Richard Wein is CEO of nic.at and its sister company ipcom GmbH. To mark the tenth anniversary of Anycast service RcodeZero DNS, he talks about the product’s exciting origins, major milestones and some of the challenges along the way.
What words do you think of when you hear RcodeZero DNS?
Failsafe, stable and agile.
Why is it important for the service to be agile?
While there are one or two special features, the underlying technology of the Anycast service is more or less the same, whoever is offering it. For us as a small provider, we need to play to our strengths when we come up against the big corporations. This means we are in a position to respond quickly when customers need something, and that they know the people behind the product. Our customers do not have to ring a call centre and talk to an anonymous stranger about whatever it is they want. These are the advantages that a small, agile provider has over the heavy hitters like Amazon and Google. The customers have a direct contact person, the people behind the product count.
RcodeZero DNS has been around for ten years. What spurred you into tackling the project at the time?
We were looking to expand our portfolio as the issuing authority for .at, .co.at and .or.at, and moving into unexplored territory was exciting. Our Anycast service puts us in direct competition with the major providers. We were one of the first registries to start offering this service. Getting things off the ground ten years ago was not easy. The margins were slim because we had high development costs and a hefty investment outlay to contend with as a newcomer. Over the years, these costs have receded relative to sales, and the product has become more profitable.
Did the high investment costs make you question what you were doing?
I didn’t have any misgivings, but I did have a lot of respect for the task, as many things were new for us. We didn't have a 24/7 service, for example. Our customers need to be able to get hold of us in an emergency at any time of day or night, so we had to set up an on-call service. Another issue were the framework agreements in place with our customers, in other words the service level agreements. In the event of a major outage or malfunction, we’re the ones who are liable, and that definitely gave me sleepless nights. That kind of incident would resonate throughout the entire business, so it’s a question of image as well. But we haven’t had a single major outage in the past ten years. That reflects the quality of our work.
Were the sleepless nights worth it?
Absolutely! While the start was quite uncertain, with hindsight I can confirm that we did the right thing by taking this step, claiming a pioneering role in the process. Today, the Anycast technology is the industry standard and virtually every issuing authority has three or more Anycast providers. And the larger registrars are moving in this direction, too. We couldn’t have predicted that ten years ago.
What were the milestones of the past ten years?
We have two main customer groups: registries and registrars – that means issuing authorities and providers. One milestone was when some of the big top level domains (TLDs) chose us, such as .eu and .nl. Both of them are significantly bigger than we are. This is a sign that we are trusted. And as a registry, we know what registries need. We were also able to attract major providers for our product with the registrars. IONOS, united-domains AG and MarkMonitor are major, very-well known registrars that chose us. And that sends out a powerful signal.
And what are the biggest challenges?
RcodeZero DNS is being continuously optimised, and we’re adding new features all the time. Staying at the technological cutting edge is a challenge. Developments are galloping ahead. We have managed to put together an attractive package that reflects customers’ needs. Another challenge is to keep prices in line with those of the major providers. But at the end of the day, price is not always the overriding factor. Quality and trust are at least as important.
ipcom was an Anycast service pioneer. What is the market looking like right now?
In Europe there used to be only three or four registries who offered an Anycast service. Now, more and more commercial providers are entering the marketplace because demand for these products is rising. The market is big, potential is high. Until now, it has mainly been registries and registrars using our product, we want to continue to serve and expand this core market. But there is also lots of potential from enterprise, particularly from large banks and corporations who could use our Anycast service. But that is not the company’s core business as we just don’t have the requisite depth of knowledge and understanding of the products. We need to create awareness, which is an organisational challenge that needs significant consultancy work to iron out.
The RcodeZero DNS product is now ten years old. What will the next ten years look like?
The DNS will still be around in ten years – possibly with minor tweaks as far as security is concerned – so that means our service still has its raison d’etre. The pace of change is rapid: the answers to regulatory and cybersecurity questions will be different in ten years compared to now. RcodeZero DNS is an important element in the product portfolio and it’s impossible to imagine life without it for us as a registry. And it is becoming more and more important all the time. Our goal is to generate 30% of our sales with products other than .at. We want to reduce our dependence on .at, and move away from being a single-product company.