Good value commercial DNS providers?

· by Steve · Read in about 3 min · (616 Words)

DNS hosting is one of those awkward things - it’s absolutely essential to anyone who controls those little textual brands we call ‘domains’, but it’s an invisible service which you don’t appreciate much on a day-to-day basis. The chances are not good that any user of the internet, after a session of heavy web browsing, will say “Wow, DNS was awesome today”.

I’ve used a few approaches to DNS over the years - in the early days when I was naïve, I used the built-in DNS of my web host; which I learned the hard way was a serious mistake, since switching away from a crappy web host is made more difficult when they hold the reigns for routing your domain too. So, I initially moved the DNS to my registrar instead, until I suffered an outage (admittedly only one in many years) caused by them hosting all their DNS in one datacentre (ie single point of failure).

For the past few years I’ve used ZoneEdit to provide distributed, and therefore theoretically more resilient DNS for my domains. That still ended up having problems when the free servers they provide experienced a DDoS attack a couple of years back, taking all the free servers I was using out at once. I compensated for that by purchasing extra servers from them, and setting up a server of my own (I’ve since stopped doing the latter since it’s too much hassle) - so my costs on this front are a modest $20 a year.

Generally, this has worked fine. However in recent weeks I’ve had two problems with ZoneEdit - firstly their interface has been slowing to a crawl far too often which is intolerable when you’re trying to make important changes. Secondly, they have this odd setup where their servers will refuse to answer DNS questions for your domains until they detect that the Whois information for your domain has been updated to point at them. I guess they do this to stop people spamming them with requests for alternate domains, but it has two major drawbacks:

  1. You can’t test your DNS setup until your site is already dependent on it, and
  2. There’s a time lag between the Whois information starting to propagate, and ZoneEdit picking up that it’s changed and activating the servers

This means that mistakes are hard to detect until its too late, and even if your setup is perfect, there is a window of time where your domain falls between two stools - Whois is updated and directing DNS requests to ZoneEdit, but ZoneEdit hasn’t realised yet and isn’t answering. The only way you can do it reliably is to change one server at a time - ie mix and match between ZoneEdit and your other DNS providers as the change propagates. This makes a switchover more hassle than it really should be though.

So, I’m looking around for another DNS host. I’m willing to pay, in fact for an efficient, SLA-backed service that doesn’t waste my time, I’d be glad to. Free services and peer-organised systems are fine, but really I just want something that works well and doesn’t need hand-holding.

Any suggestions? I’ve heard some good things about DNS Made Easy - they’re more expensive than ZoneEdit, but cheaper than most of the larger commercial offerings and seem to get reasonable reviews. However my enquiry email to their sales department (regarding switchover protocols & timings) has so far gone unanswered, which made me wonder. Anyone got direct experience with them or another similarly priced set-up? I’m looking for something with globally distributed servers, fast updates (preferably full TTL control), and uptime SLA, to manage up to around 10 domains, costing up to $100 a year.