ICANN turns on root server cluster in Singapore

Comprising "dozens of servers", the new Managed Root Server cluster in Singapore is ICANN's first in Asia-Pacific, where its smaller sites are its busiest and currently receive twice as many queries as Europe.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has turned on an ICANN Managed Root Server (IMRS) cluster in Singapore, marking it the first of such site in Asia-Pacific. The region currently sees the highest volume of queries worldwide, receiving twice as many as Europe.

The new cluster will help boost the root server capacity for this region as well as the overall resiliency of the root server system, said ICANN in a statement Thursday. The organisation's Asia-Pacific office is located in Singapore.

Comprising "dozens of servers with substantial internet connectivity", the Singapore cluster is ICANN's fourth worldwide with two residing in North America and one in Europe, according to the organisation's senior vice president and CTO, David Conrad. 

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"Our existing, smaller IMRS sites in the Asia-Pacific region already receive twice as many queries as Europe, the next-busiest region. Adding an IMRS cluster in Singapore is both strategic and a good use of ICANN resources," Conrad said. 

In Asia-Pacific, ICANN's IMRS instances peak at 140,000 DNS queries per second, while peaks in Europe hit 70,000 DNS queries per second, an ICANN spokesperson told ZDNet.

Asked if it had plans to add more clusters in this region, the spokesperson said: "Our Office of CTO is working on a study to better understand where siting new IMRS instances within the network topology would provide the most benefit to users. We will continue to monitor and add more clusters as needed."

Established in 1998 under the US Department of Commerce, ICANN oversees the infrastructure that matches Web addresses to their corresponding IP addresses. It coordinates these identify-and-match tasks, enabling internet users anywhere to locate and access a site via a decipherable Web address, rather than a string of numbers. This means that the DNS (Domain Name System) will translate Web addresses typed into a browser, such as "zdnet.com", into the numerical language that machines use to communicate. 

After years of delay, ICANN's administrative functions were officially transferred out of US jurisdiction in October 2016, but the non-profit organisation's operations remains bound by Californian laws.

Citing its OCTO-008 research paper released in April, ICANN said global DNS traffic climbed nearly 30% during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. 

It said the Singapore IMRS cluster would will enable more of the queries originating in Asia-Pacific to be answered, regardless of the behaviour of networks or servers in other regions. 

"In the event of an attack resulting in significant additional traffic globally, the extra capacity provided by the Singapore cluster will absorb the traffic and help to mitigate the attack," it noted. "Queries in the region can then continue to be answered, thus, reducing the risk of downtime caused by an inability to query the top of the DNS name hierarchy."

According to ICANN, root servers respond to initial DNS lookup requests made by DNS resolvers -- generally operated by Internet service providers (ISPs) such as Reliance in India or iiNet in Australia. For all other queries, the root server will respond with either a referral to the appropriate top-level domain (TLD) name server or an error response.

Each root server comprises several independent machines located across multiple locations, and the entire root name server network encompasses more than 1,000 "instances" that are operated by 12 organisations. These are mostly based in the US and include ICANN, Verisign, US Department of Defense, University of Maryland, and NASA, but one operator -- the WIDE Project -- is an internet organisation based in Japan.

Each root operator has instances across multiple geographic locations, so where an operator is based is not necessarily relevant to the level of service they provide, according to ICANN. 

The spokesperson said: "The IMRS is a great example. It has a worldwide presence even though ICANN [as an organisation] is headquartered in the US. Also, there are already a large number of instances in Asia-Pacific that are run by various root operators."

The IMRS itself comprises nearly 170 large and small sites worldwide, where machines at the large sites are called clusters, while the ones at small sites are known as instances. Of these, 63 IMRS instances are located in 34 countries in Asia-Pacific.  

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