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What are Load Balancers?

What are Load Balancers and How do They Help the Web Run Smoothly?

Every day, billions of people around the globe get online to shop for clothes, research data for school or work, play games, or connect with friends on social networking sites. Although each one of these billion people enjoys the freedom of the web from one computer, all of these applications cannot possibly be supported by one network server within a company.

Load balancers exist to help businesses both large and small maintain connectivity, upload and download speeds, and handle webpage traffic. Never heard of a load balancer? Below you’ll find a crash course in all things load balancing, including some examples of its application in the real world.

What are Load Balancers?

Load balancers are devices that are installed on a company’s network to help handle the workload that the servers face on a daily basis. As the name suggests, these devices act as a reverse proxy that helps distribute traffic on the network across various servers, ensuring better performance on the network and stronger connectivity.

Generally speaking, there are two categories that load balancers fall into, with each performing different tasks to help network servers run at optimal levels. Layer 4 load balancers process data found within a network and help direct layer protocols (IP, TCP, FTP, etc.) around the network effectively. Layer 7 load balancers redirect incoming requests on the network based upon the data contained in application layer protocols, namely HTTP.

How Load Balancing Works

Load Balancing is arguably the most important networking solution any business can integrate. These devices distribute incoming traffic across multiple servers that host the same content or application. Balancing the incoming traffic across various servers prevents any one server from becoming a failure point. This doesn’t mean that individual servers won’t fail, but rather, that when a server does fail it won’t result in the failure of an entire system.

When a server goes down, load balancers shift the incoming traffic away from that server and distribute it across the remaining servers in the network. Think of it as a backup electricity generator that kicks in when there’s a power-outage.

Benefits of Load Balancing

In addition to improving connectivity and performance on network servers, load balancers also make scalability easier for a business. When demands begin to outpace the ability of a current server pool, new servers can be added to the group with ease. The load balancer will automatically begin redirecting work across the larger server pool, seamlessly integrating the new server into the workload balance.

Load Balancing in the Real World

With the rise in popularity of cloud computing, load balancers have become an important tool in the daily operations of just about every website. An increasing number of businesses have entrusted the management of their network and servers to cloud hosting companies. In the case of larger corporation with a cloud host, control over the number of servers and the availability of them is beyond their control.

So who should be using load balancers? The answer is broader than you might think–everyone from DevOps teams to system engineers to IT departments in companies both large and small can benefit. For example, due to the cost of purchasing and maintaining servers, small business owners often opt to entrust their entire IT infrastructure to a cloud host. Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) providers, such as GoGrid, offer DIY public cloud computing solutions to help infrastructure engineers ensure their business’s website stays online. Small businesses get access to a large server pool (one that is otherwise affordable), on which the traffic is managed by load balancers that keep the websites and applications of various small business clients up and running.

If your business website suffers from poor load times or customers are complaining about sluggish performance from your applications, it may be time to invest in load balancers to better handle the traffic. The networking solution specialists on the ComputeNext marketplace offer a variety of load balancers to help manage your incoming web traffic and improve the performance of your network.

Image: Flikr/JD

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