Avoid A DNS Disaster – Stay In Control

When it comes to your website or technology platform, many know little more than how to get to it and use it on the internet. In many instances, you do not need to know what is going on behind the scenes, as long as the solution/website works when you type in the URL. It is similar to not being knowledgeable on how to fix your car engine – as long as the car starts and gets you where you are going, the ‘how’ is irrelevant. But, what if your mechanic had control over if/when your car starts, or could stop you from transferring ownership of the car? You may be vulnerable to a similar situation with your website and not know it. It is vital to have a base understanding about DNS – or Domain Name System – to avoid a potential disaster for you and your company.

First, What the Heck is DNS?

To put it in simple terms, DNS ‘points’ the internet to your website and even email addresses. DNS is the foundation of the internet. The internet actually doesn’t run on “words” it runs on “numbers” and DNS is what connects the words (e.g. yourwebsite.ext or [email protected]) to the numbers that identify the server where your website runs on the internet. And, in most cases, EVERY single thing you do on the internet talks to DNS.

Why Is This So Important?

If you or your constituents cannot reach your website, the problems are obvious. Worse yet, if you do not have control over your DNS, the options for what you can do to fix a problem may be extremely limited, especially for a technical layman. You will be at the mercy of who controls your DNS and not even know it until it is too late.

This can also include less ‘disastrous’ situations, such as wanting to make a simple change to the website. If the company who does have access to your DNS is non-responsive, or even goes out of business, a simple change can become a pain or escalate to a critical risk.

The short answer is that “he who controls your DNS controls everything about your website, your email and anything related to the operation of your domain name.” That is a huge amount of power, and that power should always be in your hands.

Where is DNS Usually Provided or Hosted?

DNS can be hosted in many places such as your own web server, your domain registrar (e.g. GoDaddy or Network Solutions), your hosting company, a third party DNS service (e.g. DYN or DNSMadeEasy), etc. Where is it hosted is important, but knowing where it is, and that you have access to it at any time that you need it is even more important.

So What Can I Do About It?

The first step is to determine who, in fact, has control and access to the DNS for your website/platform. Many times your web development first, hosting firm or IT firm will have control of this service, but every situation is different. Start asking until you find the answer. If you just are not sure where to start, contact us and we can point you in the right direction, at no charge. You have to know this information before it becomes urgent.

Once you know “who” has control of this service, you can then decide actions to take. OPG always recommends that its clients have access to the tools that allow control of this element. In fact, the “best” protection is to ensure that the DNS service provider is one that you pay or otherwise have a login for. If you have this, even if a third party does all of the geek stuff for you, you can still control your destiny.

Making It Real

Recently, a client of OPG, one for whom OPG did not previously manage their servers, engaged OPG to spin up a pretty snazzy high availability hosting environment for them. We did all of the work of setting up the app servers, load balancers, database cluster, file servers, backups, etc. We migrated all of the platform content and code, along with the databases over to the new environment. We tested and we were ready to roll things live, cutting over from the old servers to the new. Can you guess what happened? Yep, they had no access to their DNS, and the vendor they were working with (who previously had done changes like the ones needed here quickly) refused to help them make the very simple changes needed to the DNS to make the new servers live. There were 3 simple “A” record changes, just changing the IP addresses on each from one number to another. The task takes about 2 minutes to perform. But, without access to DNS, the live migration was a no go. This halted the migration and delayed it a full week, costing lots of additional time and money. Fortunately, the vendor that refused to help came around, but what if they hadn’t? Our client would still be waiting to do the migration and there would have been nothing we could do to help. What if they had a critical server issue during this time and needed to bring up a new server to get back up and running? Without DNS access, they would still be down. A simple 2 minute change caused this.

It’s never what happens when things are going well that we have to plan for in web and mobile technology, we always have to plan for what happens when things go wrong.

Next Steps

To ensure that you are never in the position of being held hostage with your web and mobile platforms, do the following:

  • Find out who provides your DNS service. Once you know this, demand access to that service.
  • While you are at it, make sure you have access to your domain name registrar account. All this stuff about DNS is bad, but so it lack of control of your actual domain name. So, be sure you login to GoDaddy works and that you have it. If another party manages your domains, be sure you have access to the login where you can control this too.
  • If you have no idea what all this stuff means, contact us and we’ll get you started.

<code>What We’ve Been Up To</code>

It has been a busy month here at OPG and here’s just a small scope of the many highlights that the team has accomplished for our clients recently:

  • OPG has just finished building and tweaking a full reports engine that will assist in everyday operations on an enterprise operation management platform that OPG built and maintains. Additionally, OPG’s development team made numerous updates to the system that will help to improve workflow and lesson booking and tracking.
  • OPG is continuously working on strengthening security to protect our clients’ systems from attacks. We used industry standard hardening practices to help protect against the myriad attack vectors that exist today. This includes keeping all platforms up to date and applying critical security patches as they are released. A web application firewall was also deployed as an extra layer of insurance.
  • OPG just finished a stellar redesign of a large client platform to be more modern and create a better user experience. For this project OPG has also integrated Square with Magento to make for a better inventory and POS system that is seamless and easy to use for everyone involved. This deployment allows full management of inventory in the Square platform, with inventory synced to a Magento platform. Pretty slick stuff.
  • OPG is in the process of making several updates to one of their healthcare industry client’s iOS and Android Apps that will provide the user with the access to more information and better control of their information. These adjustments meet many “voice of customer” requests and further extend the value of this client’s platform to its customers.

So many exciting things happening for OPG and for all our clients (aka. Our Partners)! Cannot wait to see what the next month brings!