load balancing

Global server load balancing (GSLB) plays a vital role in maintaining an efficient, scalable and secure application infrastructure to maximize customer experience and mitigate the risks associated with downtime. It’s an approach that accelerates application performance by intelligently distributing network traffic to the Point of Presence (PoP) with the lowest latency and increases resiliency by rerouting traffic to an operational PoP if one becomes unavailable to ensure uninterrupted service.

However, many GSLB solutions are hardware-based and managed internally by ITOps—a challenge that erodes productivity. The setup forces teams to allocate precious time to maintain infrastructure rather than focusing on advancing their products and services. To alleviate the operational burden on ITOps, there has been a shift toward software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based GSLB solutions.

Operational Challenges with Hardware-Based Load Balancers

Traditional hardware-based load balancers have long been the backbone of data center application delivery, routing traffic across multiple servers based on predefined rules to ensure the best performance. However, as enterprises increasingly transition toward flexible infrastructure and modern application architectures, the operational challenges associated with hardware-based load balancers become more pronounced. Relying on specialized hardware introduces operational burdens for IT teams, including the complexities of deployment, ongoing maintenance, tool proliferation and potential security vulnerabilities.

Deploying hardware-based GSLBs involves a series of time-intensive tasks, ranging from provisioning to configuration and ongoing management. For example, when network traffic increases, enterprises need to provision additional load balancers to meet this demand. Also, to achieve high availability, each device must be paired with another device should one fail.

Maintaining hardware-based GSLBs introduces other ongoing challenges. When incorporating new regions or implementing configuration updates, such as authentication changes, enterprises need to orchestrate the network to ensure seamless operation. This complex and cumbersome process can result in services running with different configurations in various regions, leading to unauthenticated services, degraded performance, and service unavailability.

Adopting hardware-based GSLBs contributes to tool sprawl, adding another layer for ITOps teams to manage and creating additional barriers to achieving efficient operations. ITOps teams are tasked with integrating multiple point tools, including GSLB, web application firewalls, load balancers, API gateways and more, to deliver applications and APIs. The proliferation of tools requires ITOps to deploy, configure and manage each point solution. This overload of routine tasks impedes IT’s ability to focus on high-value projects that cater to their customers’ needs.

Hardware-based load balancers are not immune to potential security vulnerabilities, posing a risk for unauthorized traffic to the origin network. To mitigate this, significant efforts from both IT and SecOps teams are required to establish and maintain their own secure Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), separating internal networks from external threats. Developers, who should focus on their core expertise area, are forced to build the logic of preventing unauthenticated or unwanted requests in the application code.

These challenges underscore the need to examine the operational drawbacks inherent in hardware-based load balancers.

SaaS-based GSLBs Are Essential for Modern Applications

For managing modern distributed applications, SaaS-based GSLBs have risen in popularity, offering a range of features that enhance deployment flexibility, efficiently mitigate latency, improve resiliency and unlock significant scalability benefits.

SaaS-based GSLBs can be deployed across diverse infrastructures. This flexibility and its inherent always-on nature eliminate operational overhead, enabling IT teams to shift their focus to strategic initiatives.

They provide dynamic scalability, whereas hardware-based GSLBs have predefined capacity limitations and often require additional appliances to increase capability. SaaS-based GSLBs scale on demand, eliminating the need for other physical hardware and potentially saving organizations significant setup and maintenance costs.

One of SaaS-based GSLB’s key advantages is its ability to mitigate latency effectively. They efficiently manage a global network of PoPs so that end-user traffic is automatically directed to the PoP with the lowest latency. This results in faster service by reducing loading hiccups and a smooth user experience across various geographic locations.

In the event of a PoP failure, SaaS-based GSLBs automatically redirect traffic to an operational PoP, preventing downtime and ensuring uninterrupted service. This is crucial in failover and disaster recovery scenarios, where responsive rerouting can make a significant difference between instant recovery and prolonged downtime.

SaaS-based GSLBs also add a layer of robust security measures, such as securely forwarding traffic through agents and seamlessly integrating with firewalls and reverse proxies. They enforce security policies at the edge, instantly blocking unauthorized requests so they never reach the origin network.

Embracing SaaS-based GSLBs

The transition toward SaaS-based GSLB solutions mitigates the operational intricacies of hardware-based alternatives and ensures optimal performance, resilience, and security for modern distributed applications. When assessing GSLBs, the emphasis should be on a global network, automated routing, and robust security features to unlock GSLB’s full potential in today’s dynamic digital landscape.

Image source: Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash 

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