The core of Nominum's business is DNS expertise. The company's chief scientist is Dr. Paul Mockapetris, inventor of DNS. Other notables include numbering expert David Conrad and DHCP expert Ted Lemon.
With respected expertise, the Redwood City, Calif.-based company has gained as customers most of the world's top 100 telcos. "Our focus is on network naming and addressing," explains Albert Gouyet, Nominum vice president of marketing. "Our products offer high performance carrier class reliability and scalability, with the flexibility of open SPIs."
So if the people in the company wrote the open source software, what do customers get by buying a product? "The open source products were originally written for the enterprise, not for carriers" says Gouyet. "We would never say that open source is bad. What we're saying is that the software works up to a certain scale, but that if you push it to carrier levels, you hit limits."
It's more than scalability. There are new stresses on DNS like spam, anti-spam, botnets, and P2P networks. "The growth of DNS usage is outpacing everything else on the net," he claims.
Some DNS server issues are due to bad queries, such as server looking for a workgroup 1,000 times per second and being told each time that the workgroup does not exist. Gouyet claims such bad queries amount to 93 percent of DNS traffic, but we're skeptical. Do your own tests.
Building from the basics to the services
Now the company is announcing a service that once nearly brought down the internet: non-existent URL redirection. "Yes, we know about SiteFinder," says Gouyet, when we talk about the general hostility of the internet industry to VeriSign's attempt to run its own search/ad service on all 404 error pages worldwide. "Ours is a completely different implementation."
The service is called Vantio NXR (NXR stands for non-existent domain redirection).
Gouyet says there's a real opportunity. "We can take the error code and change a bad experience into a good experience. If you do it right, you can build the ISP's brand and drive revenue."
Already providing DNS to many major carriers, Gouyet says the company has data on what the world's DNS servers are doing. One thing they're doing is handling requests for nonexistent domains, 15 to 30 percent of all requests he says, varying widely around the world.
Avoid the pitfalls
VeriSign's SiteFinder showed what happens if you do this wrong. First, you break services such as anti-spam reverse DNS lookup that need to know whether or not a domain exists. You also annoy customers. Other objections are liked in the Wikipedia entry for SiteFinder.
Most importantly, to users, was the fact that they could not opt out. The Wikipedia entry notes, "SiteFinder contained an EULA which stated that the user accepts the terms by using the servicebut since mistyping an address automatically caused the service to be used, users could not refuse to accept the terms."
Gouyet points out that VeriSign was unable to identify and track users who wanted to opt out. On the other hand, Nominum can track and deliver opt-outs even to users on DHCP, users whose IP address changes regularly.
He adds that carriers also want to avoid degrading DNS performance by adding an extra appliance because doing so affects everything that happens on the network.
He points out that ISPs don't want to break applications that users are running. Some applications, such as reverse DNS lookup, need to be able to send queries about nonexistent domains.
Finally, ISPs want to retain control over DNS redirection. They don't want to redirect DNS to someone else's servers.
Doing it right, doing it wrong
Gouyet and the Wikipedia SiteFinder entry both point to several ISPs already doing error redirection. EarthLink and Cox have a service that offers users an opt out. Charter Communications does not offer an opt out and is the BBB's current poster child for poor customer service (see Customers Doubt Charter's Commitment to Service).
"We have people who were instrumental in the development of DNS," says Gouyet. "We've looked at what can and what cannot be redirected. If we err, we choose to err on the side of responsibility. We would rather lose revenue than break things."
He adds that ISPs typically deploy the service in a test area and then expand the service when they've seen that it works.
Pricing and availability
The Vantio NXR service from Nominum is available now, bundled with the company's DNS service. It is priced per user and is best for ISPs of over 1 million users, but works well, Gouyet says, at ISPs with 100,000 or more subscribers.
Article courtesy of ISP-Planet