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Support grows for offshore .za

When Mike Lawrie, the administrator of SA's .za domain space, announced that he had moved the country's primary zonefile offshore, he expected some trouble.

"No doubt there will be some emotional reaction to this move, but technical stability is a far more important issue,” he said in his announcement.

The primary zonefile is at the heart of the .za domain system and represents most of Lawrie's responsibility as administrator. It points to the 17 subdomains in SA, such as .co.za and .gov.za, and allows for Internet addresses in those subdomains to be resolved.

Lawrie says given the current controversy around the Electronic Communications and Transactions (ECT) Bill, which seeks to create an authority to take over his job, it would have been irresponsible for him not to move the zonefile.

"My objective is stability; not in operation which was never under threat, but in reputation. The message has got to get out that no matter what; the stability of .za is not at risk,” he says.

The location of the file makes no difference to its functioning. Lawrie says over the past 11 years it has been updated only a handful of times and that it has recently been hosted on an eight-year-old computer. "It has been virtually trouble-free its entire life.”

Moving the file is easy, and technically it did not need to move at all. The system that handles .za is comprised of a primary, and definitive, server that hosts the zonefile. A group of secondary servers refers to it and disseminates the information it contains. In the case of .za, the secondary servers are spread around the world, with one in Australia, one in Europe and a number spread throughout the US and SA.

To change the location of the primary zonefile, one of the secondary servers were designated to be definitive and the former primary at Lawrie's office in Pretoria was declared to be secondary.

"It is as simple as sending e-mail,” Lawrie says.

He would not reveal exactly where the primary zonefile is now located, saying there was no need to drag an innocent outside party into the domain dispute, but around 20 people "I regard as responsible and representative” know the location, he says.

The move was made in consultation with Namespace, the organisation previously due to take over Lawrie's responsibilities. Namespace says it is still formulating its official response, but its individual board members had no objections to the move.

Support, little condemnation

Lawrie has seen near unanimous support from the broad Internet community for his move. Those involved in the domain system described it as responsible, and overseas discussion forums, where the move created a stir of interest, mirrored that support.

Officers of Parliament and the Department of Communications could not this morning be reached for comment, but were said to still be studying the situation.

However, the Democratic Alliance was full of praise for Lawrie.

"His primary response has always been to create stability on the Internet within SA,” says DA MP Vincent Gore. "By moving the primary zonefile offshore he has been able to do that and create some breathing space in the negotiations.”

Namespace and the government are continuing discussions about the future of .za administration. The talks are expected to reach a conclusion before Friday next week, when the ECT Bill comes before the National Council of Provinces for discussion.

Related stories:
Govt slammed Namespace ‘by mistake'
Govt, Namespace find compromise on .za
External links:
An FAQ for the ZA Domain Name System by Mike Lawrie


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