“The department within TRA which is responsible for managing and regulating the .ae country code domain registry systems. What we mean by that is all the registrations that take place within the .ae namespace are actually going through our systems for vertification, registration and activation on the Internet,” says Mohammad Al Zarooni, Director, .aeDA.
“In terms of IT infrastructure we are talking about a service that must be available 24/7, with zero possibility of downtime, we have actually deployed a backend that is stable. When we designed it, we took into consideration that it would have to cater to high traffic, high availability, and provide redundancy and fortitude to our customers,” he adds.
To keep the promise of constant availability, the .aeDA has multiple data centre sites across emriates, as well as a point of presence outside the country just to make sure that its services are reachable all around the world. The eight-member IT team works to ensure not just availability but a fast and reliable response time.
“We are a small team – we are depend on creativity and innovation in deploying IT systems. When we think about deploying or designing any IT systems we think about how much effort we need to put once we deploy in teams of maintenance and operation. That is why we are trying to automate as much as – in terms of monitoring – infrastructure and the engineers simply have to monitor it from a single unified system,” explains Zarooni.
Zarooni also encourages his small team to tread training secrets, such that a systems engineer can act as a back-up for a network engineer when required. The culture also encourages the team members to constantly educate themselves and in order to be abreast of and adopt market trends as they happen and at the earliest.
He continues, “The other aspect is that we are an open source oriented team – most of our infrastructure, monitoring and deployment tool is based on open source software. We believe that open source can eliver a lot of things to us in terms of customisation, collaboration with other communities.”
An open source OS
Demanding the best from the internal team extends to getting the highest quality of work from vendors and service providers.
“For any project we identify detailed requirements. Whenever we are trying to float RFP or tender, we see how much that solution is actually compliant with our solution. This is the basic way of choosing which IT vendor. Of course, cost also matters. After sale services like contractual agreements for maintenance and support are very important as well,” says Zarooni.
Keeping its high-level requirements, its passion for open source and its demands for the best from vendors, it was only natural for the .aeDA to consider Red Hat seriously when they required a stable operating system for their infrastructure.
“Red Hat was chosen based on their active presence in open source industry along with providing commercial support with timely updates. The fixed schedule of major OS releases was an excellent match as stability being a crucial factor for the .ae registry. Red Hat Satellite, the centralised systems management software is a vital product allowing near instantaneous deployment of OS, configuration and custom services. RedHat is renowned in the enterprise server operating system market, for being stable and is well supported by the open source community,” says Zarooni.
The .aeDA registry infrastructure based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 allows real-time processing of transactions so that registrants can easily acquire their desired ‘.ae’ domain names on-the-spot. Acquiring an online presence under ‘.ae’ is now fast and straightforward with the comfort of purchasing via an entirely online process provided by most of the accredited registrars. By enabling businesses and individuals to obtain their .ae domain more easily, they are now able to launch themselves on the Internet faster and make changes real-time to match their product or service requirements. With the increasing penetration of the Internet, compelling opportunities exist to reach out to users.
The .ae registry is spread across three interconnected sites which comprises around 50 physical systems, Storage Area Network and a backup library. With Red Hat Network Satellite, a powerful centralised systems management platform, the installation of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, along with custom configurations and applications, was completed in a few hours. Once the system was implemented, training was imparted by the Red Hat solutions and services team.
“The Red Hat training acquired was valuable for our technical team to deploy and manage the solution. We now have a Red Hat certified team in place. With the quality training, detailed product documentation and global support from Red Hat, the .ae Domain Administration’s technical arm performs operations and maintenance activities in-house. Their activities include deployment, configuration, monitoring, capacity and availability planning and scaling,” says Zarooni.
.aeDA has both the Red Hat OS as well as Red Hat Satellite solutions, along with ARI Registry Services for the actual portal. The entire deployment of the solution to enable the registry portal took eight months including the hardware, software and registry systems. Currently, the registry handles approximately 92,000 domain names.
According to Zarooni, the Red Hat implementation has proved to be the wise choice for the .aeDA and the right platform for them to move onto the next stage and further deployments.
“The .ae Domain Administration keeps up with the leading edge technology. We are currently working on launching “امارات.” (dotEmarat), the first registry to acquire a non-latin top level domain. We envision managing and operating other top level domains (TLDs) in the future,” says Zarooni.
As the first registry service in the Middle East to launch an entirely Arabic domain name registry, Zarooni feels very proud and believes that this is key to enabling non-English speaking people to feel confident while using the Internet.
“One of the reasons was to understand the woes of the people who can’t use the Internet in the proper ways because of their language problem. This is the main obnjective that drives us to go Arabic and to upgrade our systems to support the Arabic domain name,” says Zarooni.
All current projects, and future ones, continue to be supported by the management.
“They are very supportive. When we send any IT budget allocation or requirement, we actually identify it very well. When it goes to the senior management of the TRA they understand the exact need for the allocation projects or improvements within the department. From that perspective, as I have been working with TRA for the last four years I have not found any issues of the senior management questioning the IT budget allocation,” he says.
The team is also constantly working on improving its IT budget utilisation in terms of reducing cost and using existing resources to cater to additional services and new projects wherever possible.
“The IT budget is usually decided through an escalation letter, which is rule defined by the TRA. However, as a department we identify the requirements, beacause a part of the IT budgets are fixed since it involves maintenance contracts, support contracts etc. For the new projects, the software and hardware requirements are identified and assessed.
“Choice of ventdors is made based on suitability to the project. Once the basics are in place, a normal budgeting allocation process,” explains Zarooni.