The Death of Load Balancing?

Frank Ohlhorst

Many technology analysts and IT pundits have predicted that load balancing technology is becoming something of a commodity, largely because the latest OSes and edge devices do everything that is needed to balance the loads across servers effectively. I almost bought into that argument myself, especially since open source load solutions such as Linux Virtual Server (LVS) have become viable products. That made me question the need for expensive proprietary pieces of hardware that did little more than play traffic cop with enterprise traffic.

I was pretty happy with my assumptions until I took a deeper dive into what load balancing is all about. Technically, I agree that the load balancing technology of yesteryear is dead. However, that death gave a phoenix-like resurrection to the concept of load balancing, except now, we refer to it as application balancing delivered via application delivery controllers (ADC). Effectively balancing traffic is no longer about CPU cycles and bandwidth, it is about the availability of mission-critical applications.

Today's AJAX-enabled applications and Web 2.0 technologies operate under a different set of guidelines than the mainstream applications of yesteryear. Throw in a dash of server virtualization and add a smidgen of new protocols (think VoIP, Video and IM) and the way traffic needs to move around the enterprise becomes radically different.

Recently, I took a look at some of the latest appliances from Coyote Point, a small application balancing appliance vendor located in the quiet hills of upstate New York, and I came to the conclusion that 'load balancing' (please don't call it that anymore) has taken on new significance in the enterprise. Coyote Point has taken its load balancing appliance and added awareness for protocols, applications, VMware servers, QoS and several other elements to move the chore of load balancing from a layer 4 event to a layer 7 event-in other words, the appliance is now aware of applications, as well as hardware and traffic loads.

That, my friend, is what we call a game changer - Coyote Point has also added support for VLANs and failover for local and geographically separated servers-making its appliance much more than just a load balancer; its a business continuity device as well. Coyote Point is not the only one playing this new game, vendors such as F5 Networks, Barracuda, Kemp, Zeus, Citrix, Cisco and a few others are revamping and reinventing their load balancing appliances into something much more.

The real question is-can your data center and enterprise network benefit from these new solutions?

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Mar 18, 2010 11:03 AM Nick Bond Nick Bond  says:
Hi Frank, this is very true, though maybe not as recent as you proclaim! Zeus have been doing this for about 6 years now, always as a software application, and for the last 3-4 years with virtual appliance for VMWare, Zen Server, EC2 etc. But you are right, simply load balancing across a few servers is not what it is all about (it is still one of the foundations of the products however). I describe our functionality as a translator, for what the business wants to achieve with the applications on the network. When the business says something like "when it's busy, we need these users here to continue to get a good service, and you can ignore these ones", it is the ADC that turns this into reality. Regards Nick Reply
Mar 28, 2010 4:03 PM Anonymous Anonymous  says:
The products are still "load balancing" but on a higher level protocol - these products where rubber stamped by Foundry Networks now Brocade. This was a great ISP technology as offering services for the masses is a huge diffentiator. I do not like software based tools like Zeus, as described above - no scalibility from an off the shelf server - if one is doing this when they need to number crunch, a high speed Linux kernel is the only way Reply
Jun 18, 2010 7:06 AM Phani Bhushan Phani Bhushan  says:
Really a nice perspective. It is true that layer 4 load balancing has become commodity and in order to remain in the market , product companies have to have upgrade themselves to layer 7 load balancing ... . The very big issue which remains that what actually enterprises are looking for and how they are being fed. Sometimes, I get feeling that enterprises are forced to adopt the latest upgrade ( such as from standard LB to ADC), irrespective they really need it or not. Reply
Jun 4, 2011 8:06 PM JudyBuckner JudyBuckner  says:
That is good that we are able to receive the loan and this opens up new opportunities. Reply

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