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The Online Retailer's Secret Weapon: Managed DNS

November 27, 2017
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Managed DNS and online shopping

Year over year, more shoppers are turning to online shopping during the Thanksgiving weekend. If you take Cyber Monday out of the equation, between Thanksgiving night and the Sunday before Cyber Monday, online sales still reign supreme. A survey by the National Retail Federation found that 59% of shoppers plan to shop online this year, marking the first time that online is the most popular choice for shoppers. But this doesn’t mean that brick and mortar stores are becoming obsolete. The decrease in foot traffic was almost statistically irrelevant (less than one percent) on Black Friday according to ShopperTrak. The slight dip may be the consequence of a record number of brick-and-mortar store closures amounting to 6,735 in the last year. While actual stores may be dwindling, these retail giants are not disappearing anytime soon. But this trend isn’t exclusive to the Thanksgiving weekend. Holidays year round and general shopping (like groceries and electronics) have seen rapid growth in online shopping.

With more and more traffic moving to the web, businesses need to have a year-round strategy.

Online businesses need to revamp their online strategies and prepare for year-round traffic surges.

Your website is dependent on many different services to stay online. The most important being who you trust for your hosting services. Most people think first of web hosting, maybe content delivery, but rarely of DNS hosting.

Secret Weapon: the DNS

DNS (Domain Name System) hosting is the most overlooked, yet important part of every business’ stack. Most people forget DNS because frankly, it isn’t sexy. The DNS is the primordial glue that holds the Internet together by mapping domain names to their computer-readable IP address. It’s often taken for granted because it’s been around for over three decades. But there have been recent innovations in DNS management services that leverage the DNS to keep websites online during peak periods and actually improve performance on a global scale. We are going to show you how you can use a managed DNS service to withstand any amount of traffic year round without breaking the bank.

Reliability and DNS

Unfortunately, DNS is known for making headlines when it fails. If a hosting provider’s nameservers are overwhelmed by traffic, they can crash. The only way to withstand a DNS provider outage is to use more than one provider. Multi-provider strategies (also called Secondary DNS) have become increasingly popular in the last two years after a handful of major vendors suffered outages. We took a look at the top 25 online retailers in the United States and found that nineteen had outsourced their DNS hosting to a third party DNS provider. In most industries we’ve looked at, an overwhelming majority of organizations have migrated to an external provider.

Retail websites with multiple DNS providers

But what surprised us was that only four organizations that outsourced their DNS were using more than one DNS provider. There was an exception, though. One company used a hybrid configuration which uses a third-party provider in addition to in-house DNS infrastructure. You may remember some of our previous studies which found that (slowly but surely) more businesses are switching to multi-vendor configurations. We hope to see this trend penetrate the e-commerce industry more next year. This year, we only saw two retailers suffer outages during Black Friday, both of which were among the list of 25 largest retailers in the US. Lowes buckled under the traffic surges forcing customers to wait and reload their browsers every minute until their systems weren’t overloaded. In past years, we’ve seen retailers leverage DNS management services to segment traffic and offload some of the weight to backup or third-party systems. Macy’s credit card processor experienced crippling delays. Unfortunately, this isn’t an issue you can solve directly. We encountered a similar issue last year when our credit card processor was unavailable for a few hours because it used a DNS provider that was downed from DDoS attack. What you can do is when you are looking for a service (like a credit card processor), check to see if they use more than one DNS provider. If they don’t, maybe suggest that they look into it.

Improving performance with DNS

Think of all the amazing things you could do if you could control how your users reach your website. Go beyond just sending them from point A to point B. What if you could deliver the best possible experience every time to your clients? You can with the DNS. DNS is the like a policeman directing traffic through an intersection. It decides how each person will reach your systems. Let’s say it’s Black Friday and you want to make sure that all of your customers will enjoy a fast and reliable connection to your site. There are a couple different things we can do. First, your systems in the US will be answering most (if not all) of your traffic. You can create a DNS rule that offloads some of the traffic to nearby systems in Europe. The less strain on your US systems will decrease load times. Second, remember those multi-vendor strategies we were talking about earlier? Well, they don’t just apply to DNS providers. Many large retailers are implementing multi-CDN configurations that are managed by DNS records. These DNS records automatically send varying amounts of traffic to each CDN’s network.

You can learn more about the advantages and how to setup Multi-CDN strategies here.

Some services will test the systems in that record and only send users to the fastest one. Constellix recently began offering this service, which we call ITO Record Pools. These strategies lead to lower load times, which has been shown to increase conversion rates and improve SEO over time.

Big Picture

It’s never too late to start. While the Thanksgiving weekend and Cyber Monday may have passed, there are many other opportunities to test out these managed DNS strategies. You can add a secondary DNS provider, CDN service, and create records to manage them in a matter of minutes. With more and more shoppers turning to the web, the next crippling surge could be just around the corner. Invest in redundancy and leverage the DNS to manage your multi-vendor configurations. It could be your brand in the headlines next…

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