ICANN builds out its root server empire

ICANN has increased its number of root server instances by almost a factor of 10 since early 2010, according to data provided by root-servers.org. 40 instances of the ICANN-operated “L” root have been deployed; 20 of them were deployed in October alone. The “L” root now appears in every UN region (Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania). If it continues this growth rate, ICANN would easily eclipse all other root server operators, including RIPE (18 instances of “K”), Autonomia (36 instances of “I”), Internet Systems Consortium (49 instances of “F”), and perhaps even their partner in root zone management, VeriSign (70 instances of “J”, or 76 instances if you count their “A” server too).

Anycasting instances of root servers have been practiced for nearly ten years by some root server operators. A major technical reason for it is improving the reliabilty of root server query resolution. For instance, last month the single instance of the “H” server run by the U.S. Army Research Lab suffered an 18-hour outage due to a weather related fiber cut. The “H” root apparently has no other instances in the world. Perhaps anticipating a similar event, another US DoD run server (“G”) upgraded to 6 instances from 1 in mid-2009.

But there could be many other reasons why ICANN is on its insfrastructure deployment tear. For instance, ICANN is keenly aware of cultivating a global image, despite its continued USG tethers. This may explain a curious ICANN web page (called L-Single) where applicants can fill out a form and apply, apparently taking anycast to a new participatory level. Growing its root server presence in places like Riyadh and Santiago de Chile helps solidify perception abroad that ICANN is sufficiently internationalized operationally. Political and organizational scientists would call this yet another example of institutional “isomorphism” between ICANN and the United Nations (this is happening elsewhere in ICANN's operational practices if one looks closely, although structural differences remain). Another more subtle angle might be the impending expiration of the IANA contract in September 2011, which offers the potential of shuffling or introducing new institutional actors. ICANN may be seeking to increase switching costs and hold itself up as the most capable and deserving steward of the root server system.


  1. Anonymous

    Empire? Seriously???
    The bottom line is that ICANN has signed the root, that was a very difficult task. Now, they have the expertise and time to focus on anycasting, so they are. It's low-hanging fruit, and as you point out, they are just following the lead of other root-ops.
    Why did F, I, J or K build out so many instances? It certainly wasn't politics, it's all about reliability, plus it's cheap to do, since the hosting body foots most of the bill. There is nothing at all “curious” about L single web page, it's a standard way of gauging expertise and facilities.
    I doubt ICANN will grow to eclipse the other root-ops in number of instances, since IIUC, above ~50 instances, something like the “Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns” kicks in.
    IMHO, If you spread less FUD, folk would respect the IGP more.