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F-Root: Getting the Band Back Together

Flashback to the Summer of 2004, Redwood City, California. Internet Software Consortium (as it was called then) is holding an all-hands meeting, and people have flown in from around the world, in some cases to meet each other in person for the first time. I have pleasant memories of a pub quiz in Palo Alto where the knowledge of geography of the assembled Stanford student teams was clearly demonstrated to be pathetic by the widely-travelled European ISC contingent, as well as some small controversy about whether a Daddy Long Legs was a spider or an insect. (It’s an insect. North Americans are wrong. That’s right, I said it.)

During the punishing, multi-day hangover that followed I got to know Dave Knight, who had recently joined ISC from the RIPE NCC in Amsterdam. Dave had led the project to distribute K-Root infrastructure around the NCC’s European service region and beyond using anycast, and it turned out he had based that project in part on some earlier work we had done at ISC with F-Root. Turns out Dave and I got along, and we would spend the next decade hopping in rough synchronisation through a succession of other projects at DNS-related organisations, most recently at Dyn.

Dave and I are not the only people here at Dyn with a history of the root server system. Carlos Vicente, the Principal Engineer responsible for network automation at Dyn (he was at NANOG last week in Chicago, talking about it) also worked at ISC and supported F-Root.

The people involved in operating the various root servers are a close-knit collection of engineers who, despite their diverse affiliations in education, non-profit, government, military and commercial organisations, have a strikingly consistent culture of public service with respect to the core infrastructure of the DNS. That culture has matured over many years of meetings, coordination, tabletop-exercises and real-life incident management, and the deep, inter-personal trust that underpins that culture goes a long way to explain the decades of 100% uptime provided by the root server system as a whole.

The human network of which Dave, Carlos and I are examples is a big part of why the partnership between ISC and Dyn to host instances of the F-Root server feels like a natural fit. Not only do the two organisations speak the same language of DNS availability and performance; individual engineers in both companies are already part of the same close-knit community that powers the system as a whole.

F-Root will soon become a first class tenant on Dyn’s distributed edge platform, and those instances of F will join the substantial deployment already implemented by ISC to help expand the footprint to new locations, providing local service to yet more end-users. It’s great to be working with our old friends again, doing our small part to make the root server system more resilient, one location at a time.


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Whois: Joe Abley

Joe Abley is Director of Infrastructure at Dyn. He lives in Ontario, Canada with two increasingly sardonic children, a motorcycle and a long-suffering, incontinent cat called Lucy.