 zones and more than 54,000 DNS records for its school district, college and university customers across the state. WiscNet has a redundant pair of DNS servers and a stealth master DNS server in Madison, as well as a pair of servers in Milwaukee. With this setup, WiscNet provides reliable DNS service to its customers by reducing the risk of simultaneous outages.

But WiscNet technical support staffers also need the ability to create accurate reports that show all domains belonging to a WiscNet customer organization. In addition, they would like to be able to delegate some zone administration tasks to local administrators rather than have all DNS changes implemented through WiscNet staff.

Most important for WiscNet is the need to have DNS expertise readily available to correct DNS problems or to restore service when servers go down.