Amazon Route 53 DNS failover

While it is no longer shiny and new, I just recently got a chance to sit down andplay with Amazon Route 53’s DNS failover feature. So far, I have found it to be simple and very useful for simple cases where DNS fail-over is acceptable.

My usage case

I run EVE Market Data Relay (EMDR), which is a distributed EVE Online market data distribution system. All pieces of the infrastructure have at least one redundant copy, and the only single point of failure is the DNS service itself. We can afford to lose a little bit of data during fail-over, but a complete outage is something we can’t have.

Sitting at the top of the system are two HTTP gateways on different machines at different ISPs. These are set up as a weighted record set, with each gateway weighing in at 50/50 (requests are divided evenly).

We introduce the Route 53 magic by adding in a health check and associating it with each of the two resource record sets. The health check involves Route 53 servers around the world periodically calling a pre-determined URL on the two HTTP gateways in search for a non-error HTTP status code. If any of the entries fails more than three times (they check roughly every 30 seconds), said entry is removed from the weighted set.

By the time that Route 53 picks up on the failure, yanks the entry from the weighted set, and most fast ISP DNS servers notice the change, about two minutes have elapsed.

Why this is a good fit for EMDR

With EVE Market Data Relay, it’s not the end of the world if 50% of user-submitted data gets lost over the minute and a half it takes for Route 53 to remove the unhealthy gateway. It’s highly likely that another user will re-submit the very same data that was lost. Even if we never see the data, the loss of a few data points here and there doesn’t hurt us much in our case.

With that said, DNS failover in general can be sub-optimal in a few basic cases:

  • You don’t want to leave failover up to the many crappy ISP DNS servers around the net. Not all will pick up the change in a timely manner.
  • You can’t afford to lose some requests here and there. DNS failover isn’t seamless, so your application would need to be smart enough on both ends if data loss is unacceptable.

For more simple cases like mine, it’s wonderful.


In my case, Route 53 is health checking two servers that are external to AWS, which means I spend a whopping $1.50/month on Route 53’s DNS failover.

Assorted useful bits of documentation

More details on how the health checks work can be found on the Route 53 documentation.

Refer to the Amazon Route 53 DNS failover documentation for the full run-down.