Written by Ronald Sens, EMEA Director at A10 Networks
Load balancing of application traffic has been around for a long time. But, as more organisations move to the private and public cloud, it’s undergoing significant changes. Let’s look at some of the important considerations of this evolving technology.
Three major requirements underline IT operations and DevOps today: agile, efficiency and, multi-cloud operations.
Agile: The movement toward public cloud is arguably driven by an organisation’s desire to deliver more functionality faster. Public clouds like Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS) allow organisations the capacity and capability necessary to drive that agility.
Efficiency: Doing more with less puts a great amount of pressure on IT operations. With infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), management is divided into infrastructure management and application management. IaaS addresses availability, elasticity and efficiency of operations, and cost. Application teams then address the efficiency of application delivery.
Multi-Cloud Operations: Companies prefer to keep their data within their own data centres. Most adopt a multi-cloud infrastructure to balance privacy and efficiency. Less-sensitive data may be stored in public clouds while sensitive data remains in their private cloud.
Current State of Load Balancing in the Cloud
Advanced load balancing has emerged as an important element of modern operations. Load balancing has evolved given these three requirements of DevOps. Load balancing historically only handled distributing the traffic amongst servers and, in some cases, SSL offload.
Load balancers are in the middle of an organisation’s application traffic. They’re place in a critical position to see a tremendous amount of information about the flowing traffic.
Advanced load balancing provides more value and efficiency to the operations team. This is especially true with micro-services architecture and the deployment of datacentre containers or Kubernetes environments.
5 Benefits of Advanced Load Balancers for the Cloud
The advantages of advanced load balancing can be condensed into five main categories. Let’s take a closer look at each benefit and why advanced load balancing plays an important role in promoting team agility, improving security, streamlining workflows and using new technologies.
Increased Visibility, Insights and Analytics
Increased visibility, insights and analytics allow organisations to accomplish several goals, spanning from basic to cutting-edge.
Improve network traffic monitoring by including application traffic with traditional infrastructure monitoring. Organisations can learn what traffic is coming and how efficiently it is being served.
Detailed reports and health statistics, and thus better understand how their infrastructure is performing.
Operations teams can complete the troubleshooting process more efficiently.
Analytics and insights become proactive rather than reactive. A company might notice a latency issue and work to fix it before users start sending in support tickets.
Use the insights to perform actions automatically. Automatically adjust the infrastructure due to a change in application traffic, or block a user identified as an attacker.
Load balancers are placed directly into the flow of all network traffic. That placement presents an ideal opportunity to understand the behaviour and differentiate between good and bad traffic. Load balancer can automatically detect anomalies and, as a result, stop malicious traffic.
Infrastructure security is the responsibility of public cloud providers like AWS and Azure. Application-level security is still the responsibility of application owners as per Shared Security Responsibility. It is essential organisations understand the importance of full stack security and look for load balancers with integrated security.
Security products have traditionally been overly complicated and difficult to configure. Modern security products’ makes it easy for operations teams to quickly configure and use critical functions. Advanced load balancers capable of integrating with advanced security products can increase efficiency and strengthen defences.
Centralised management eliminates the need to log in to individual load balancers. There you can see the entire application stack within a single pane of glass. Public clouds allow the application stack to run across multiple regions. Centralised management allows application traffic to be managed across all regions within a single console. This provides both efficiency and easy manageability.
Advanced load balancers integrate with centralised management. Central management of policies is even more valuable when load balancers are deployed across multiple clouds. This power adds centralised visibility and analytics of the environment. The centralised analytics corelates data coming from various sites. This facilitates actionable insights across the entire environment.
Observations from one site, especially related to cyber security attacks, can be used for proactive actions on other sites. For example, a cyber attacker is identified at one site they can be blocked at all sites from a central console.
Automation and Multi-Cloud Integration
More than 70 percent of organisations have a multi-cloud environment. Any technology they adopt today must integrate across the entire environment. This includes public clouds, private clouds, data centres, and bare-metal servers. This requirement applies to choosing a load balancer.
It’s important that load balancers have APIs for integration. Many enterprises have already implemented continuous integration/continuous delivery pipelines. Load balancers need to integrate with DevOps toolchain and infrastructure platforms.
Full integration is achieved only when API calls are possible in all directions. DevOps tools can call the load balancer API. Load balancer can call the external API in case of an alert or event.
Containers and Container-Orchestration Integration
The industry is adopting containers and container orchestration systems. According to a recent survey by 451 Research, 71% of enterprises are either using or evaluating options like Kubernetes and Docker.
Applications are moving from monolithic to a microservice architecture. Deployments are migrating from traditional hardware servers with virtual machines running on the cloud, to containers running on multiple environments.
Kubernetes and Docker have been adopted by many of the industry’s top players, including Google, Amazon, Microsoft, VMware, RedHat, IBM and more. Docker and Kubernetes have as a result become de-facto standards.
Data centre criteria should include integration with container technologies. It must automatically scale containerised applications as needed while simultaneously maintaining complete visibility. This eliminates the need to manually configure policies or manage scaling.
Given the significant benefits of cloud load balancing, it’s easy to see why organisations are turning to new and advanced load balancing solutions. Load balancing is evolving to combat the evolving threat in cyber security and businesses have taken notice.