16 January 2002 Domain name registrars are calling on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to provide guarantees for the performance of the root servers that underpin the functioning of the Web. The European Union (EU) and national governments have also expressed concern about the reliability and security of these servers, which
ICANN oversees the running of all root servers, but does not pay the salaries of those who actually look after the servers, nor does it have any service level agreements (SLAs) in place to guarantee quality of service. Many of these root servers are looked after by different companies.
Root servers store the master list of where the databases for all the domains, such as .com, .net or .org, are stored online. ICANN levies fees on country code domain administrators for the privilege of hosting these domains.
These organisations say that they receive little in return and they are also concerned that ICANN does not offer them any concrete guarantees about the stability of the system.
In the past the Council for European National Top-level Domain Registries (CENTR) has donated money to ICANN to help keep it up-and-running, but CENTR is now withholding money until ICANN signs contracts to guarantee service levels.
ICANN’s fear is that if it signed an SLA and a root server went down, the compensation claims made by companies who would say that they lost business as a result would be too great. “They [ICANN] could not cope with that kind of insurance risk,” Willie Black, managing director of domain name registrar Nominet and the chairman of CENTR, told the BBC.
But Black has also expressed his frustration about ICANN’s refusal to sign an SLA. This is because root servers ultimately hold a database of only around 300 other computers that have more extensive lists of where domains are stored. “It’s not exactly a complicated operation,” he says.