Expanding the Cloud with DNS - Introducing Amazon Route 53

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I am very excited that today we have launched Amazon Route 53, a high-performance and highly-available Domain Name System (DNS) service. DNS is one of the fundamental building blocks of internet applications and was high on the wish list of our customers for some time already. Route 53 has the business properties that you have come to expect from an AWS service: fully self-service and programmable, with transparent pay-as-you-go pricing and no minimum usage commitments.

Some fundamentals on Naming

Naming is one of the fundamental concepts in Distributed Systems. Entities in a system are identified through their name, which is separate from the way that you would choose to access that entity, the address that the access point resides at and what route to take to get to that address.

A simple example is the situation with Persons and Telephones; a person has a name, a person can have one or more telephones and each phone can have one or more telephone numbers. To reach an individual you will look up him or her in your address book, and select a phone (home, work, mobile) and then a number to dial. The number will be used to route the call through the myriad of switches to its destination. The person is the entity with its name, the phones are access points and the phones numbers are addresses.

Names do not necessarily need to be unique, but it makes life a lot easier if that is the case. There is more than one Werner Vogels in this world and although I never get emails, snail mail or phones calls for any of my peers, I am sure they are somewhat frustrated if they type in our name in a search engine :-).

In distributed systems we use namespaces to ensure that we can create rich naming without having to continuously worry about whether these names are indeed globally unique. Often these namespaces are hierarchical in nature such that it becomes easier to manage them and to decentralize control, which makes the system more scalable. The naming system that we are all most familiar with in the internet is the Domain Name System (DNS) that manages the naming of the many different entities in our global network; its most common use is to map a name to an IP address, but it also provides facilities for aliases, finding mail servers, managing security keys, and much more. The DNS namespace is hierarchical in nature and managed by organizations called registries in different countries. Domain registrars are the commercial interface between the DNS registries and those wishing to manage their own namespace.

DNS is an absolutely critical piece of the internet infrastructure. If it is down or does not function correctly, almost everything breaks down. It would not be a first that a customer thinks that his EC2 instance is down when in reality it is some name server somewhere that is not functioning correctly.

DNS looks relatively simple on the outside, but is pretty complex on the inside. To ensure that this critical component of the internet scales and is robust in the face of outages, replication is used pervasively using epidemic style techniques. The DNS is one of those systems that rely on Eventual Consistency to manage its globally replicated state.

While registrars manage the namespace in the DNS naming architecture, DNS servers are used to provide the mapping between names and the addresses used to identify an access point. There are two main types of DNS servers: authoritative servers and caching resolvers. Authoritative servers hold the definitive mappings. Authoritative servers are connected to each other in a top down hierarchy, delegating responsibility to each other for different parts of the namespace. This provides the decentralized control needed to scale the DNS namespace.

But the real robustness of the DNS system comes through the way lookups are handled, which is what caching resolvers do. Resolvers operate in a completely separate hierarchy which is bottoms up, starting with software caches in a browser or the OS, to a local resolver or a regional resolver operated by an ISP or a corporate IT service. Caching resolvers are able to find the right authoritative server to answer any question, and then use eventual consistency to cache the result. Caching techniques ensure that the DNS system doesn't get overloaded with queries.

The Domain Name System is a wonderful practical piece of technology; it is a fundamental building block of our modern internet. As always there are many improvements possible, and many in the area of security and robustness are always in progress.

Amazon Route 53

Amazon Route 53 is a new service in the Amazon Web Services suite that manages DNS names and answers DNS queries. Route 53 provides Authoritative DNS functionality implemented using a world-wide network of highly-available DNS servers. Amazon Route 53 sets itself apart from other DNS services that are being offered in several ways:

A familiar cloud business model: A complete self-service environment with no sales people in the loop. No upfront commitments are necessary and you only pay for what you have used. The pricing is transparent and no bundling is required and no overage fees are charged.

Very fast update propagation times: One of the difficulties with many of the existing DNS services are the very long update propagation times, sometimes it may even take up to 24 hours before updates are received at all replicas. Modern systems require much faster update propagation to for example deal with outages. We have designed Route 53 to propagate updates very quickly and give the customer the tools to find out when all changes have been propagated.

Low-latency query resolution The query resolution functionality of Route 53 is based on anycast, which will route the request automatically to the DNS server that is the closest. This achieves very low-latency for queries which is crucial for the overall performance of internet applications. Anycast is also very robust in the presence of network or server failures as requests are automatically routed to the next closest server.

No lock-in. While we have made sure that Route 53 works really well with other Amazon services such as Amazon EC2 and Amazon S3, it is not restricted to using it within AWS. You can use Route 53 with any of the resources and entities that you want to control, whether they are in the cloud or on premise.

We chose the name "Route 53" as a play on the fact that DNS servers respond to queries on port 53. But in the future we plan for Route 53 to also give you greater control over the final aspect of distributed system naming, the route your users take to reach an endpoint. If you want to learn more about Route 53 visit http://aws.amazon.com/route53 and read the blog post at the AWS Developer weblog.