In-depth: Many servers need better balancing

Leigh Bradford looks at why the growth in the server market is fuelling the drive for load balancing among small and medium-sized enterprises - and why this is good news for those operating in the channel.

Leigh Bradford looks at why the growth in the server market is fuelling the drive for load balancing among small and medium-sized enterprises - and why this is good news for those operating in the channel.

Advances in technology have a habit of creating demand for even more technology, and Microsoft is certainly one of the main driving forces. Every time a new operating system is introduced, IT managers have to upgrade desktops to run it. The same is true in the server space.

Take the migration to Microsoft Exchange 2010, for example. Many SMEs moving to Exchange 2010 to handle increasing volumes of email are realising the need for load balancing for the first time.

With the changes Microsoft has made to its core server architecture, including the use of Exchange Client Access Server (CAS) to handle client connections, load balancing is needed to automatically re-route and reconnect users to functioning servers to ensure users do not suffer from poor performance and experience.

The same is true for those adopting Microsoft SharePoint and Lync. Microsoft is increasingly recommending the use of server load balancing to optimise the performance and resilience of these technologies.

For example, by adding load balancing, traffic can be scaled across Lync server pools, and if a server becomes inaccessible, the balancer will take it offline and automatically re-route and reconnect users to other functioning servers to guarantee application uptime.

Reseller opportunity
So, while server load balancing has traditionally been viewed as a problem only for large enterprises, and more a costly and unnecessary expense for SMEs, Microsoft is helping to fuel demand for affordable load balancing - and new opportunities for resellers.

While Microsoft's Windows Network Load Balancing (WNLB) software is often used for Exchange servers, it has limitations for Exchange 2010. For example, Microsoft does not recommend WNLB for more than eight client access servers and WNLB does not detect service outages.

But it is not just Microsoft driving this market. Five years ago, most SMEs relied on just a couple of servers to run their businesses, but now they may use as many as 10 or 15 physical or virtual servers.

Whereas businesses typically had separate systems and services to communicate and transact with customers, partners and employees, applications such as order processing, billing and customer management are now being integrated into complete supply chain, web-enabled applications. And while the internet is a highly resilient network, it was not developed with the demands of web-based apps and e-commerce in mind.

Load balancing technology
As a result, server load balancing has had to evolve to address the challenges of website infrastructure complexity, performance, scalability and security - creating a new range of devices called application delivery controllers (ADCs).

ADCs take load balancing a step further and, among other things, provide the ability to direct internet users to the best performing, most accessible servers.

By using load balancing algorithms, an ADC can also distribute users to servers based on factors such as the number of concurrent connections and CPU/memory utilisation. For greater speed and security, ADCs can also increase server performance and protection by offloading the encryption/decryption processes for SSL content.

When it comes to load balancing, most would think of big ticket systems from the likes of F5 aimed at large enterprises. Fortunately, vendors spotted and responded to this trend, and many now offer hardware appliances or virtual load balancing solutions from just over £1,000.

With ease-of-use in mind, a virtual or hardware appliance can be rapidly configured and deployed by SMEs looking to optimise performance and accelerate user access to network resources.

For the channel, load balancing offers another value-add opportunity that goes hand-in-hand with user migrations to Microsoft Exchange, Lync or SharePoint, or as part of a new server deployment.

SME IT is the same as enterprise IT in everything but scale, and SME owners want the same sort of functionality and quality in their IT services that enterprise CIOs take for granted.

Leigh Bradford is UK sales manager at Kemp Technologies

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