Kentik - Network Observability

DNS Monitoring: An Essential Aspect of Network Health

The Domain Name System (DNS) is a foundational component of the internet, translating URLs into IP addresses. As internet infrastructure grows in complexity, so does the importance of robust DNS operations. DNS monitoring has become an essential component of network monitoring solutions given the need for high application and service uptime, and the rise in DNS security-related threats. Organizations that rely heavily on online platforms can’t afford to overlook the efficiency and security of their DNS systems. This article describes DNS monitoring and DNS server monitoring, DNS-related monitoring challenges, and how network observability solutions like Kentik can help.

What is DNS Monitoring?

DNS Monitoring is the continuous observation and analysis of the Domain Name System (DNS), a crucial component of internet infrastructure responsible for translating human-friendly domain names into IP addresses. While the core purpose remains to safeguard and optimize DNS operations against potential threats like DDoS attacks, pharming, spoofing, and DNS poisoning, advanced platforms, such as Kentik’s Network Observability Platform, have amplified the depth and breadth of DNS monitoring.

By deploying software host agents on DNS servers, solutions like Kentik enable a real-time stream of data capturing DNS queries and responses. This data, once processed and sent to a centralized data engine, offers:

  • Comprehensive Dashboards: Customizable dashboards provide a visual representation of metrics essential for DNS operations, such as top clients sending queries, most queried hostnames, responses sent by the server, query types, and return codes. Such visualizations allow for immediate awareness of anomalous or unexpected behavior.

  • Granular Performance Metrics: Going beyond basic monitoring, Kentik’s approach can track specific parameters like packets-per-second (PPS) across various metrics, providing a detailed understanding of DNS traffic, server utilization, and even breakdowns by IP type (IPv4 vs IPv6).

  • Localized Analysis: Organizations can pinpoint localized issues by segmenting DNS traffic data based on markets or specific servers, ensuring rapid diagnosis and mitigation.

  • Alert Systems: Proactive alerting mechanisms can be set up based on the monitored parameters, ensuring that anomalies or potential threats don’t go unnoticed.

  • Historical Context: Over time, the accumulation of DNS data allows for historical analysis, helping organizations discern patterns, predict potential issues, and make informed decisions about infrastructure changes.

In essence, DNS monitoring isn’t just about observing and safeguarding DNS traffic but leveraging data-driven insights to optimize performance, enhance user experience, and ensure business continuity. With platforms like Kentik, organizations can harness the full potential of DNS data, turning it into actionable intelligence for both reactive troubleshooting and proactive planning.

Why is DNS Monitoring Important?

DNS monitoring ensures internet-based applications and services function smoothly and securely. Ongoing DNS monitoring helps NetOps professionals maintain uptime, enhance user experience, guard against potential threats, and facilitate efficient infrastructure planning. The benefits and applications of DNS monitoring include:

  1. Ensuring Uptime and Availability: Any issues with DNS can lead to website downtime or services becoming unreachable. Monitoring ensures that DNS servers are operational and responding as expected.

  2. Performance Optimization: Even a minor delay in DNS resolution can impact user experience. Monitoring can help identify slow or underperforming servers, allowing for corrective actions to be taken.

  3. Security Concerns: DNS-based threats, such as DNS spoofing, DDoS attacks, or cache poisoning, can compromise a company’s security. By monitoring DNS traffic, these threats can be detected and mitigated.

  4. Capacity Planning: By keeping an eye on DNS query volumes and patterns, organizations can plan for growth, ensuring that their DNS infrastructure can handle future demands.

  5. Error Detection: Incorrectly configured DNS records can lead to misrouted traffic or services being unavailable. Regular monitoring can catch these anomalies.

Challenges in DNS Monitoring

DNS Monitoring is undeniably essential, but it isn’t without its challenges. As DNS traffic has grown exponentially, and as the types and sophistication of threats have evolved, the demands on DNS monitoring tools and methodologies have amplified. Below are some of the common challenges faced by NetOps professionals in DNS monitoring:

  1. Scale and Complexity: The sheer volume of DNS queries processed daily can be overwhelming. Handling and analyzing this vast amount of real-time data demands powerful tools and methodologies.

  2. Diverse and Evolving Threat Landscape: Modern cyber threats are continuously evolving, requiring monitoring tools to be adaptable and always up-to-date. Threats like DNS tunneling, where malicious data is encapsulated in DNS queries, are hard to detect without advanced analysis capabilities.

  3. Data Fragmentation: In larger organizations, DNS data can be scattered across various servers, regions, and networks. Aggregating and making sense of this data is crucial for a holistic understanding of the DNS landscape.

  4. False Positives and Alarm Fatigue: Not every anomaly is a genuine threat. Filtering out noise and avoiding false positives is crucial. Too many irrelevant alerts can lead to alarm fatigue, causing genuine threats to be overlooked.

  5. Lack of Historical Context: Without a historical view of DNS data, it’s challenging to discern patterns, understand anomalies, or plan for future capacity.

Modern Solutions to these Challenges

Integrated Tools: Platforms like Kentik’s Network Observability Platform provide an integrated tool suite that handles vast data streams, offers real-time insights, and allows for historical data analysis.

AI and Machine Learning: Advanced DNS monitoring solutions now leverage AI and machine learning to predict and detect unusual patterns, reducing the chances of false positives and effectively identifying new types of threats.

Data Aggregation: Modern platforms provide features to pool DNS data from different sources, offering a unified view and easing the analysis process.

Customizable Alerts: NetOps professionals can customize alerts based on their network’s specific needs instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, reducing noise and focusing on genuine issues.

Collaborative Features: Modern solutions allow teams to collaborate, annotate anomalies, share insights, and streamline the troubleshooting process.

Incorporating advanced tools and methodologies, like those offered by Kentik, helps address these challenges effectively, ensuring DNS monitoring remains robust and responsive to the demands of today’s complex networks.

Core Aspects of DNS Monitoring

Effective DNS monitoring is not just about ensuring uptime or catching threats. It’s about gaining deep insight into various facets of the DNS process to guarantee optimal performance and security. By understanding and focusing on these core aspects, network operators can gain a holistic view of their DNS infrastructure, allowing for proactive measures, efficient troubleshooting, and the best possible user experience. Below are some essential elements that underline the importance and depth of DNS monitoring:

  1. Query Analysis: Monitoring the number and type of DNS queries can provide insights into regular traffic patterns and anomalies.

  2. Resolution Time: This measures the time a DNS server takes to respond to a query. It’s an essential metric for assessing DNS server performance.

  3. Server Health: Checking CPU usage, memory consumption, and other metrics can give an early warning about potential server issues.

  4. Error Rates: Monitoring for failed DNS lookups can help pinpoint issues within the DNS infrastructure or configuration.

  5. Zone Transfers: Monitoring zone transfers ensures data consistency across servers if your organization uses multiple DNS servers.

What is DNS Server Monitoring?

DNS Server Monitoring is the practice of continuously observing and analyzing the performance and health of Domain Name System (DNS) servers. These servers are crucial internet infrastructure components, converting human-readable domain names (like into IP addresses that computers use to identify each other on the network. Monitoring tools like Kentik offer real-time insights by performing synthetic tests from different geographic locations, tracking DNS resolution times, identifying resolved IP addresses, and flagging potential issues or outages.

Why is DNS Server Monitoring Important?

DNS Server Monitoring is vital because it safeguards the reliability, speed, and security of online operations, ensuring seamless user experiences and robust defenses against threats. Benefits of monitoring DNS server availability and performance include:

  • Guaranteed Uptime: DNS servers ensure websites and online services are accessible. By monitoring, organizations can detect and address issues before they escalate into full-blown outages, ensuring optimal uptime.

  • Optimized User Experience: Slow DNS resolution can lead to noticeable delays in website loading times. Monitoring helps identify such lags, allowing for timely interventions to enhance user experiences.

  • Improved Security: Monitoring can also detect unusual patterns or anomalies that could indicate cyber threats or DNS-based attacks, such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks or DNS cache poisoning.

  • Operational Efficiency: With insights into DNS server performance, administrators can make informed decisions regarding resource allocation, load distribution, and server optimization.

  • Informed Decision Making: Detailed metrics, like those provided by Kentik, allow network operators to analyze historical data, anticipate potential challenges, and make proactive changes to infrastructure.

By ensuring consistent and optimal DNS performance, DNS Server Monitoring plays a pivotal role in maintaining online operations’ reliability, speed, and security.

Monitoring the availability and performance of DNS servers in Kentik
Monitoring the availability and performance of DNS servers in Kentik

Monitoring DNS Services with Kentik

Kentik’s “State of the Internet” reports offer an in-depth view of the health, performance, and availability of common public DNS services from providers including Cloudflare, Google, Quad9, OpenDNS, dnsimple, Neustar, and VeriSign. The DNS Services tab is specially tailored for DNS monitoring, enabling:

  • Continuous DNS Monitoring: Using global agents, Kentik continuously queries popular DNS service providers, measuring their availability, performance, and uptime.

  • Intuitive Visualization: The data is presented in a grid format. Each row represents a global agent querying multiple DNS servers. These servers are grouped into columns by DNS service provider. The health status of each server is color-coded for easy interpretation.

  • Detailed Insights: Hovering over each server provides additional details such as the current health status, IP address, resolution time, and more. This granular data aids in pinpointing issues and understanding performance metrics.

  • Flexibility: The feature also allows users to request the addition of more DNS servers for monitoring, ensuring that their specific needs are met. Kentik’s test control center allows users to monitor their own DNS servers in addition to the most common public DNS providers.

Drill Down into Synthetic DNS Test Results

Kentik’s synthetic tests are a valuable resource for NetOps professionals seeking insights into DNS performance. These tests, conducted from multiple global locations, allow for accurate measurement of DNS response times across different regions. Kentik lets you drill down into specific test results, revealing insights into DNS servers’ performance from that region. The screenshot below shows results from ongoing tests between an agent located in Dallas, TX, targeting the DNS server with IP 2001:4860:4860::8888, corresponding to

DNS monitoring with synthetic tests in Kentik
DNS monitoring with synthetic tests in Kentik

A prominent feature is the health bar that offers an immediate status check on the DNS server’s performance. Green indicates periods of stable performance, while orange suggests potential issues that may need attention.

The resolution time graph is a critical component, plotting DNS query response times. This data indicates how quickly a DNS server can resolve queries—a key metric for evaluating efficiency. The graph’s rolling standard deviation provides a context, showing the consistency or variability of these response times. Interactivity is built into the system, allowing users to pinpoint specific moments and gather detailed metrics.

DNSSEC Validation via Synthetic Tests

NetOps professionals understand the importance of DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC) in ensuring secure and authentic DNS transactions. Kentik integrates DNSSEC validation into its synthetic testing capabilities. When a test is configured to use DNSSEC Validation, test results include a dedicated column that shows DNSSEC validation status, denoting the authenticity of every signing entity in the chain. A “Healthy” status is displayed if all entities pass the validation, while “Critical” signals that at least one entity failed the authentication check. For a deeper dive into the results, users can click on the validation state indicator, which will present a DNSSEC Results Dialog, as shown below.

DNS monitoring - DNSSEC validation details
DNS monitoring: DNSSEC validation details in Kentik

Kentik’s synthetic monitoring provides NetOps professionals with a clear overview of DNS performance. They can use this data to identify and address potential challenges and ensure the reliability of DNS services.

Learn More About DNS Monitoring Tools from Kentik

DNS might operate behind the scenes, but its seamless operation is crucial for online services. With the increasing complexity and scale of internet operations, coupled with evolving security threats, DNS monitoring isn’t just a nice-to-have—it’s essential. Companies like Kentik, with a focus on network observability, recognize the importance of this and offer solutions to help organizations keep their online presence robust and secure.

Learn more about Kentik’s State of the Internet features, DNS diagnostics capabilities, and improving network infrasrtucture reliability.

Kentik offers a suite of advanced network monitoring solutions designed for today’s complex, multicloud network environments. The Kentik Network Observability Platform empowers network pros to monitor, run and troubleshoot all of their networks, from on-premises to the cloud. Kentik’s network monitoring solution addresses all three pillars of modern network monitoring, delivering visibility into network flow, powerful synthetic testing capabilities, and Kentik NMS, the next-generation network monitoring system.

Discover to the power of Kentik’s DNS monitoring tools for yourself: Start a 30-day free trial to try it yourself or request a personalized demo.

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