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India may get cluster of servers mirroring internet root servers

By, New Delhi
Feb 12, 2024 12:16 PM IST

If the efforts are successful, this will be the first time India will get a cluster mirroring all 13 root servers that underpin the internet

India could potentially get a cluster of servers that mirrors the thirteen root servers in the world after “major negotiations” with ICANN, the organisation that carries out key functions of the internet, the director general of Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) informed the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs in March 2023.

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If the efforts are successful, this will be the first time India will get a cluster mirroring all 13 root servers that underpin the internet.

The submission was mentioned in a report on countering global terrorism at regional and international levels tabled in the Lok Sabha on February 5 by the committee, which had asked about the outcome of negotiations with ICANN for having internet root servers in India.

According to it, Sanjay Bahl, the director general of CERT-In, had replied: “We had a major negotiation on the root server. They have agreed for putting up a cluster. We are negotiating with them... Probably, we will get a cluster of 18 servers which will be now based somewhere in India. That is a good beginning.”

ICANN, or Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is a US-based non-profit that plays a crucial role in the management and coordination of the global internet’s domain name system (DNS) and the allocation of IP addresses.

An ICANN executive confirmed the discussions. “The ICANN is evaluating the technical and regulatory feasibility of installing a[n] ICANN Managed Root Server (IMRS) cluster in India,” said Samiran Gupta, vice president, government and intergovernmental organisation engagement, Asia Pacific and stakeholder engagement, South Asia, in a response to HT.

It is understood that no other root server operator apart from ICANN has set up clusters of root servers anywhere in the world.

“IMRS clusters are currently located in Singapore, Europe, US, Egypt, and Kenya,” Gupta added.

To put it simply, having a root server cluster will help reduce latency – a lag that occurs when information and data flow across the internet’s infrastructure – manage internet traffic, and reduce the efficacy of a common type of cyberattack known as DDoS (distributed denial of service).

In reality, the process will involve creating a cluster of 13 servers that mirror each of the 13 root servers arounds the world. ICANN in itself runs the L root server, one of the 13 each of which is given a letter name from ‘A’ to ‘M’. There are 12 organisations, including ICANN, across the world that run the 13 root servers. Of these, ten are in the US, two in Europe and one in Japan.

Technically, root servers validate what is called a top-level domain (TLD), such as .com, .edu, .org, etc. for each query on the internet. Effectively, all internet traffic in the world flows through one of the 13 root servers.

India, to be sure, has some mirrors (also called instances) of one or the other root servers.

It was not immediately clear why India will get a cluster of 18 servers – as Bahl is quoted in the committee’s report --- when there are only 13 root servers in the world. The costs, it is understood, will be borne by ICANN.

“Looking at the way India is developing – our digital systems, internet, 5G, telecom, digital infrastructure, etc. – they are now looking at India and they cannot ignore India. Now, we are negotiating with a bit of strength and we are hopeful that we should be able to get some part of it to start. We are hopeful that we will be seeking some kind of a board level position in the coming AGM [annual general meeting], which is likely to take place early next year. So, we are moving in that direction. That is important,” Bahl said.

Dr Gulshan Rai, the founding director general of CERT-In and the first national cyber security coordinator of India, told HT that getting these instances is a good thing. “This is a good thing because a lot of traffic can be routed through these instances. The traffic need not be routed through outside India.”

“This is a positive development. While India already has root server instances, it is always good to have more IMRS clusters within the country as it helps in reducing latency, increase internet resilience in the country and facilitates better load management on root servers,” Amrita Choudhary, director of Cyber Cafe Association of India (CCAOI), said.

Following conversations in March 2023, setting up this cluster is a priority for ICANN. It is not clear why the delay occurred. Setting up servers, especially internet traffic routing servers, would be regulated by extant laws and in 2023, two new laws affecting installation of servers in the country --- the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023, and the Telecommunications Act, 2023 --- were notified.

How will this cluster work

Gupta explained that ICANN deploys two types of instances/servers – ‘single’ and ‘cluster’.

“An IMRS cluster is a large installation of multiple servers with substantial bandwidth that have a large DNS service capacity. They are typically commissioned for a region to deal with sustained high DNS query loads or spikes in non-DNS traffic targeting the root server system. These contrast with IMRS ‘single’ instances that are focused on improving Root Zone DNS service for specific networks or locations,” he said.

In other words, while a single root server instance by ICANN will likely be a mirror of the L server, a cluster would mirror all 13, from A to M.

While earlier, there was a substantial difference between the letter root servers and their “mirrors” around the world, now there isn’t much as the original and the “instance” are the same.

“As of February 2022, there are more than 195 IMRS instances in 85 different countries/territories. At present there are six IMRS ‘single’ instances deployed in India. We believe there are over 40 root server instances in India deployed by different Root Server Operators. ICANN org can only approve IMRS instances and clusters,” Gupta said.

According to root-servers.org, there are 7 instances of six root servers in Delhi alone.

There were two such servers in India in 2011-12, Rai said, when as the head of CERT-In, he was petitioning for a root server in India.

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