What to look for in a Next-Gen Software Load Balancer

by Dave Blakey on Business • March 21, 2019

Your company is growing, and that’s great, but network performance is suffering under the additional load. You’re hearing from the higher-ups that downtime numbers are unacceptable, and site load speed is costing you customers. The pressure is on to take control of these performance issues and implement a cost-effective load balancing solution that will scale with your company’s needs.

Traditional versus Software Load Balancers and Cloud-Native Load Balancers

Most organizations have some sort of load balancer in place, but many still rely on traditional hardware-based load balancers that lack the agility, scalability, and visibility of modern software load balancers.

Hardware load balancers are generally good at keeping traffic flowing, but they are bulky, wasteful, and hard to scale. Unexpected load surges can’t be quickly addressed, leading to potential downtime, which can cause loss of revenue and customer goodwill. Provisioning multiple physical load balancers for occasional peak load times isn’t space- or cost-effective.

Next-gen software load balancers have been designed to be agile and with DevOps in mind so most packages come as a part of a larger Application Delivery Controller (ADC). ADCs combine tools to facilitate fast, frequent, and reliable application delivery, regardless of changes in traffic demand. Servers can be added or removed with a few clicks to accommodate peak traffic times and unexpected surges. 

Cloud-native load balancers take this to another level, enabling centralized control for automated deployment, configuration, monitoring and scaling from a single management UI for up to tens of thousands of ADCs. Cloud-native architectures supporting containers, service-discovery, edge computing and multi-cloud open up many more deployment options.

Features to Look for in a Software Load Balancer

There are several features that make switching to a software load balancer or a cloud-native load balancer a smart business move for your organization.

Scalable technology and licensing

Unlike traditional hardware load balancers, modern software load balancers and cloud-native load balancers support scaling out and scaling in very easily.

Software load balancers can be installed and configured quickly on any standard server hardware, or in VMs or public/private cloud environments, without installing new hardware and the requisite power and networking infrastructure. When demand increases, it’s easy to set up new software instances.

Cloud-native load balancers make scaling even easier, with support for orchestration and automation in popular container environments, with some enabling true hyperscale application delivery. 

Just as important as the technology is the licensing model. Traditional hardware load balancers require substantial capital investment, which makes it financially difficult to scale out and scale in on-demand, and typically results in expensive overprovisioning. Software and cloud-native load balancers more often provide a SaaS-style pay-as-you-go licensing model, which makes it financially viable to scale on-demand.

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Flexibility to Run on Any System or in the Cloud

One key consideration when choosing a next-gen software load balancer is where you are going to put it. For maximum flexibility, look for a solution that can be deployed on virtual, bare metal, container, cloud or multi-cloud platforms. With most software load balancers, there are no physical appliances to store, and the virtual- and cloud-based deployment options make them easily scalable and configurable by both collocated and distributed team members.

Cloud-native load balancers capable of running natively in container environments like Docker and Kubernetes provide further flexibility and support for orchestration and automation platforms, and fit perfectly into modern CI/CD pipelines used by DevOps teams.

100% Availability 100% of the Time

Today’s users demand 100% availability. If you can’t provide it, they will move on to your competitor. Software load balancers have several features to ensure your site is always up and available, even during peak traffic times or widespread outages. 

Cloud-native load balancers can additionally instantiate additional nodes automatically, ensuring you always have sufficient capacity for load balancing, acceleration and security, no matter how much traffic – or how big a threat – comes your way. Application intelligence and automation embedded in cloud-native load balancers power traffic profiling, predictive analytics, anomaly and threat detection, and autonomous responses. 

Active/Passive Redundancy

Active/passive redundancy ensures high availability because there are servers on standby, ready to take over if the active server fails. For example, some software load balancers use floating IP addresses on paired servers, so if the connection is lost, the IP address will immediately transfer to the redundant server, resulting in a seamless (to the user) failover. 

Cloud-native load balancers can provide additional types of redundancy by balancing multiple clouds, platforms and environments simultaneously, to produce “Cloud-N” redundancy.

Multiple Load Balancing Algorithms

Load balancers use several algorithms to determine where to send a request. No algorithm is perfect, but having multiple options provides the highest availability and reduces risk. Some of the most common load balancing algorithms include:

  • Round robin algorithm: Requests are sent to upstream servers in order—i.e., request 1 goes to server A, request 2 goes to server B, and so on. Once a server receives a request, the server moves to the bottom of the queue.
  • Least connections algorithm: Requests are sent to the server with the fewest active connections and the highest potential response time.
  • IP hash algorithm: Requests are sent to servers based on IP address. This ensures the same client will always be directed to the same server if it is available.

Global Load Balancing

Globally distributed server resources combined with global server load balancing (GSLB) provide constant availability, even when faced with geographically targeted network or server outages. For example, when a hurricane hits Florida and causes widespread outages, requests can be routed to servers in other regions with no disruption of service.

Software and cloud-native load balancers make GSLB implementation easier by enabling faster deployment, with no hardware, anywhere in the world. 

Cloud-native load balancers with centralized control and monitoring make managing a global load balancing network painless.

Visibility into Key Metrics and Real-Time Performance Alerts

It’s impossible to feel confident in your performance monitoring when you are flying blind. Lack of access to key metrics is a common complaint among platform administrators and team leads. 

Next-gen software load balancers address this frustration by providing clean, comprehensive dashboards via a web interface. The most robust dashboards clearly display crucial performance metrics, such as health check results, HTTP status codes, average response time, latency, and real-time performance alerts via text, email, and even Slack. 

In our increasingly web-centric world, it makes business sense to move much of our organizational infrastructure online. This is especially true when it comes to our application delivery control systems. There is no reason to stay chained to physical load balancing hardware. Today’s software load balancing and cloud-native load balancing solutions are easily scalable and available across multiple platforms, provide high availability, reliability, observability, deliver real-time performance monitoring, and visibility into key metrics.

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