Ten years ago, if you had asked a reseller or CIO about the players in the load balancing market, chances are that only a few companies would have sprung to mind. The fact is that load balancing in those days was a costly ‘big iron’ purchase aimed at only the large enterprises.
But times have changed and the increasing dependency on IT and applications such as Microsoft Exchange, along with the rise of web-based services and e-commerce drove demand for more affordable and flexible load balancing appliances and Application Delivery Controllers (ADCs). This opened up the market and presented new opportunities for the channel.
Then along came virtualisation; starting on the desktop but soon offering a cost-effective alternative for re-architecting complete IT environments. But applications running in a virtual environment still need load balancing, so a new range of software solutions now support the likes of VMware and Hyper-V.
In fact, this virtual trend is growing. Two years ago at KEMP, virtual load balancers and ADCs accounted for 10-15% of sales. Today that figure is 35% and we expect to reach 50% as soon as next year. The benefits for resellers are clear. Apart from the increase in volume sales, delivering and deploying software is faster and less costly for both channel and the end customer.
But virtualisation opens up another avenue for ‘bare metal’ software. It is possible to deliver a full featured load balancer or ADC running natively, as an operating system, inside the fabric of a blade server system such as Cisco UCS or HP Proliant server. This way, customers can leverage their existing hardware investments and benefit from increased application performance by eliminating the need for external third-party ADC and Load Balancers. For resellers, this also presents an opportunity to add value to server business and further protect customer investment.
Then we come to the cloud. Having been in IT for more years than I would care to mention, I have seen plenty of industry hype and excitement and the cloud is up there with the best. With customers recognising the benefits of lower investment and support costs as well as greater agility and flexibility for delivering applications, the cloud looked on its way to live up to the hype. At KEMP, we saw the need and were quick to deliver load balancing solutions for cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS.
But more recently, an element of paranoia appears to have crept in. Maybe it’s that feeling of loss of control that comes from having off-site hosting, along with the myriad of articles on the security risks of the cloud and impact of Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA activities in the cloud.
As a result, there is growing hesitation about moving everything into the cloud. Instead, the idea of a hybrid cloud is starting to resonate among mid-market customers and resellers. All the benefits of cloud computing but with the confidence of a physical on-site presence.
This plays well for resellers that are able to deliver a ‘wrapping’ of professional services such as remote configuration, management and on-site support. In addition, trusted resellers are also offering specific hosted cloud services for applications such Microsoft Exchange.
So what’s next? The latest buzz is around Software Defined Networks (SDN). This effectively de-couples the network from underlying hardware and allows the network to better integrate with and support virtualised environments. Furthermore, Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) does precisely what its name implies and virtualises network functions without the need for physical proprietary pieces of hardware.
With a SDN architecture we are able to provide a flexible framework to deliver virtualised network functions, which could include load balancing/ADC, a web application firewall (WAF) or a WAN optimisation controller (WOC), for example.
For vendors such as KEMP and our resellers, the challenge is to stay one step ahead and deliver solutions to cover all bases. High availability and a simplified user experience is the end game. . Load balancing and application delivery will always have a critical part to play, no matter what the platform, no matter what the application and no matter where it is hosted.
George Zervos is VP Sales EMEA & Emerging Markets at Kemp Technologies