Using DNS more intelligently to cut carbon emissions from the first click

In this guest post, Bal Garcha, director of customer success for Europe, Middle East, India and Africa, domain name system (DNS) specialist NS1, sets out the role this technology can play in helping enterprises reduce the size of their carbon footprint

Often regarded as the ‘phone book of the Internet,’ DNS is a building block for connectivity and nearly every digital device in the world relies on it. So, whether an enterprise user is working in an application on the cloud, or a family wants to stream a movie on Amazon Prime, access is enabled by DNS.

Expand that picture to take in critical national infrastructure, global banking systems, and government networks, as well as corporate IT environments, and it’s clear to see that the way DNS is deployed can bring about many benefits including an important role in improving carbon efficiency.

There are various ways in which the use of DNS can be changed to reduce energy consumption, but primarily success rests on maximising the efficiency of data transit and lowering latency. This should not be done in isolation but be part of an organisation’s IT carbon reduction plan.

The start of this should be an IT carbon audit: a calculation of all direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions created by the organisation’s IT footprint. Until a calculation based on an appropriate emission factor is made, no organisation can effectively determine and plan how it can lower, eliminate, or offset its footprint.

From a DNS perspective, there are four practical steps that companies can take to improve their approach and lower their carbon footprint:

Enterprise environments with on-premises IT infrastructure often run their own external DNS services. If they were to decommission servers and appliances dedicated to this task and use a specialist Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) DNS offering instead, this would quickly reduce the energy required for power, cooling, maintaining, and backing-up those resources. This would also reduce the amount of manual effort needed to manage systems, an activity which adds no value to the business, but which absorbs employee time and attention.

Using a managed DNS service will inherently have a significant impact on reducing an organisation’s carbon footprint because they are already optimised for this goal. Companies offering managed DNS use hyperscale datacentres for their solutions. It allows them to leverage the most efficient and effective resources from a datacentre perspective, but because they serve thousands of customers, it also ensures they can maximise the carbon effectiveness of their deployed resources. The use of container technologies can also increase efficiency and lower carbon emissions.

The transmission of data across today’s distributed, complex environments has never been so energy intensive. However, the same DNS solutions that allow for the scaling of applications to the edge, cloud and beyond are also helping to lower emissions without impacting on application performance.

Workloads can be run across globally distributed Kubernetes clusters or by using serverless functions within service provider environments that are closer to users and machines, and this truncates the transit of data, lowers latency, and reduces the demand for energy. A good example of this is a streaming provider, which ensures not only the reliable performance of its service by using a multi-CDN approach distributed across a range of global locations, but also lowers its emissions as part of the process.

To be fully carbon efficient, SaaS-based DNS services allow IT teams to use application steering policies that enable traffic to be balanced between resources as conditions change. If a resource is not responsive, traffic can be rerouted seamlessly, thereby optimising data transit and the energy required to deliver it to the user. Using geo-based DNS routing, users can also be directed to the closest and most responsive services minimising both latency and traffic distance and improving user experience. It could be argued that building and providing users with faster access to applications and services through better DNS management reduces the need for consumers to continually upgrade their hardware therefore delaying the continual hardware refresh cycles.

By using more efficient DNS services, organisations will improve their carbon footprint, but it must be as part of a broader range of measures. Many organisations are in the process of digital transformation, and this will automatically result in greater efficiencies, particularly if it involves migrating to the cloud and reducing power hungry physical infrastructure.

A carbon audit will create a foundation on which sustainability decisions can be made and determine what can and can’t be achieved, but employee insight is also vital in understanding where energy is being used unnecessarily. Canvassing opinion will lead to ideas that can be harnessed to create positive movement from the ground up. If organisations can select a combination of short-term wins that will then lead to longer term initiatives, this will make progress more visible and accountable. Making DNS efficient is just part of the equation, but when the aim is to reduce your carbon footprint to zero, it has a special contribution to make.

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