Google proposes geo-smart Internet speedup

The Internet's address system sometimes can inappropriately route people to servers far away. Google proposes a DNS change to try to fix it.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read

Google and other companies interested in the Internet's addressing system have proposed a technology they hope will get Net users to nearby servers more quickly.

The technology in question is called the Domain Name System, which resolves alphabetical Net addresses such as CNET.com to the numeric addresses actually used to reach the appropriate server. Google's interest in DNS is so strong the company launched its own service in an effort to lower some of the delays that can result when the network equipment most proximate to a Net user doesn't have the numeric address for a particular server immediately on hand.

The move is interesting not just because it has the potential to speed up a very common chore--DNS resolution queries take place many times a day as a person surfs the Web, sends e-mail, and performs other tasks on the Internet. It's also intriguing because it shows Google's desire to gradually re-engineer the Internet, not just provide its own services. The company also is active in developing and promoting a variety of Web standards.

The process of finding the correct numeric address is called DNS resolution, and it can involve a request hopping several steps from server to server trying to find the right answer. The problem is that sometimes by the time the answer is retrieved, it comes from the far side of the planet and gives a geographically inappropriate answer. In general, the farther away a server is, the slower communications with it are.

Think of it as looking up an item's price in Auckland and getting the answer in U.S. dollars instead of New Zealand dollars. Sure, you can do the math to get the local answer, but it's an extra step.

This is where Google and Neustar UltraDNS come in. They proposed a DNS extension Wednesday to try to build some geographic smarts into the system.

Specifically, the proposed extension, called Client IP information in DNS requests, would send along the first three quarters of a user's Internet Protocol (IP) address with the DNS request. The last quarter would be lopped off to preserve some privacy, but the first part should be enough to geographically target the answer in some cases. As designed, it would for example return the address for Google's Dutch server, not Google's California server, to a person in the Netherlands who needs to reach it.

Next up: evaluation of the proposal. "We plan to continue working with all interested parties on implementing this solution and are looking forward to a healthy discussion on the dnsext mailing list," said Google Public DNS team members Wilmer van der Gaast and Carlo Contavalli in a blog post about the proposal