For 36 hours beginning April 1, Aberdeen's Web site disappeared from
view on the WWW. Users trying to access our Web resources or send us
e-mail received the message "DNS entry not found." It wasn't an April
Fool's Day joke - but maybe we were the April Fools nonetheless.
There's a lesson in risk management here for every organization for
whom the Internet is now (or will soon become) mission-critical - and
we think that means just about everyone.
For Want of Thirty-Five Dollars...
Recently, Aberdeen Group was the victim of a simple administrative
error on the part of Network Solutions, Inc. (NASDAQ: NSOL). NSOL
currently acts as the exclusive registrar for all domain names within
the .com, .org, and .net top-level domains on the Internet, and the
company also provides registration services for more than 240
country-code domains. Domain names provide customers with a unique
Internet identity and physical address to communicate, market, and
transact electronic commerce.
In early March, Network Solutions informed Aberdeen Group that we
hadn't paid our thirty-five-dollar ($35) annual domain registration
bill. But we had paid it - and on time. We e-mailed back to the
company saying, "We've paid." In late March, NSOL again warned us
that it was going to shut off service. We then sent the company a
letter by overnight courier saying, "We've paid" - and enclosed a
copy of our cancelled check to prove it.
Aberdeen's April Fool's Day
We thought that would be enough. But we were clearly the April Fools
in this story. On April 1, NSOL deleted the Aberdeen site from the
DNS (Domain Name Server) tables that are replicated by NSOL to nearly
every ISP in the world and that control routing of messages over the
Internet. Aberdeen's Internet identity vanished.
We were slow to catch on at first - because we had an unrelated ISP
hardware problem shortly before this issue began, and the DNS
replication process takes time - with our site disappearing at
different moments in time, depending on the physical location of the
person trying to access Aberdeen. But we knew from phone messages
that our Web site wasn't visible. First our e-mail slowed to a
trickle, and then it disappeared entirely.
Convincing NSOL to restore our service wasn't easy. The company never
actually acknowledged that it was in error. It demanded a new credit
card payment. (We gladly paid the same bill twice - a small price to
pay!) Surly service was part of our NSOL package. Once NSOL agreed
that our account was in good standing, it took nearly 72 hours to
completely fix the problem - the time required to replicate the
corrected DNS tables around the world.
Don't Get Mad - Get Even
Aberdeen Group is a market research firm. We write about technology
and its impact on business for a living. Our first reaction was
But when we seriously considered our plight, our ultimate reaction
was fear - for the thousands of companies whom we have encouraged to
embrace the Internet as a means for competitive advantage. We study
numerous companies for whom the Internet is the sole or primary sales
channel - companies like Amazon.com, e-Bay, and Broadcast.com. A
two-day interruption in their on-line order stream would have a
material impact on corporate revenue. And, we know of companies who
rely on the Internet for just-in-time (JIT) inventory replenishment -
for whom a two-day outage could mean stoppages on the production
line. All for want of a misprocessed $35 payment.
More Than a Fluke Event
Aberdeen is not the first company that has suffered a loss of
Cyber-identity. We believe similar events happen with too much
The current process clearly has flaws - or the type of problem that
Aberdeen experienced wouldn't happen. Obviously NSOL has a right to
expect payment for its services. And withholding registration
services is an appropriate and powerful remedy for organizations
defaulting on payment obligations.
But the Internet is becoming the life-blood of many businesses. The
process by which this corporate artery is clamped shut needs to be
carefully managed. And because of the slowness built into the process
of shutting off a site and then re-establishing it, the people
managing domain registrations have an obligation to be especially
careful to avoid mistakes. Outages resulting from such mistakes are
likely to average 48 to 72 hours' duration - an intolerable time span
for Web-dependent businesses.
Network Solutions clearly needs to review its procedures for
termination of registration rights. Our experience demonstrates that
there are unacceptable flaws in the current system. And their
customer service team should be sent back to the Gulag for
NSOL grew and has prospered because the National Science Foundation
granted it a monopoly status. The potential to abuse such status is
vast - and such abuse is the stuff of regulatory oversight. Al Gore
take note, if you really want to take ownership for the Internet!
What happened to Aberdeen Group shouldn't happen to any organization.
But competition for NSOL is now lurking in the nearby wings. And we,
for one, can't wait.
- David Alschuler
One Boston Place
02108 USA Telephone: 617.723.7890