As a Solution Architect, I work with customers on a regular basis to make Enterprise IT environments agile and scalable so that technology enables business. Over the years, I’ve found that IT teams have new challenges and concerns around how Application Delivery Controller (ADC) or Load Balancing technology can meet the new demands of line-of-business applications for Sales, Marketing, Finance, Engineering, Development and Utilities. Demands such as Multi-Cloud environments, over-sizing and under-utilization, legacy multi-tenancy solutions, breaking down centralized hardware boxes into micro-sized virtual appliances, uncertainty around number of users/peak traffic/applications and of course, how to almost instantly provide self-service provisioning of ADC fabric for different teams across an organization
There are several vendors in the Application Delivery or Load Balancing market, all with a variety of feature sets and tools which offer their users different level of flexibility. Let’s assume you are considering a solution to deliver applications to your users that needs to be flexible and scalable. With so many options and vendors available how do you tell them apart? How would you ask the right questions to make sure they can fit into your environment?
IT buyers often don’t ask some of the most important questions when choosing an ADC. In this post I will share my experience from 17 years in network engineering to help you consider the 3 key questions to ask any ADC vendor. This will help you to make an informed decision by getting past the marketing language and documentation barrier to truly differentiate vendors.
What’s the history of this technology and the architecture model?
It’s important to ask Sales Engineers and Solution Architects about the history of the solution and product. If the architecture has been developed more than 10 years ago, be assured that this solution is not fit for current technology advancement and enterprise environments. Companies are operating Multi-Cloud, Multi-Platform environments where applications are distributed between platforms and there is uncertainty on how these applications develop in the future.
In environments with elements of uncertainty, you need a scalable and flexible platform that can deliver your applications no matter where they are. In Public Cloud (Azure, AWS, Google Cloud), Private Cloud (VMware, Hyper-V) or an on-premises centralized data center, your ADC MUST be able to deliver your applications in a scalable and elastic manner.
I engage with lot organizations and solution architects and many of them express concerns around over-provisioning and under-utilization of their ADC/Load Balancers as the underlying technology has been designed a long time ago and cannot cope with the new demands of modern environments. Even with so called ‘multi-tenancy’ features, some applications can still over-consume the ADC hardware and eat up other applications resources. ‘Multi-tenancy’ was a solution to a specific problem: giving separate resources to different applications on the same hardware appliance. This is no longer a viable solution when you have different teams working on separate environments (Dev, Test, Production, Lab etc.) and they demand application services almost daily.
IT and application services teams should be in control and able to spin up new instance of load balancer almost immediately per application in all private/public cloud environment to accommodate new demands of each line-of-business.
What Pricing Models can you offer?
Most organizations today are embracing OpEx or Pay-As-You-Go models of payment to use products and services from vendors instead of big upfront costs. Your selected vendor should provide the flexibility for you to change payment models as your organization changes. In most cases, ‘Per Instance’ will be suitable for fixed-scope use cases where you know exactly how much throughput you need, the volume of application traffic and number of users.
Metered Licensing is a way to make the sizing and scoping of your requirements very easy when you are uncertain of the number of users, throughput, number of instances, etc. In fact, Metered Licensing (Pay-As-You-Go) can make the sizing and scoping of Load Balancers unnecessary. You can easily break down your large centralized ADC infrastructure into smaller components, avoiding resources being wasted as you are not paying per instance, but per usage.
You can go as granular as load balancer per application and easily scale out/in depending on the usage and strategic requirements of your business. In this scenario, you are no longer concerned about over/under sizing, because you are no longer paying for the box. Your commitment is to pay only for the usage for the last month, without concern for which box and how many of them have been deployed. This information is no longer relevant. So, you can always accommodate your application traffic peak by scaling your ADC fabric during peak times and scale down almost instantly.
How is application performance monitored?
Once you know what the architecture looks like and how to scope and size your ADC infrastructure, there will be the challenge of monitoring and managing this Multi-Cloud, Multi-Platform deployment and making sure performance is optimized.
Most monitoring tools are only designed to work with one vendor’s ADC. Vendor-agnostic monitoring can add immense value and simplification as you embrace Multi-Cloud solutions and obviously will avoid you becoming bound to one vendor. Automation and orchestration of complex infrastructure is another challenge that can be solved by vendor-agnostic management and monitoring, as it can integrate with your current DevOps environment and help you provision Load Balancers in the matter of seconds.
Ask ADC vendors these three questions to see how they can put you in control of your applications rather than themselves. If a vendor can offer modern architecture, flexible pricing models, remove the need to size/scope and monitoring of ALL ADC infrastructure in a vendor agnostic environment, then you are in control. Be in control!