Last month, the entire internet went down for a few hours. At least that’s what one of the biggest denial-of-service attacks in recent memory felt like to a lot of people. Sites from Netflix, Spotify, and Reddit to The New York Times and, yes, even WIRED went dark.
The massive outage was the result of an attack on an Internet infrastructure company called Dyn. You’d think that finding yourself at the center of such a destructive online maelstrom wouldn’t be much of a sales pitch. But it seems to have worked out for Dyn: today database giant Oracle said it plans to acquire the company.
Dyn is best known for providing domain name system (DNS) services–essentially address books for the internet that help websites tell the world how to get from an address like “wired.com” to the web servers that host the pages. Oracle, meanwhile, is best known for selling business software to large companies. But Oracle is also in the midst of a reinvention: it wants to become a cloud computing company that can compete with the likes of Amazon and Google. In that case, the acquisition of Dyn just might give Oracle a much-needed asset. The services Dyn provides has enabled it to gather a wealth of data about how the modern Internet works—including data on the sorts of attacks that crippled its own servers last month. That’s the sort of competitive insight Oracle will need to make it in the crowded cloud computing market.
Oracle competes head-on with Amazon for cloud customers, but Amazon has an enormous head start. Most analysts estimate Amazon now commands the bulk of the cloud market, and based on quarterly revenue growth, it still appears to be growing faster than its major competitors.
Amazon and Google already offer their own DNS services. So in a sense, Dyn just makes Oracle’s cloud offering more complete. But Dyn isn’t just another DNS provider.
If you’d heard of Dyn before last month, it’s probably because you’ve seen news stories referencing the company’s data on other major internet outages. Thanks to its 2014 acquisition of an network intelligence company called Renesys, Dyn has become the go-to authority on internet downtime. For example, when reports surfaced that Turkey was blocking social media sites like Facebook and Twitter during an attempted coup last summer, Dyn was able to confirm that traffic had been throttled.
This sort of outage information is useful for more than just understanding what’s going on in the world. The internet operates a bit like a giant international highway system. If there’s a wreck along one route through the Internet, you’ve got to find a way around it. Dyn uses all this data it gathers about outages and problems to help optimize large companies’ networks, ensuring data make it around the world as quickly as possible despite any obstacles it may encounter. And while it’s not clear if Oracle began its talks to acquire the company before or after the massive attack that took down Dyn’s servers, the incident is exactly the sort of thing that Dyn likes to collect information about.
“That’s something that is unique. How do people attack networks? That’s a moving target,” IDC analyst Elisabeth Rainge says. “That ability to look into internet performance and develop geographic intelligence is the thing to look at.”
Is that enough to convince customers to switch from Amazon or Google to Oracle? Perhaps not. But as Oracle tries to sell its existing corporate customers on the cloud, Dyn’s capabilities could give it an edge, especially if it makes those features exclusive to Oracle’s cloud. Odd as it may sound, hackers taking Dyn down could wind up a selling point.