Windows Server 2008 R2 networking : Planning and Deploying DNS (part 1) - Designing a DNS infrastructure

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DNS is one of the most mission-critical components used by today’s Windows networks. DNS name resolution is a process that translates computer names to IP addresses and vice versa. In this section, we will explore what DNS is and how it works. It is important to understand how to set up, configure, and manage DNS before deploying a Windows Server 2008 R2 network. If the DNS services break, so does your network. We will then discuss designing and then deploying DNS services. We will finish our DNS discussion by exploring how to administer and troubleshoot Windows Server 2008 R2 DNS services.

Overview of name resolution and DNS

Before setting up and configuring DNS, it is important to understand how name resolution works and why it is needed by Windows networks. Like most other network services covered in this chapter, you need to understand what is going on “under the covers” to really grasp how the service works and why it is important.

DNS at a basic level is performing one main function, resolving names to IP addresses. Earlier in this chapter, you learned that computers use TCP/IP to communicate and that each computer is given a unique IP address. For computer A to talk to computer B, computer A must know the IP address of computer B. IP-based communication poses a small problem to humans. How do you remember all of those IP addresses? Think about having to remember the IP address of your 20 favorite Web sites on the Internet (remember all computers, even Web servers hosting Web sites, require IP address-based communication). Luckily, this is where DNS helps. DNS allows us to remember a name known as a Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN) instead of the IP address of the computer that we are trying to reach. We can reach or by simply typing the Web address, also known as the FQDN. DNS then translates this FQDN to an IP address. After DNS translates the name to IP address, your computer connects to that address. So how exactly does all of this work? The example below will take you through the Windows name resolution process.

  1. Your computer would like to access the Web site

  2. Your computer’s DNS client service sends a name resolution request to the DNS Server whose IP address is listed in the DNS Servers section of the computer’s IP configuration. We will refer to this server as the local DNS Server.

  3. The local DNS Server receives the request and determines if it should host the domain name being requested. If it does host the domain, then it looks up the DNS record and returns it to the client. If it does not host the domain, the local DNS Server queries a root DNS Server for the IP address of the .com DNS Server.

  4. Once the IP of the .com DNS Server is received, the local DNS Server queries the .com DNS Server for the IP address of the DNS Server.

  5. The local DNS Server then queries the DNS Server for the IP address of

  6. Your client computer then receives the IP address of the server from your local DNS Server. Figure  illustrates this process.

    Figure 1. DNS Name Resolution Process.

DNS zones

DNS Servers host zones which in turn host records that resolve a name to an IP address. The zone is the authoritative source for information about the domain name managed by that zone. A DNS zone is typically the same as the domain name being hosted on the DNS Server. For example, if the DNS Server will be hosting the domain, then the zone must be created on the DNS Server. There are two Primary zone types that can be set up on a DNS Server—Forward Lookup Zones and Reverse Lookup Zones.

  • Forward Lookup Zones —Forward Lookup Zones allow the DNS Server to resolve queries where the client sends a name to the DNS Server to request the IP address of the requested host.

  • Reverse Lookup Zones —Reverse DNS zones perform the opposite task as Forward Lookup Zones. They return the fully qualified domain name (FQDN) of a given IP address. For example, a client could send the IP address of to a DNS Server. If the server hosted a reverse zone that included that IP address, it would return the FQDN for that address, such as

In addition to the standard zone types, DNS zones can be further broken down into the following zone types:

  • Primary zone (stored in AD) —These zones are stored in AD and replicated via normal AD replication. This provides an optimized way to replicate the zones within your corporate network. Primary zones stored in AD follow the same multimaster rules as other AD services. This means that you can perform updates on any AD Domain Controller and they will replicate to the other Domain Controllers.

  • Primary zone (standard) —Standard Primary zones are stored in a flat file on the DNS Server. The Primary zone is considered the master copy of the zone database file. All updates to the zone must be performed on the Primary zone server.

  • Secondary zone —Secondary zones are read-only copies of the Primary zones. Secondary zones replicate a copy of the zone from the Primary zone server to provide redundancy. Any updates to the zone must be performed on the Primary zone server.

  • Stub zone —Stub zones are similar to Secondary zones in that they are read-only copies of the zone database file. Stub zones, however, contain only the Name Server (NS), Start of Authority (SOA), and host (A) records for the Name Servers.

Best Practices

Create Reverse Lookup Zones

Some applications require the ability to perform Reverse DNS Lookups. As a best practice, you should set up Reverse Lookup Zones for IP subnets on your network.

Global Naming Zones

Before Windows networks relied so heavily on DNS, they used the Windows Internet Naming Service (WINS) to provide name resolution. WINS provides the ability to resolve a NETBIOS name to an IP address. If you support legacy applications that rely on NETBIOS names, it is highly possible that you are still supporting WINS on your network. To help organizations move away from WINS, Microsoft developed Global Naming Zones (GNZs). GNZs, in Windows Server 2008 R2, allow companies to decommission WINS while still supporting NETBIOS names. GNZs require that your domain controllers be at Windows Server 2008 or later. Windows Server 2003 DCs do not support GNZs.

DNS records

DNS records are the data of DNS zones. Records map host names to IP addresses and IP addresses to host names. The most commonly used DNS records are listed below:

  • A (Host) Record —A records are standard records that map the FQDN of a host to an IP address. For example, the zone could contain a host record www that points to the IP address of the Syngress Web site.

  • CNAME (Alias) Record —CNAME records, also known as aliases, map a host name to an existing A record. For example, a CNAME record could map to Web

  • MX (Mail Exchanger) Record —MX records are used to map a domain name to an A record for mail delivery. MX records also contain a priority to allow failover to secondary mail servers in the event that your primary mail server is unavailable. MX records are crucial to ensure mail flow.

  • NS (Name Server) Record —NS records identify all the authoritative DNS servers for a given zone. The primary DNS Server and the secondary DNS Server should have NS records in the zone.

  • SRV (Service) Record —SRV records provide autodiscovery of TCP/IP resource on the network. Using SRV records, clients can query the domain for information about a particular service, such as what server it may reside on. SRV records are being used by more and more applications to provide autodiscovery for products such as Exchange Server and Office Communications Server.

  • PTR (Pointer) Record —PTR records are Reverse Lookup records that reside in Reverse DNS zones. PTR records perform the opposite function as A records.

Designing a DNS infrastructure

When creating your DNS design documentation, you will want to ensure that the infrastructure is highly available and redundant. As previously mentioned, DNS is one of the most mission-critical services on your network. As you design your DNS infrastructure, you will want to consider the following:

  • Number of physical and logical networks that will need name resolution.

  • Available WAN bandwidth.

  • Number of domains or zones you will need to support.

  • Other non-Windows-based DNS hosts.

  • Where DNS zones will be stored—AD or DNS flat files?

  • Integration with WINS servers.

  • Can GNZs replace WINS?

  • What types of records will be required?

  • How many records will be needed?

  • Will subdomains be required (

  • Will DNS Forwarding be used?

  • Number of clients using DNS for name resolution.

Remember that a good DNS design allows quick name resolution to clients and provides adequate redundancy so that DNS services remain available in the event of a DNS Server failure. You will want to test your design thoroughly before deploying to a production network. DNS is no exception. You need to be able to answer questions such as “Does name resolution still work efficiently if a DNS Server fails?” and “Is the DNS response time quick enough to support the number of clients on my network?” Be sure that you adequately document your DNS design. As your network grows, you will want to refer the design and make modifications to support new network segments and increased numbers of clients. Figure 2 depicts a design of a small network.

Figure 2. Simple DNS design.

Deploying DNS

After designing (and testing) your DNS infrastructure, you are ready to begin deployment. How you deploy will depend upon how you plan to configure and support DNS. DNS can be installed just like any other server role, or if you are planning on using DNS on an AD Domain Controller, it is installed using the AD dcpromo process. 

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