auDA – More questions and answers

By LAURIE PATTON | 26 July 2018

As I’ve previously written, tomorrow in Melbourne a Special General Meeting will determine the fate of three directors of auDA – the company managing our Internet domain names – including the independent chair Chris Leptos.

I recently published a Q&A with Cameron Boardman, the CEO of auDA, and subsequently a list of questions for the Grumpies – the small group of auDA members that called for the meeting. They have so far refused to answer their questions.

The additional information below has been supplied by auDA for its members and anyone else interested in the future of our domain names service.

It appears the motions to spill the board positions will fail. However, the outcome of the SGM is moot in any case. The Federal Government is insisting on serious reform of the organisation’s governance and this will see a new constitution, and perhaps a new board, in place before the end of the year.

The Grumpies have engaged in one of the most disingenuous and destructive social media campaigns I have ever seen by so-called professionals. It would be nice to think that after tomorrow they will change their ways, but you’d have to doubt that frankly.

Why did you change registry operator?

auDA: We are required to run a periodic tender for the registry operator to ensure we receive the best value service, and that the operator of the registry is open to market competition. The last tender was run in 2005. The incumbent, AusRegistry, was successful for a second time in 2005. Since then their contract has been extended twice. In 2017 we ran a tender process and received nine responses from around the world.  After an extensive evaluation exercise Afilias was successful. They received the highest score on non-financial criteria and their pricing was close to the market average.

What was wrong with AusRegistry?

auDA: Nothing. In fact, AusRegistry was a very good registry operator. Nonetheless, AusRegistry was acquired by Neustar in the USA in 2015 and Afilias simply provided a superior proposal. Afilias and Neustar are known fierce competitors. They have each had their wins and losses in tender processes, like any other global IT vendors.

Is Afilias based in Australia?

auDA: A condition of the tender was that the successful provider establish infrastructure and employ staff to operate the registry in Australia. Afilias has an office in Melbourne Central and has employed local staff. The main registry infrastructure operates in Melbourne with a disaster recovery site in Sydney. They have established DNS name servers in every state and territory capital city.

What international backup does Afilias provide?

auDA: Afilias has a software engineering centre in Canada. They provide 24/7 customer support to registrars, and depending on the time of day the call goes to the most appropriate office around the world. The Melbourne office is staffed 7am to 7pm, Monday to Friday. The Canadian office in Toronto is staffed 7am to 11pm weekdays (Toronto time) and 24/7 over the weekend.

What are some of the benefits from the new registry arrangements?

auDA: Firstly, lower wholesale pricing – 10 percent. Also, significant funds available to auDA to invest in growing awareness of .au and its benefits over other Top Level Domains. Also, pro-active monitoring of compliance and improved security end-to-end. We now have two TLD registry operators with local staff and facilities in Australia. In additional to .au, Afilias offers TLD’s such as .info and .org. Neustar offers TLD’s such as .loan, .co (Columbia), .biz, .melbourne, .sydney, and .men, which are sold to Australian individuals and organisations through registrars in Australia. This increase in competition and choice in the Australian market will ensure that .au continues to be able to take advantage of market competition when it runs future registry tenders. Australian-based registrars will also have multiple registries competing for their business locally.

Is Afilias DNS better than Neustar DNS?

auDA: Afilias has placed DNS name servers in every state and territory capital city. DNS software resolvers will iteratively choose a name server that gives the best round trip time performance. This generally means they take advantage of the closest name server from a network perspective.

As Australia has multiple network operators, and these operators use their own network links and routing equipment, it is possible for a user in Perth to receive an answer from a name server in Sydney, even though there is a name server already in Perth. Afilias is steadily optimising the routing paths with these network operators, and over time the DNS performance is improving.  Generally we expect that users in Sydney and Melbourne will get similar performance to that they received previously, whereas users in more remote parts of Australia will progressively experience improved performance.

Afilias also operates a global array of DNS name servers so that users around the world have a high level of performance when trying to reach .au websites. This is obviously important for Australian websites that sell services to users overseas. As noted before, it is possible with some network operators (particularly those that are global telcos) for a query to be routed to a DNS name server overseas. However the DNS resolvers in Australia will optimise to ensure they normally query a local server.

Was it a seamless transition?

auDA: In our view, and based on the reports we’ve received, yes. There was understandably some fine tuning that had to take place. More than 3.1 million records were transitioned successfully and there was no downtime in the DNS service during the transition. The new registry publishes additional DNS information so some old DNS records in the registry needed to be updated. Likewise, some IT service providers use features like domain name availability checking and password retrieval provided by the registry, rather than getting those services from the competitive market of registrars. The new registry provided these services via a web interface designed for human users, but IT service providers needed computer-to-computer interfaces. These are now being provided. A few registrars needed specific functionality to support their resellers that was previously available and this functionality is now being added to meet their needs.

What’s next for auDA?

auDA: Now that we have the registry management transition largely behind us, we will continue to monitor Afilias’ performance to ensure it meets the terms of their contract. We will also maintain a watching brief on international developments to ensure that .au remains one of the leading domains. Our next most immediate priority now is to undertake the consultation process under way in order to meet the demands of the Government for governance reform.

(Laurie Patton is a member of auDA and the former CEO / Executive Director of Internet Australia. He is currently advising Afilias Australia, the company appointed to take over the management of the .au registry for auDA from 1 July 2018. However, the views expressed here are his own and have not been endorsed by Afilias.)