2002 Review: Domain name system has a busy year

During the holiday season IDGNet is taking a look at what made headlines in 2002. Today's featured topic is the domain name system, which is undergoing one of the most radical changes to the way it is managed since its inception.

The domain name system in New Zealand is undergoing one of the most radical changes to the way it is managed since its inception.

InternetNZ, formerly the Internet Society of New Zealand (ISOCNZ), is the organisation charged with managing the .nz name space. It has recently enacted the change from a monopoly-based domain name system to a shared registry system (SRS) following the decision of the membership taken last year. The vote, in favour of developing an SRS, came as the culmination of over a year's debate on the matter - often antagonistic and usually forthright that saw the country's first online defamation case brought against a society member.

The existing system, where InternetNZ's wholly owned commercial entity Domainz ran the register of .nz names, will be finally phased out by March next year.

Domainz was in the enviable position of being the only company allowed to access the register of names directly. Any registrar (see glossary below) that wanted to add a new registration or modify an existing one needed to do so via Domainz. This natural monopoly upset many in the registrar business, not least because Domainz also sold services to their customers.

Things reached a head once the newly developed domain name registry system (DRS) proved to be unworkable. An independent report into the development of the DRS slammed both the software developer and the then CEO of Domainz for poor project management and the final cost to InternetNZ was far greater than originally budgeted.

The new SRS will allow registrars to directly access the register and change details as necessary. The new regime also includes handing management of the register itself over to a new company, .NZ Register, which will not be allowed to also compete with the registrars for business. Its role will be simply to manage the register and ensure it is always available.

The change over is staggered over several months with Domainz holding the role of stabilising registrar until March next year when registrants will be required to chose a new registrar.

A key part of the new regime is the creation of a domain name commissioner (DNC) role which will oversee the name space. Debbie Monahan was appointed DNC in April and her job will require her to vet new registrars, ensure all registrars are playing by the rules and to sort out any disputes that arise.

Monahan was soon in action as the .maori.nz second level domain (2LD) came online.

The Maori Internet Society had lobbied for the creation of a new unmoderated 2LD and .maori.nz was enabled in September. However the launch of the new 2LD saw a lolly scramble for names and problems with the Domainz system saw several customers able to buy the same names.

The DNC re-asserted Domainz's contention that the system runs exclusively on a "first come first served" basis and several names were reassigned.

InternetNZ's long standing chief executive, Sue Leader, also resigned this year. Leader joined InternetNZ in 1998 and her replacement will find a markedly different role waiting for him or her. The restructured job is more like a fully accountable chief executive than the current role which combines CE chores with a governance role.

Leader has made a number of visits to various parts of the world to participate in the debates around the evolution of ICANN, the worldwide internet body. That role will pass more into the council of InternetNZ.

Terminology explainer

If the whole domain name registration process is a blur of names to you, you're not alone. Deciding whether you're a registrar or a registrant can leave many first-time name owners dazed and confused, and not in a good way.

Here are some of the more frequently used terms.

DNC - newly appointed, Debbie Monahan is the DNC, which is the operational overlord of InternetNZ. Monahan will be called in to settle disputes (such as the .maori.nz dispute) and to oversee the register, registry and registrars to make sure it all works smoothly. She will assess and authorise registrars under the new system.

Domainz - currently the only company allowed to place or change information on the register - it has a dual role as registrar and registry.

DRS - the current system, introduced in a blaze of bad publicity with over 100 reported major bugs, a cost blow out and recriminations all round. Once the SRS is firmly in place the DRS will become Domainz' system for interacting with the SRS.

InternetNZ - the society formerly known as the Internet Society (ISOCNZ), made up of anyone with an interest in the internet willing to stump up the cash to join. It has the rights to the .nz name space and set up Domainz, the DNC and now NZDNR to run that.

NZDNR - the Domain Name Registry, the company set up by InternetNZ to take over Domainz' role as registry management company. Will begin operation from Monday morning.

Register - the database that houses the ultimate list of names in the .nz name space. If you own a domain name, it's in here.

Registrant - if you've bought a domain name, that's you.

Registrar - the company that will register names on your behalf. Under the new system these will be accredited by the Domain Name Commissioner (DNC) and could range from the cheap end of things, where you look after everything yourself, up to the expensive, where hosting and billing packages would be combined.

Registry - the company that runs the register on behalf of InternetNZ. Currently that's Domainz but under the new system it will be the New Zealand Domain Name Registry. Domainz' future is uncertain but it will possibly be sold off as a registrar, with its registry function transferred to NZDNR.

SRS - the shared registry system. The new system being introduced that will allow all registrars to input data into the register directly. Open source code is being used to build it and the registrars are getting as much input as possible. Because they can see and use the source code the registrars can build their own interfaces to the system.

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