Ensuring optimal application performance is a critical task for any CIO. As a means to monitor and manage app traffic, load balancers used to be clunky appliances stuck in a dark server room. Despite their strategic position in the network – in the path of application traffic, they have been overlooked for years as a source of application intelligence and insights.
This article will introduce the concept of load balancers and why new software-defined approaches to application delivery have made them cool again. Implemented entirely in software, scalable load balancing technology has become the gateway to optimizing online performance and handling end user traffic spikes – as an example during holiday sales – ultimately impacting the CIO’s bottom line.
From old school to the new cool – Why load balancers are suddenly all the rage with CIOs and DevOps teams
For anyone familiar with a server room, load balancers may jump to mind along with routers and switches. Despite their strategic purpose as traffic cops within a network, load balancers have not changed in the last twenty years – until now. Believe it or not, up until recently, network IT teams purchased and configured monolithic pieces of hardware in exactly the same way they did in the 1990s.
For perspective, imagine owning a hi-def. flat screen television with surround sound and deciding to watch movies by connecting the system to a VCR. That’s more or less the reality for IT network teams that work with public, private, and hybrid clouds but use antiquated load balancers to monitor and manage the traffic that goes across the network.
Compared to old school load balancers, new software-defined application delivery technology has the power to impact the CIOs bottom line in a number of ways.
Software load balancers with a central controller provide a single point of management with an app-centric view of all virtual services. This central management allows the distributed load balancers to be spun up or down or reconfigured as needed, thus enabling more of a public cloud-like experience with automatic scaling capabilities and speed of deployment. Telemetry is built into the solution itself to do this scaling, and automation is made easy, especially when coupled with native REST APIs and integration with management and orchestration platforms.
Application analytics and performance monitoring
Application analytics is not typically considered a load balancing function, but software-defined architectures are facilitating the delivery of deep visibility and insights into application performance. These insights are extremely valuable for tracking anomalies, pointing out inefficiencies, logging significant events to discover undetected network issues, and understanding end-to-end performance results with web properties, which is especially useful on heavy traffic days like Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Scalable load balancing technology is now the gateway to companies’ ability to optimize online performance and handle end user traffic spikes like holiday sales, which ultimately impacts the CIO’s bottom line.
When load balancers come loaded (ahem) with analytics, networking teams have critical insights that help to ensure a great end user experience. They can see where users are coming from, any latencies or slow pages on the website, if there are problems with the app, what pages returned 404 errors, etc. Application owners benefit from helpful metrics such as what the mix of mobile devices versus traditional computers looks like and what browser types are used.
Another powerful tool in the IT arsenal is the ability to visualize denial-of-service attacks as they are occur. For example, an admin can see the domain that is initiating a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack and shut off the specific affected instances on the UI. Rather than wait for human intervention to spin up additional load balancers, the system can do it automatically based on real time traffic patterns. Security teams also have actionable information coming out of the infrastructure in real time instead of exporting log files after a problem has occurred to further analyze it.
Ease of set-up and use
With speed of application roll outs being an important measure of IT success, simple setups and ease of use are key necessities for network teams. Without the dependencies on proprietary hardware, software-only load balancers which can be deployed on bare metal servers, VMs, or even containers allow a highly available instance to be deployed, configured, and integrated in short order with an intuitive interface that is easy for anyone to use, including development teams that lack load balancing experience. CIOs are also happy because there’s a high cost-saving element to utilizing software instead of relying on proprietary hardware. They only pay for what is used, and the software scales on the commodity infrastructure or the cloud without impacting performance.
Strategic and cool
Hardware load balancers got the job done back in the day when application were monolithic and it was ok to take several weeks to stand up infrastructure for an application. But with application roll outs, uptime, and updates quickly determining the profitability for enterprises the old school load balancers are dragging down network teams and lacking in coolness points. However, today’s software-defined approach to application delivery mirror the needs of busy DevOps teams and network teams who are buzzing with excitement about the newfound virtues of load balancers. At last, load balancers don’t have to be one of the slowest IT components in the path to business success with applications. In fact, they can impact the bottom line for the CIO and enable the delivery of great customer experiences at the speed of modern of applications. With scalable technology that optimizes online performance for end users and enables developers to rapidly iterate on applications, both internal and external customers are experiencing the benefits of modernizing the server room.