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GoDaddy’s Meltdown

September 11 2012

On Monday (September 10, 2012), thousands – perhaps millions – of websites went dark when GoDaddy’s servers went down. This may or may not have been the result of impressive hacking; a member of the group Anonymous claimed credit while GoDaddy asserts that it was absolutely "not caused by external influences." While shockwaves shuddered across our Internet-addicted society and social media outlets like Facebook erupted with the news, the team at RE Technology saw an excellent opportunity to discuss the logistics of website hosting.

What GoDaddy Does
First, let’s take a look at GoDaddy’s business model, what they actually do. This will help explain the dramatic results of yesterday’s incident. While they offer a broad array of services, there are 3 primary services that are important in this scenario.

 

  • GoDaddy is the world’s largest domain registrar. This means that they manage the circulation, assignment, and transfer of domain names for commercial gain. In other words, if you want to buy a domain name for your new website (let’s say you’d like to use www.SuzySellsRealEstate.com), you get in touch with a domain registrar like GoDaddy to confirm that the domain name is available and buy it.
  • The company is also a DNS server. This means that they translate the IP address of your website into the domain name you’ve purchased (and vice versa). So, without a DNS server, you (and anyone trying to access your site) would be typing in a series of numbers like 192.168.10.10, rather than www.SuzySellsRealEstate.com.
  • They also host websites. You’re probably familiar with website hosting, but in case you’re not, here’s a simple explanation. The Web host for your site is someone you pay to store the information for your Web pages on their server and to deliver that information to anyone who wants to visit your website at any time.

As you can see, all of these services tie together, and GoDaddy serves as a one-stop-shop for many small businesses that want to purchase a domain name (registrar), associate that domain name with a server hosting the website (DNS Server), and host your website. However, few people choose to use GoDaddy for all of those services. Instead, GoDaddy is used most frequently as a domain register and DNS server, with those services purchased á la carte (for instance, many consumers just use GoDaddy to purchase their domain name with free DNS management).

Understanding what GoDaddy does also makes it clear why their meltdown had such strong repercussions for so many sites. If your DNS server goes down, your domain name cannot be translated into an IP address, making your site inaccessible when someone types www.YourDomainName.com into a browser, because the internet cannot use the GoDaddy DNS server to relay that person to the server where your website is hosted.

What You Can Do
Did your site go down in the GoDaddy debacle? If it did and you’re wondering what you can do, you may want to consider asking your website host if they provide DNS services. You can find out how to transfer away from GoDaddy in this article from Mashablearticle from Mashable (scroll to the slideshow at the bottom of the page).

However, we should note that this is a first for GoDaddy and that they responded promptly and effectively under considerable pressure. Their website, and those they serve, are back up. Despite this week’s events, GoDaddy will likely continue to have a firm grasp on their leading position as a Web register and provider of DNS services.