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When a DNS outage isn't an outrage

Proper IT support and a snappy postmortem make all the difference

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Sysadmin blog A little over a decade ago I registered my very first personal domain name. This domain was not registered for a client or an employer. This was a domain name all my own.

When I picked my DNS provider I picked one who was affiliated with the local technology magazine, and I picked them because they were Canadian. It was the beginning of the best business relationship I have had with any cloud service provider.

The provider in question is EasyDNS. At the time, they were Canada Computes Domains. They remain today the only cloudy provider of anything that I can recommend unreservedly without feeling the need to list caveats or addenda. They do this DNS thing and they do it well.

In all the time I've had my domains with them, I have experienced only three memorable outages. If Amazon, Google or Microsoft could pull that off, I'd be out of a job. As impressive as that may sound on paper, it is not the lack of outages that impresses me. I have had client domains on over a dozen DNS providers over the years, and most of them can match this uptime. What I find unique about EasyDNS is how it handled these outages.

The bit that impresses me about EasyDNS is very simple; it bothers to keep in touch with the customer. It responds to me. Not the guy who writes for El Reg, nor as a sysadmin with hundreds of domains I can threaten to pull if I wanted to make a fuss. The company actually responds to the 140 characters of text asking irritating questions on Twitter.

This is glaring omission in the service provisioning you get from any of technology's titans of cloud computing. The last time my Google Mail went on the blink, there was quite a bit of lag between the outage and its appearance on the status page. When information does show, you get cute little icon, and very little feedback on what went wrong, why, or what the ETA is for repair.

Google has started posting postmortems after outages, but these can take over a week to be posted, and their use is still inconsistent. Microsoft and Amazon have stepped up their efforts in this area, with postmortems eventually showing up.

These are the biggest names in tech. You would expect them to provide customer engagement during an outage that was a least as good as a small company like EasyDNS could provide. The cost of such services is a rounding error to them.

But there are lots of places where even these companies fall down. I can call EasyDNS and get a real, live human being. That person will do their best to solve my problems and push me up the pyramid of screaming if they can't. Emails to their support address hit a ticket system which is very rapidly followed up by a real live person looking into my problem. Microsoft offers this, it is their shtick as a cloud provider. Amazon offers such support as an expensive premium option, and Google has only very recently decided this might be worth doing. Here are the biggest names in cloud computing struggling to reach a level of customer engagement that this tiny little company has already demonstrated.

To contrast, EasyDNS recently suffered an outage. Throughout it all, it was posting information on its blog. Its Twitter account was being kept up to date with the latest information. The company then posted a truly spot-on postmortem of the incident – including policy changes that would mitigate the possibility of the outage recurring. This information was not released to select media partners or run internally through various NDAed documents and released only in highly redacted form. This was posted on the internet for all their customers to see in real time.

Today, there are cloud providers of all sizes providing virtually any IT service imaginable. EasyDNS certainly has many competitors in its weight class. But how to pick your provider amidst such competition? Service Level Agreements are rarely worth the paper they aren't printed on.

Anyone can get DDoSed and suffer an outage. Nobody in this business is immune. How they handle those outages - and the support they offer - is what separates a company I can bet my business on from one I never will.

What are your experiences with cloudy providers? Who stands above the rest? Let us know in the comments section below. ®

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