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?