Businesses have embraced the cloud, hybrid has become the new reality, resulting in complete end-to-end network infrastructure from the data centre to the cloud. Investments in hardware across the data centre are still being considered as applications migrate to the cloud.
Load balancing enables organisations to cost-effectively scale their operations while ensuring high availability and an outstanding user experience. Providing the bedrock for building flexible networks that meet evolving demands by improving performance and security for many types of traffic and services, including applications.
The functions of a load balancer:
- Optimum distribution of client requests or network traffic to multiple servers.
- Ensures that requests are only sent to those servers which are online, this increases the availability and reliability.
- Offers flexibility by allowing the addition and subtraction of servers based on demand.
Several types of load balancing are used, from DNS redirection to the nearest server, spreading the load across or within data centres. Using least used-, round-robin and/or specific application health metrics, loads can be redirected and support disaster recovery scenarios.
From large enterprises to service providers and cloud operators, organisations are hosting a large and rapidly growing set of mission-critical applications in need of scaling and availability. Another need of these organisations is security. Therefore load balancers are often enriched with security options, such as Web Application Firewall, and detection and prevention against DDoS traffic.
From load balancers to Application Delivery Controllers (ADC's)
While hardware load balancer devices have evolved into Application Delivery Controllers (ADC) by adding security, offloading of services along with seamless access to applications, load balancing still remains at the heart of any ADC.
Enterprises and hosting companies rely on ADC devices to distribute traffic to create highly available services and implement disaster recovery scenarios by protecting against a single point of failure outages and traffic bottlenecks to systems. ADCs can additionally help prevent denial-of-service attacks and allow legitimate users uninterrupted access to services.
ADC deployment categories
Currently, there are three deployment categories:
- Hardware appliances
- Virtual appliances
- Cloud-native load balancers
As computing moves to the cloud, software-based ADCs perform similar services and tasks to hardware and come with added functionality and flexibility. Those services include SSL/TLS offload, caching, compression, intrusion detection and web application firewalls. This creates even shorter delivery times and greater scalability.
Manageability is changing from a few devices carrying multiple gigabits of traffic to tens or hundreds of smaller software-based ADC’s. Centralised management of these instances is key to ensuring service availability by highlighting service bottlenecks in time.
ADC's let an organisation quickly and securely scale up its application services based on demand in the cloud or on-premise when managed properly an absolute must-have for any organisation.
We've selected four of the best load balancers to consider for 2024
F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager
The F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) is part of the BIG-IP product family. BIG-IP LMT optimises the speed and reliability of applications via both the network and application layers, respectively layers 3 and 7. It improves application and infrastructure responsiveness by using real-time protocol and traffic management decisions based on application and server conditions, extensive connection management, TCP, and content offloading.
LTM's full proxy architecture gives users protocol awareness to control traffic for the most important applications. It also tracks the dynamic performance levels of servers, ensuring that applications are not just always on, but also are easier to scale and manage. BIG-IP LTM delivers SSL performance and visibility for inbound and outbound traffic, to protect the user experience by encrypting everything from the client to the server.
Considered the benchmark for load balancing, many of the world's biggest IT departments use F5. The BIG-IP product family has a load-balancing solution for almost any budget and application, which can help in the process of the cost comparing load balancers across its product line as well as versus other load-balancing vendors.
Citrix ADC (formerly NetScaler ADC)
Citrix ADC (formerly NetScaler ADC) is an application delivery and load balancing solution that provides a high-quality user experience for your traditional, web, and cloud-native applications regardless of where they are hosted. It has a software-first approach to delivering applications across hybrid and multi-cloud architectures with deep visibility for a great application experience.
Citrix benefits from its platform being the load-balancing ADC that fully integrates into Cisco's unified fabric, leveraging Cisco's APIC (Application Policy Infrastructure Controller) to automate network provisioning and control based on app requirements and policies for data centres and enterprise environments.
Advanced L4-L7 server load balancing makes sure that application users access the right resource every time, while intelligent monitoring continuously checks the status of server resources to make sure they're ready to deliver applications on demand. The ADC features software-driven architecture that delivers performance and scale without a heavy reliance on custom hardware, blades, or chassis systems.
A10 application delivery and load balancer
The A10 Thunder ADC product line of high-performance, next-generation application delivery controllers enables customers’ applications to be highly available, accelerated and secure. The ADC processes a complex set of functions simultaneously via the industry’s highest-performing appliances. It integrates advanced L4-7 techniques to ensure server availability, protect vulnerable applications and accelerate content delivery.
Thunder ADC delivers L4-7 load balancing and multiple layers of security via web and DNS app firewalls, single sign-on (SSO) authentication and in-depth support for advanced encryption, including high-performance PFS/ECC.
Built upon A10’s Advanced Core Operating System (ACOS) platform, Thunder ADC delivers application performance and security for any environment.
NGINX Plus from F5 offers integrated load-balancing capabilities that provide customers of the NGINX web server with a software-based application delivery platform for efficiently managing and scaling web and mobile applications.
With NGINX Plus high‑performance load balancing, you can scale out and provide redundancy; enable global server load balancing, session persistence, active health checks; and dynamically reconfigure your infrastructure without the need for a restart. NGINX Plus load balances not only HTTP traffic but also TCP and UDP.
With this load balancer, there is also the flexibility of being easily deployed on-premises on existing hardware or in the cloud. It also provides application-aware health checks and monitoring, with automatic detection and resolution of many issues to significantly improve the availability of web and mobile applications.
Cloudnative load balancers
In the previous years migrating to the cloud has been a hot topic. Organisations want to move to the cloud to benefit from cloud characteristics. Most organisations are in some phase of this migration. In line with that, we see that cloud providers are also offering load-balancing functions from their different marketplaces.
So what should you choose to remain future-proof with your solution? Well, that depends entirely on the direction your business is in and the requirements you have for a load balancer.
If you are looking for basic load balancing and aren’t interested in additional security features and or advanced functional features, it all comes down to performance and price. If you are on the other hand looking for consolidation of different security point solutions or offloading your current solutions, it’s good to compare the more advanced solutions from the previous chapter. Architecture principles to consider are for example: What is your cloud strategy? And what does that mean for my externally delivered applications? If you develop in-house it can be wise to see how and in what way the different solutions can support CI/CD or any form of automatic deployments.
Most solutions cover the majority of requirements but every organisation has its specific requirements and sometimes the devil is in the details. We can provide guidance to find the right solution for your specific needs.
Cloud, on-premise or hybrid?
Just like the type of solution, it’s also very dependent on your strategy for the coming years and the speed of transformation. Almost every organisation has in more or fewer detail a strategy to go to the cloud. Most differences in the strategy are what they want to move to the cloud. Most companies are comfortable moving to for example Office 365 or Gsuite for office applications. But moving the “crown jewels”, your internal applications that directly support the primary process is very different per organisation.
It is good to inventory what your strategy means effectively for your load-balancing requirements. Based on that, decide where your load balancing needs in the future will be: on-premise, in de cloud or hybrid. Focus on the road to that goal. Be aware of any business growth during your transition. For example, if you are migrating to the cloud you might decide not to invest in on-premise solutions. But if your business grows all of a sudden you might find yourself in a complicated situation. It is important to keep the solution you intend to leave on par regarding performance and updates to be able to support your business.
Some solutions can manage both on-premise, both physical, and virtual as well as cloud environments in one dashboard enabling the road to your corporate architecture goals by seamlessly moving services between different environments. Of course, this flexibility comes with a price.
All and all it can be hard to predict your needs and thus the best solution. Our experts are available to help you make a solid and founded choice in this matter.
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