The Criticality of Balancing Network Traffic in a Time of Crisis
The impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on people and businesses around the world has been monumental, altering day-to-day life for millions of people and redefining business operational processes across every industry. New business continuity challenges have required rapid responses to unprecedented changes in work schedules, remote application accessibility, and spikes in networking and data demands. A mass shift towards enabling teleworking is one of the most notable ways companies have looked to ensure their customers and workforce is up and running. But this accelerated shift has caused various network traffic issues such as too many VPN users, remote-meeting software crashes, and team collaboration software that can’t keep up with demand. These application health and performance issues are due to over-taxed resources and strain on underlying network infrastructure directly affecting the ability to serve customers.
Fortunately, the tech world is adept at pulling together with rapid responses, and those issues are getting better day by day, and many of our customers have shifted massive amounts of network capacity and bandwidth out of traditional high demand areas (Central Business Districts & office parks) to suburban and rural areas to support the new normal of home working. This brings us to a key capability that is core to effective network operations – load balancing.
What Does Balancing Network Traffic Look Like?
Load balancers manage the flow of information between a server (or fleet of servers) and an endpoint device (PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone) to enable effective use and high availability of applications. This technology is equally applicable regardless of where the server resides; on-premises, in a data center or the public cloud. Effective load balancing helps servers manage data transit efficiently, optimizes the use and performance of application resources and prevents server overloads. Load balancers conduct continuous health checks on servers to ensure they can handle real-time request volumes and, if necessary, the load balancer removes unhealthy servers from the pool until they are restored. Commonly used in cloud-based applications, load balancers can even trigger the creation of new virtualized application servers to cope with increased demand giving your platforms and applications an element of demand-awareness and elasticity.
Load balancers play a critical role in our network resilience, however for them to operate effectively there are complex configurations that need to be managed. There are the assignment and configuration of rules and methods for traffic distribution (Round Robin, Active-Active, etc.), updating the virtual IPs (VIPs) assignments, creation of load balancer pools for server infrastructure, onboarding of new servers and devices to the most appropriate pool (node names, pool names, and server details) to assist in traffic load and testing the traffic of each of the new pool assignments.
Just looking at the integrations required with other systems for server and network metadata can be overwhelming, and that’s before we consider the need to coordinate the server infrastructure management tools with traditional change management, IPAM, DNS management systems and not forgetting our tribal network operator knowledge.
A complete end-to-end approach to managing network traffic is required for network teams and engineers to effectively ensure the health of these critical network services.
Why is this Important Now More Than Ever?
Load balancing is critical for businesses to efficiently distribute incoming network traffic and respond to infrastructure failure ensuring the reliability of services. Business-critical applications have always required continuous availability. As more organizations launch services online for consumption by global users, availability and scalability across distributed geographic regions become increasingly critical and complex.
User demands and traffic volume are increasing unlike anything we’ve witnessed before and put an increasing strain on our traditionally static infrastructure. Load balancers allow organizations to build flexible networks that can meet these new challenges without compromising security, service or performance.
Effective use of load balancing infrastructure enables us to better handle unexpected network events and also seamlessly scale up and scale down our capacity in response to customer demand, giving us a fault-tolerant and cost-optimized infrastructure footprint. The risks of neglecting load balancer management conversely lead to performance issues for customer-facing and internal services, costing businesses time and money. With ever-growing expectations from our customers and end-users that systems are ‘always-on’, these kinds of issues and outages are no longer acceptable, and we need an effective way to manage this challenge at scale.
The Call for Network Automation
Whilst these devices are very powerful tools for network resilience, we can’t afford the time it traditionally takes to manually login to devices through the CLI (or use one-off scripts) to check device health, verify their VIP address and configuration assignments. These essential steps in an end-to-end load balancer operation are siloed from infrastructure and security processes causing conflict issues and slow delivery times. It is unrealistic to expect NetOps, DevOps, and SecOps to function at the speed required using manual processes and keep up with rapid configuration changes (from both internal and external events). Network automation provides a consistent strategy for addressing the challenges faced with traditional manual management of load balancing by providing flexibility for customization to evolving network infrastructure. This allows organizations to meet requirements across all teams involved, reduce inconsistencies across disparate systems and reduce cycle times enabling the resilient network we’ve all come to depend on.
To learn more about how the Itential Automation Platform easily automates network operations, check out a number of top network automation use cases that our customers have been able to realize immediate value from. You can also read the full story of how Itential helped a British Multinational Bank reduce years of load balancer migrations to months here.