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Global distributed systems must be standards-based to allow interoperability between all of their components. While this guarantees interoperability, it often causes local inflexibility and an inability to adapt to specialised local requirements. We show how local flexibility and global consistency can coexist by changing the way that we represent these systems. The proven technologies already in use in the Semantic Web, to support and interpret metadata annotation, provide a well-tested starting point. We can use OWL ontologies and RDF to describe distributed systems using a knowledge-based approach. This allows us to maintain separate local and global operational spaces which, in turn, gives us local flexibility and global consistency. The annotated and well-defined data is better structured, more easily maintained and less prone to errors since its purpose can be clearly determined prior to use. To illustrate the application of our approach in distributed systems, we present our implementation of an ontologically-based Domain Name System (DNS) server and client. We also present performance figures to demonstrate that the use of this approach does not add significant overhead to system performance.