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Public Domain Name Services Found Slowing Web Performance

Fabián Bustamante (Northwestern University)

Fabián Bustamante (Northwestern University)

Computer scientists at Northwestern University in Illinois found the global trend toward public domain name systems (DNSs) — to look up Internet addresses before making connections — is slowing down the Web for many visitors. A team led by Northwestern computer science professor Fabián Bustamante (pictured left) will discuss these findings at the ACM Internet Measurement Conference next month in Boston, but they also wrote a program to fix the problem.

Domain name look-ups that connect Web names to numeric Internet address codes have traditionally been a function of Internet service providers, but the quality of DNS look-ups can vary from one provider to another. Public DNS services formed to offer Web users a more consistent, high-quality level of service — faster performance and greater security, for example — with companies like OpenDNS and corporate brand names such as Google and Norton getting into the act. Public DNS services, in turn, gain valuable marketing insights by tracking millions of individual Web visiting patterns.

Bustamante and colleagues examined these public DNS services, particuarly their interactions with content delivery networks, which are systems of distributed and interconnected Web servers for hosting large and high-traffic sites. Akamai, Level 3, and Amazon are among the content delivery network vendors. These networks provide replicas of Web site content in their servers around the world, with visitors usually directed to the geographically closest version.

In their study, Bustamante and colleagues discovered that 70 percent of the 1,000 most popular sites on the Web use content delivery networks. The Northwestern team also found, however, that public DNS services do not always route visitors seeking these more popular sites to the closest content delivery network location. In fact, visitors can be sent to sites three times further away than necessary.

The researchers note that DNS services and content delivery networks are aware of and working on the problem, but until the various parties can find a solution, Web visitors are stuck with a choice between slow service from public DNS services or inconsistent performance from private DNS look-ups. To provide a better alternative, Bustamante’s lab developed software that optimizes connections between public DNS services and content delivery networks.

The program called namehelp runs as a background routine in the computer, with personalized benchmarks to determine the optimal DNS configuration and to load Web sites faster. If namehelp finds that a user is receiving less than optimal Web performance, the software automatically gets DNS services to use the nearest possible content delivery network location to retrieve the visitor’s desired Web site content.

The namehelp software is available as a free download from Bustamante’s Aqualab. Windows, Linux, and Mac versions are available.

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