Do you know the difference between your Domain Name Registrar, your DNS, your Website Host, your Email Host, and your CDN? (or did you just ask “what on earth is all this?”)
If the answer to any of these is NO, then you could lose access to your information and you may be putting your business identity at risk.
Business owners have a responsibility to protect their Digital Property
Imagine the following: –
- Losing your domain name and having someone else snatch it from you permanently
- Your web hosting expiring and your website disappearing with no way to get it back
- Losing all of your emails forever
Digital Property loss happens
Unfortunately, these situations can all happen quite easily if you haven’t taken the correct preventative measures to ensure your Digital Property is secured. We’ve seen multiple businesses in this situation who have reached out to us for help, sometimes when it was too late. And in Australia you also have the responsibility of keeping your ABN current to comply with the .au Domain Administration (auDA) requirements for owning a .AU top level domain.
Website Infrastructure – how it all fits together
There are a few main bits that need to work together in order for your website and emails to work, and this article is going to walk you through the Website Domain Name (through the Domain Registrar), the DNS Zone records, the Website Hosting, Email Hosting, and CDN, and how best to ensure you have control over these elements.
Website Domain Name
When you first get your website you’re going to have registered a domain name. This is your www.*businessname*.com.au. This domain registration happens with a Domain Registrar and is the first step in securing your business’ digital identity. Having this means your website domain name is now on the internet as your domain registrar kindly shares (propagates) the domain name with the rest of the interwebs, and fresh out of the box your domain will (should) be ‘parked’, which essentially means your website name is registered, but the name isn’t associated with services such as website hosting or email hosting. Having this domain name however does NOT mean you have a website, nor does it mean you have emails. However it DOES mean you can now go ahead and set up a website and emails under your newly registered domain name – so that’s good!
How to keep your domain name protected
When you register your domain name you will need to enter your registrant information and contact details – ensure these details are accurate and kept up to date. In Australia, the auDA requires you to be eligible to hold a .AU domain name so the name will also be checked against your ABN / ACN. The Domain Registrant is the legal owner of the domain, and the Domain Registrar will notify and require the approval of the registrant of any potential changes to the domain (such as migration to another registrar). You can check out the reigstrant information linked to a domain name by doing a simple WHOIS lookup on the domain name using a service such as https://whois.auda.org.au/ or https://www.whois.com/whois/.
You should have (and keep secure) your login details for your domain registry, this allows you to manage the domain account and you can make sure you are keeping on top of things like paying the renewal for the domain name. Typically, a domain name is registered for 1 or 2 years so if your business isn’t planning on going anywhere for a while then you want to have ‘auto renew’ enabled on the domain, as well as ensuring the payment method linked to your account is current. If your account and registration information is up to date then your registrar will notify you of any issues, though many domain names have been lost to ‘hijackers’ who have pounced on a domain whose registration had lapsed. It is very cheap to buy an unregistered domain name, however there are many (what we consider unethical) folks out there who make a business of grabbing domains that aren’t renewed and then selling them back to a business for many thousands of dollars. Often a business can’t afford the price to purchase their domain name back, and they’ve essentially lost the domain name forever. This can be very damaging for the business as not only have they lost the name their visitors were used to visiting, but the domain name can now be pointed / redirected to any other site the new owners wish – and this often isn’t as ‘tasteful’ as the original site.
The Domain Name System (or DNS) converts human readable domain names (like: www.google.com) into Internet Protocol (IP) addresses (like: 188.8.131.52). Computers can only communicate using series of numbers, so DNS was developed as a sort of “phone book” that translates the domain you enter in your browser into a computer readable IP. Your website needs DNS records that let the internet know where to find your web hosting, mail servers etc. These records are called Zone records. Your Domain Registrar will have settings for your website’s domain name that let it know where your DNS servers are held, and in some cases your Domain Registrar can also perform the job of the DNS, or your website hosting can perform the job of the DNS. In some cases, more common in enterprize environments, a dedicated DNS may be used such as Amazon Route 53.
Just knowing that the DNS exists and understanding how it all fits together is a great first step. Within your Domain Registrar account, there will be some settings named something similar to Primary DNS and Secondary DNS. These will resolve to where your DNS and zone records live – and generally it will be on your romain registrar, or on your hosting. Ensure you have access to where this is, and have sufficient permission to modify them if needed.
The next step after securing your domain and making sure you understand your DNS is to get yourself website hosting. Website hosting is where your website lives and is located on a web server. A web server, as the name suggests, ‘serves’ your website to the internet and stores all the files and databases that your website needs to be happy (as well as a few other things). This part of the equation requires the help of a website developer to build your website and install it on a web server. Your website developer will also advise or assist with connecting up your domain name to your website hosting. This means your domain name will no longer be parked in a holding state, but will now be pointed to the web server where your website lives – and your website can be seen by the world! Access to the DNS records will be crucial to ensuring this step can be completed.
Again, be sure to have access to your website hosting account. This will be through your website hosting provider and you should have access to the web hosting control panel software which gives you access to make changes through a complete set of tools allowing you to make all the changes you may ever need. If you are not sure who your website hosting provider is, this can be identified by working through the DNS zone records and resolving the IP address of the ‘A’ (Address) record of your WWW name to your hosting. The most common web hosting control panel solutions include cPanel and Plesk.
If you also need email addresses for your business that match up with your website name, and you likely will want this, then similar to the website hosting you will also need email hosting where your mailboxes will be set up, and settings such as email password and mailbox quota are configured for your email addresses. Your website DNS zone records will be configured with MX (Mail Exchange) records that will resolve to the mail hosting/servers. The email hosting can also be kept in the same place as the website hosting – we don’t like to do this as some things should just be kept seperate a management and DR perspective. Website hosting should ideally be dedicated to website hosting, and conversely for email hosting. A dedicated email hosting provider does what they do well and adds additional layers of protection for your business such as regular backups and data retention. Typical email hosting providers for businesses are MS 365 for Business, and Google Suite.
Knowing where your email hosting hosting / provider is and make sure you have access to administer the accounts and system is important. Depending on where your email hosting is, you may already have access to this through your existing website hosting, or through your MS 365 or Google Suite account. In any case, be sure to have administrative access.
Content Delivery Network (CDN)
A Content Delivery Network is effectively stepping things up from having one website host, to many website servers all around the globe. A CDN replicates and maintains a copy of your website on multiple web servers in different countries and rather than serve your website from one web server, it will understand where your visitor is coming from geographically and serve up the closest copy of your website to them. This reduces the number of network hops a visitor needs to take as well as reducing the physical distance between your website visitor and the web server, with the intention to improve overall website performance. A CDN can also offer other services such as DDoS prevention and DNS. One of the most common CDN providers is Cloudflare, will be configured in your domain registrar and be set up so your domain’s primary and seconary DNS servers are pointed to Cloudflare. On initial configuration, Cloudflare will take a copy of the DNS zone records and take the role of the DNS provider. Often, if you have an agency setting up and managing your website they will offer you the option of using a CDN for better performance and this will be under the website manager’s account. If this is not the case, be sure to have access to the CDN account to make any changes as needed.
To conclude, this article is intended to make the point that as a business owner it is very important to ensure you are across all aspects of the digital identity of your business. How this is all configured doesn’t need to be hard for a typical implementation – many full service agencies can provide domain registration, DNS, website hosting, email hosting and configure CDN on your behalf – or at the least recommend what is best for your business. If there is anything in this article that raises any questions for you, or if you need assistance getting on top of your Business’ Digital Identity, please feel free to get in touch with Sherpa Digital.