There’s probably a better way to handle DNS migrations, VentraIP

If you’re looking to start a fresh site, with a new domain name, DNS migrations are probably the least of your concerns.

For a live site, DNS migrations can be tricky. You’d want the corresponding DNS entries to be replicated across to the new nameserver, before you actually switch nameservers on your registrar. Otherwise, cutting over to the new nameserver basically leaves you with downtime. You could potentially muck multiple services up (like website, email, CDN, FTP), just because they’re all pointing to the wrong servers.

Ideally, you’d want to either prepare for the migration yourself, and ensure all entries are on the new nameserver. Or ensure there’s a managed migration service that takes care of it for you.

A graceful DNS migration however, seems to be something VentraIP’s VIPControl system isn’t capable of allowing at this point.

How VentraIP’s DNS management works now

Under its Manage DNS section, there are two relevant sections: Customer Nameservers, and Free DNS Hosting. Both sound exactly like what they are: one offers a section for you to enter custom nameservers (instead of VentraIP’s), and the other allows you to use VentraIP’s free DNS hosting.

Here’s where it gets interesting. When Free DNS Hosting is clicked, a warning comes up saying this will break existing DNS setups. Should you proceed, your domain will be adjusted to use VentraIP’s nameservers immediately, with their default DNS settings. There’s no way you can adjust the entries, before it goes live.

How I set my DNS on fire

Definitely not absolving myself of blame here, I most definitely saw the warning, and went ahead anyway. But I was expecting a screen saying, “here’s where you enter your desired DNS entries” and a “are you ready to move to VentraIP’s nameservers?” button.

Instead, what I got was a list of live entries, with most obvious one being my domain’s A record, featuring 86400 TTL ie 24 hours.

I literally went FML the moment I saw that entry, because it meant hello downtime!

It’s a good thing we didn’t have any big storylines lined up for publishing today, otherwise it would have been a big disaster. As it was, I asked everyone to cease content promotion, hold off writing on WordPress until the DNS caught up.

Meanwhile, the domain turned into a parked domain advertisement page for VentraIP, proclaiming: “This domain name currently parked with VentraIP Australia.”

Spoke to technical support after that and I knew their hands were tied while TTL was waiting to expire. I also asked that a new feature request be put in, on allowing customers to self-enter custom DNS records before VentraIP nameservers were applied.

This means, any customers with custom (external, non-VentraIP) nameservers, would be able to line their DNS ducks in a row nicely, before they hit the big button and go “ok guys, everything looks good – I’m ready to cut over to my shiny new VentraIP nameserver!”

What I was told, was that it’s possible if I have a cPanel account (I only signed up for email hosting so I didn’t get that), but it’s “something in the works, but requires a major DNS update to our systems so it is still a far way off unfortunately.”

Not having TTL as 86400 on your default A record would’ve been really nice. For what it’s worth, it took less than 24 hours for the change to catch up, but our downtime was still measured in hours.

Looking forward to the day when VentraIP updates their system, for the sake of future customers. In the meantime, good luck to everyone else in charge of DNS migrations. It might be best to use an external nameserver you can manage yourself in the meantime.

It definitely wasn’t straightforward

I would’ve settled for VentraIP support proactively replicating my entries across as well. I asked about this in my very first email to VentraIP’s sales team, and was told it would be straightforward, since I was moving off a cPanel host.

The entire process was definitely trickier than promised, and not as fuss-free as I would’ve preferred it to be. There was also no help offered on moving the entries over.

I’m over the entire process at this point. But if you’re looking for a hands-free, fully managed migration of any sort, be warned. Especially if you’re not technically competent when it comes to hosting.

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