How Go Daddy Keeps 52 Million Domains Running
A look inside one of the server rooms at a Go Daddy data center in Phoenix. (Photo: Rich Miller)

How Go Daddy Keeps 52 Million Domains Running

Go Daddy is best known for selling domains, but is also one of the world's largest providers of web hosting services, as well as the security certificates that enable e-commerce on millions of web sites. To keep those services online and running smoothly, Go Daddy operates a global network of data centers.

A look inside one of the newer server rooms at a Go Daddy data center in Phoenix. (Photo: Rich Miller)

PHOENIX - You may know Go Daddy primarily for its edgy and humorous Super Bowl ads. But when it comes to the Internet infrastructure supporting the 52 million domain names it manages, Go Daddy is all business.

"We handle 10 billion DNS queries a day," said Go Daddy CEO Warren Adelman. "A good chunk of the Internet resolves because of us."

Go Daddy is best known for selling domains, but is also one of the world's largest providers of web hosting services, as well as the security certificates that enable e-commerce on millions of web sites. To keep those services online and running smoothly, Go Daddy operates a global network of data centers and points of presence (PoPs).

Focused on Phoenix

The core of Go Daddy's infrastructure is focused on the Phoenix region, where it operates three major data centers, as well as network operating centers that monitor its global operations. The company also has data centers in Los Angeles, Chicago and Ashburn, Virginia, along with international facilities in Amsterdam and Singapore.

Data Center Knowledge recently went inside the company's huge primary data center in Phoenix, and had a chance to discuss Go Daddy's  approach to its infrastructure. The access marked a change, as Go Daddy has historically said little about its data centers. It's part of a concerted effort to present a fuller picture of the company's services.

"I think we helped popularize the domain name," said Adelman. "Everyone knows us from domains, but less so from hosting. We’re the world's largest paid hosting company, and we need to let people know about that."

Go Daddy currently hosts more than 5 million web sites on 35,000 servers in its data centers. The company has more than 23 petabytes of data housed on its storage systems, and processes more than 350 million emails every day.

A History of Growth

The company's infrastructure has come a long way. Go Daddy got its start 1997, when software entrepreneur Bob Parsons created Jomax Technologies. Parsons had retired in the Phoenix area after selling accounting software maker Parsons Technology to Intuit for $64 million in 1994, but wanted to get back into the software game. In 2000 the company, now renamed Go Daddy, became a Internet registrar and began selling domain names at substantially lower prices than the leading registrars.

"We started with servers living in the closet at Bob’s ranch," recalls Go Daddy Chief Technology Officer Wayne Thayer. "Then we got our first data center in Mesa, started with a couple racks, and just grew and grew."

Go Daddy's low-priced offerings proved popular with domain buyers. By late 2004, Go Daddy was the dominant domain registrar and a growing force in the hosting business. The company's growth kicked into high gear in 2005, fueled by a racy Super Bowl commercial featuring model Candice Michelle. Traffic poured into the GoDaddy.com web site.

Almost overnight, the company's market share of new domain purchases jumped from 16 percent to 25 percent. That's when the company realized it would have to expand its infrastructure.

"We got to a point where we needed our own owned-and-operated data center," said Adelman. "We found this great location in Phoenix, and scooped it up for a great price. We just started building it out in pods, and that’s become a primary facility for us."

Data Center Reflects Technology Evolution

Go Daddy bought the building, which had been owned by a telecom company, in November 2005 for $9.5 million and began converting the space. The 320,000 square foot building includes several mezzanine levels, providing nearly 430,000 square feet of space for data center use. (See Inside Go Daddy's Data Center for more details).

The first two data halls came online in June 2006, using much of the original telco equipment on a slab floor. The racks in those "pods" held 16 servers each, supporting power density of up to 4 kw per rack.

The company has added new server rooms every year since. "As technology has progressed over the years, you can see the evolution from room to room," said Adelman.

That evolution was clearly visible in a walk-through of the Phoenix site with Go Daddy Director of Data Center Operations Sam Rudek and Critical Facilities Manager Rene LeBlanc. After bootstrapping those first two data halls, Go Daddy began developing its own designs for subsequent rooms. The company has deployed eight "pods" that average about 5,000 square feet of server space, and has room for another eight pods as the company continues its growth.

Go Daddy has gradually scaled the power density of its pods from about 100 watts per square foot to 300 watts per square floor and beyond. The newest pods will feature as many as 42 servers in each 12 kilowatt rack, packing more compute power into each subsequent room. The newer pods separate the racks from the power and cooling infrastructure, which is housed either in adjacent corridors or in separate power rooms.

Growing Beyond the Phoenix Area

As Go Daddy's operation has grown, it has expanded to both coasts and several continents. "We wanted to get our hosting products closer to our customers," said Thayer. "We also really started to scale out our DNS infrastructure."

The distributed infrastructure helps to speedily resolves those 10 billion daily DNS queries, and also is critical to supporting Go Daddy's SSL business. The company is an SSL certificate authority, issuing and maintaining the digital certificates that encrypt traffic between a web site and a customer's web browser so they can securely share credit card data for e-commerce.

Each session using SSL encryption requires a status check using the Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP) to make sure that the certificate is valid, and has not expired or been revoked. Go Daddy handles more than 1 billion OCSP responses every day, Thayer says. That number is likely to increase as privacy concerns prompt social media sites encourage users to encrypt their visits, a step already taken by Twitter and Facebook.

"There’s a movement out there to require SSL," said Thayer. "I think over time we’re likely to see everything go encrypted."

Deflecting Electronic Attacks

A significant chunk of Go Daddy's infrastructure operations are focused on security initiatives to keep its DNS and OCSP servers online and responsive. "One of the things that makes Go Daddy unique is the range of products we have," said Thayer. "Domains and SSL have unique environments, so we have our environments compartmentalized for security purposes."

In addition to its responsibility to protect its SSL and DNS infrastructure, Go Daddy is a frequent target of electronic attacks targeting some of the 5 million web sites it hosts. The company says it blocks 2.5 million brute force attacks every hour.

Those defenses are monitored in the company's headquarters in Scottsdale, a suburb of Phoenix where Go Daddy has set up shop in offices spread across three sprawling buildings. The company has 3,500 employees, including about 2,100 in its customer service operations.

The Scottsdale operation includes an IT Network Operations Center (NOC) that tracks the status and performance of the company's 35,000 servers, along with a Security Operations Center that monitors attacks on Go Daddy's infrastructure. Much of its defenses are automated, with IP addresses flagged as suspicious activity is identified. Most attacks are deflected without incident, but large DDoS attacks are shifted onto dedicated segments of the Go Daddy network equipped with additional bandwidth to absorb a larger volume of packets.

In addition to the automated tools, the Go Daddy security staff also tracks Twitter searches that may indicate a Go Daddy hosting account has been hacked.

Combination of Owned and Leased Sites

While Go Daddy operates several of its own data centers, it also teams with data center partners. It started out in an AT&T data center, and has also worked with IO and Equinix to expand its infrastructure.

The company's international facilities in Amsterdam and Singapore, opened in 2009 and 2010, provided both additional capacity and a more distributed infrastructure to support global growth. As the company eyes additional international opportunities, there's likely more data center growth ahead, both in Phoenix and far-flung locations.

"It’s not that long ago that our data center footprint was small," said Adelman. "We’ve gotten pretty efficient. We’re pretty good at (scaling) now."

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