For some, using the internet is all magic, and finding out how it works would take away the mystic value of it – so they choose to remain unenlightened.

This morning there was another reason why users of the internet should have a backup DNS for their systems, as the great Comcast outage that struck earlier today showed. While many were saying that Comcast was down, it was nothing more than the DNS servers, which allow the numerical shorthand for places on the internet to be quickly accessed by your computer.

It is much like the person that knows the store that they want to visit on the other side of town is still there, but it has been so long since they drove there, they cannot remember the directions, and the map in the glove compartment is missing. DNS is that map.

[CNet by way of ZDNet]

Reports first seemed to surface on Twitter last night from Comcast customers tweeting that their Internet service had gone down. Comcast’s own customer service Twitter feed, known as Comcastcares, confirmed the outage, initially pointing to an issue in Boston but soon revealing that the problem was more widespread.

Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas told CNET through e-mail that last night Comcast engineers identified a server issue that affected Internet service for customers primarily in the Boston and D.C./Beltway areas.

Though the outage focused on Boston and Washington, D.C., a Comcast customer service technician reportedly told NBC News that there were “significant Internet outages” in Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, and New Hampshire, according to MSNBC.com.

The first reply to the article on the ZDNet site was a Comcast customer, in the “affected” area, who had had no troubles whatsoever, because he uses OpenDNS as his DNS server.

This means that while many of his neighbors were having no luck getting anywhere, he was able to traverse just about anywhere he wanted, because the OpenDNS servers were doing just fine, thank you for asking.

I usually set up customers’ machines to use OpenDNS for any of a few reasons. One, like today for Comcast, the OpenDNS servers are more reliable. Another is that the OpenDNS servers are faster. This is especially true if you are on a smaller ISP in the boonies somewhere, or possible on a very large ISP that really should have expanded their DNS servers power long ago. Either way, you’re going to get faster response time through OpenDNS, and that means much faster page loading.

Since I don’t work for OpenDNS, nor am I paid by them, I would be remiss if I did not tell you that Google also has a free DNS service. They are generally close to the speed of OpenDNS, but they don’t offer the extra features of OpenDNS, which you should check out before deciding.

If you decide to go with another DNS besides the default that your service provider has, be warned that you cannot permanently screw up anything, but you could lose connection in the short term.

Before attempting this, you should write down the current address of your DNS server.  It will be 4 sets of numbers, separated by periods, using one to three digits. For example, the Google primary DNS address is 8.8.8.8 –  four numbers, this time each consisting of only one digit, separated by periods. It could as easily be 208.67.222.222, which is the primary DNS address of the OpenDNS server.

But write the one in your machine, or router before you start, so that you can return to it if necessary. Then proceed to either of the above choices, and enjoy a faster, more reliable DNS service – completely free. (OpenDNS has paid features, but there are many free ones, and you owe it to yourself to check them out!)

Proceed with deliberate caution, but also deliberate speed, and don’t be afraid – you’ll be glad you changed.

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