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Six Key Issues About Operating a TLD Registry

Brand owners unfamiliar with the domain name system (DNS) are hearing that their first step in registering a top level domain (TLD) is to select a back-end TLD registry provider. The fear instilled in them is that if they don't act quickly, all available service providers will have reached their capacity. Given ICANN's tight and inflexible application submission schedule, brands don't want to be left at the starting gate.

That's a little bit of FUD — fear, uncertainty and doubt — marketing. My years of experience in the back-end TLD registry industry tell me that no matter how busy a market may be, service providers will always compete for high quality customers, especially in the months to come as intense competition impacts the contracts signed. More important, as my colleague John Matson has pointed out, selecting a back-end registry provider is not a decision to take lightly. Today, contracts are typically for 3-5 years, so you will live with your choice for a long time. So pause and plan your selection process carefully. Your choice is going to form the functional core of your registry offering, and it must be right for your registry model and your company culture and maximize the return on your opportunity.

DNS, DNSSEC and more

Most TLD registry providers will promote their DNS infrastructure and capacities first. Indeed, your domain registrations would suffer without solid DNS capability. Not only would you experience embarrassing outages that damage your reputation, but you could lose your registry entirely (more on that below). DNS is the workhorse of your registry, matching those real world registration names to numerical computer addresses in real time. This seemingly simple system is actually one of the most challenging elements to maintain in the registry operational environs because it must be on 100% of the time, respond reliably in mere milliseconds, and answer every anonymous public DNS query it receives. DNSSEC is also required for new TLDs and adds significant complexity and potential overhead to operating your DNS. Some TLD models could try to heavily leverage DNSSEC, resulting in an overhead as much as 4-6 times traditional TLD DNS traffic.

The Actual Registry

The TLD registry, also commonly known as the Shared Registration System (SRS), is where all the controls lie. Your registrations, policies, billing, the relevant DNS records that are updated to your DNS infrastructure, and business controls all reside here. Add to that some Internationalized Domain Name (IDN) logic surrounding your IDN polices and variants, as well add-on systems such as data journaling, deferred revenue systems, reporting and report distribution, and you can understand how important this core component is. This is the heart and mind of the entire system. It's where the registration process happens, and it's where existing registrations are managed. Without the SRS, the DNS simply has no work to do.

Whois: the Registration Data Distribution System (RDDS)

Your TLD registry has many interested stakeholders. RDDS allows those stakeholders to find and contact domain names registrants. It's required, and there are a few tricks and turns to making it work in the real world, including rate-limiting, web Whois and IDN issues that I will explain in later posts.

Escrow

Again, this is a required and generally a straight-forward element in registry operations. But more than that, it's essential. Get this wrong and it's again grounds to potentially lose your registry on ICANN compliance issues. I'll go into more detail in a later post, including how to pick an Escrow provider.

Service and Support

Many back-end TLD registry providers handle a variety of support functions for their customers. You need to be thinking about your needs. Among many points of consideration: Call center tech support; registry system certification testing for your registrars; registrar accreditation and sign-up support; technical support documents such as FAQs; and registry manuals. Even more important, how do you want your registry back-end provider to represent this very public face of their service on your behalf? Company culture (yours and the provider's) and registry model expectation become important here.

ICANN Compliance

With the right to operate your registry comes many commitments about how you operate your registry. Some of these are challenging, and some of them are absolute requirements. Fail them, and ICANN can take your registry away in very quick order. Your back-end registry provider is vital to your success in meeting most of these compliance elements.

I look forward to writing about these issues in more detail over the next weeks and hope these topics help you choose the right back-end registry provider. It's a choice that can alter the success or failure of your registry opportunity. Take the time to make the right one.

By Michael Young – He built the first modern EPP Top Level Domain registry in 2001 (.info) and subsequently built and operated the backend systems for numerous gTLDs, ccTLDs, IDN enabled registries and sponsored TLDs such as .org, .mobi, .in, .me and others. Architelos provides new gTLD application guidance and registry management services for clients in the DNS and IP industry. Mr. Young can be reached directly at myoung@architelos.com. Visit Page

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