Home » Should we ditch the box? Are powerful virtual ADC’s making hardware load balancers less necessary?

Should we ditch the box? Are powerful virtual ADC’s making hardware load balancers less necessary?


Does the advent of new and powerful virtual ADCs mean Hardware Load Balancers are heading for the scrapheap?

What do we mean by “ditch the box”? Well for a lot of applications the need for purchasing a powerful and costly hardware load balancer is no longer there. We’ve just launched our latest series of powerful virtual application delivery controllers and load balancers and we’re starting to see an interesting trend in the load balancing market. In the same way that virtualisation of servers has taken hold in the last several years, virtual load balancers are grabbing an increasing chunk of the market and for related business reasons.

Hardware Load Balancers aren’t going anywhere

Lets make one thing clear before we go on though. We aren’t making any statements about the “death of hardware load balancers” or any other foolish thing like that. At the moment the idea is just ridiculous. To the contrary powerful hardware load balancers are still a very necessary component of the IT mix for those that really need them. If you’re a very large e-commerce business with your own servers (e.g., Amazon), then the early December period probably wouldn’t be survivable without a high-end hardware load balancer or possibly even a few of them.

When CAN a Virtual ADC be used in place of Hardware then?

For many other applications though our new Virtual LoadMaster (VLM) 200, 2000, and 5000 are just as powerful as a mid-range hardware load balancer.

Victor Delgado of Texas A&M talks of how KEMP Virtual Loadmasters helped solve their changing IT needs:

“In the past, we had deployed Web server farms behind a vendor’s load-balancing product. While this product met some of our needs, several deficiencies in the product caused efficiency issues, while other needs could not be met by the product’s features.

Another issue with our previous load-balancer solution was a Web interface that I found kludgy and slow, which meant that small reconfiguration tasks consumed minutes of time. Although one task in itself didn’t present a problem, any major reconfiguration could take upward of an hour to complete. When you need to make 100 clicks to complete a change, even a delay of one or two minutes quickly adds up.

Our hypervisor platform of choice also presented a shift in needs. Most virtual load-balancers on the market require VMware’s ESX hypervisor, but our push had been to move to the Microsoft Hyper-V platform. As such, a load-balancing solution that supported Hyper-V virtualization was a project requirement. Due to recent high-profile security concerns surrounding Sun’s Java platform, the field of possible load-balancer candidates was narrowed even further to offerings that didn’t rely on Java-based Web administration consoles.

As a result, we began searching for a price-conscious, load-balancer replacement that could deliver a speedy interface, operate on Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisor platform, and deliver high availability, security and simplicity without sacrificing performance. After evaluating multiple products, we chose Kemp Technologies’ Virtual LoadMaster (VLM) to manage our user traffic and deliver high availability, high performance and ease of management for our Web-based applications.

Since external security threats are a top concern for us, having an intrusion prevention system (IPS) on the load-balancing solution was a must-have. Although many load-balancing solutions offered an intrusion detection system (IDS) and/or an IPS, these features tended to be “black-box” functions that provided little or no customization and could be configured only in an “on” or “off” state.

The Kemp VLM solution offered us an industry-standard, Snort format-compatible IPS that could be customized by any administrator familiar with writing Snort rules. The IPS functionality could also be tuned to various levels. This allowed our administrators to enforce different levels of IPS behavior ranging from highly aggressive, automatic threat-blocking down to a passive, log-and-alert-only setting.

The solution also offered us a more simplified Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate management process that could be easily maintained at the load-balancer. This simplified interface ended the need to maintain certificates on a vast array of Web servers and provided an easy and painless interface for installing and swapping a variety of certificate formats seamlessly and almost instantaneously (.crt, .cer, and .pfx). The result is headache-free SSL management with almost no client downtime.”

– See the rest of what Victor had to say about their deployment of KEMP VLMs here

The VLM solution provided for Texas A&M more than matched their previous hardware solution.

How can KEMP VLMs have such high performance?

There are quite a few folk who wonder about how we can make our virtual load balancers perform like we do. Well we’re a software driven company. For us it’s not about the box itself, it’s about what we put in the box.

You might hear over the next while people talking about the displacement of hardware load balancers by a virtual equivalent but that’s not exactly what’s happening. It’s not about ditching the box, it’s about freeing ADCs from that physical constraint in the same way that virtualisation has done for servers.

As anyone working in the server technology arena will tell you, it was never really about the box in the first place.


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