Today we are getting back to the basics. Really simple stuff like how content gets served up on the internet. I'm going to keep things at a fairly high level, so don't flame me if I oversimplify things. I was trying to explain this to my Mom recently (Hi Mom!) and that inspired me to write this blog.
The first thing that has to happen is for the viewer to make a request by typing in a site name or clicking on a link in a web browser. That request usually has a text-based name as part of the request (like "www.softlayer.com"). Each name has a domain ("softlayer.com") and each domain has an authoritative nameserver to translate the name into a numerical address. That numerical address is used by the internet infrastructure to make sure the request gets to the right place. Phone numbers work the same way, so just think of an IP address (and domain name) serving the same purpose as a traditional phone number which defines the location of the “owner” of the number (at least in the landline world) based on country, region, and city.
If the nameserver for a name is slow or down, then the request will be delayed, or even worse, fail because the nameserver was not available to translate the name into an address. And if the translation fails, the viewer will not get the content he or she requested.
So, if you are running a website, you want your nameservers to be highly available and service the request as quickly as possible. Here is where I get to brag about SoftLayer a little. We provide nameserver service to our customers. Our customers can use our web portal or a sophisticated programming interface (the SoftLayer API) to manage the numerical addresses for their names. We have located nameservers at several locations and we keep the data synchronized between the sites. Our nameservers themselves have the same addresses using a technology called anycast (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anycast).
What all this means is that our customers get to have their name to number translation hosted at multiple sites. This results in faster translation times and in the case of a disaster at one site, the other nameservers will still be working.
In other words, SoftLayer has very cool nameservers.