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Achieving efficiencies with the cloud and load balancing

Achieving efficiencies with the cloud and load balancing

Are you running a traffic heavy website and are perhaps looking to reduce your hosting costs, but at the same time utilise a more powerful environment? If this is the case, then a load balancing solution could be the way forward. Rather than using a single high specification server, load balancing employs a cluster of servers that are all of an identical specification; it is these servers that are responsible for serving the website, with a load balancing master having the responsibility of distributing the traffic that is received to the server that has the smallest load at that point in time. Additional cost savings can be achieved by implementing load balancing in the cloud, therefore removing the physical element of the configuration and reducing the overall rack footprint. A cloud interpretation of a load balancing configuration shouldn’t deliver subpar performance, instead it will offer a scalable environment in which additional load balancing clients can be provisioned immediately.

Spreading the load

To some, having a single high specification dedicated server for the hosting of your website might seem like a sensible option and to some extent it is; if you’re able to predict roughly how much traffic you are going to receive and spec a server our to cope with this, plus a little more, then you shouldn’t face any stability issues. The one thing that most forget to consider however is what about load spikes? What if I were to release a new product or service that was really popular and led to loads of new visitors rushing to my website, would I have the capacity to cope with this? For the most part, probably not, and because your websites and all associated services are located on a single server, if that server goes down then effectively you’re up a creek with no paddle, unless you have backups from which you could provision a new server, but even this is going to result in significant downtime.

This is where load balancing becomes a good idea because it utilises a cluster of servers that will be of a slightly lower specification, but collectively they’ll be more powerful. These servers will run on an internal network and can communicate with each other privately; in a web load balancing scenario, each server will host an identical copy of the web application and access the same database cluster, allowing a fairly simple configuration, but if you choose to also employ database load balancing then these servers will need to be able to collectively share updated database records. A master load balancer will be responsible for monitoring the status of each server so that as traffic arrives, it can be automatically directed to the server with the smallest load so that requests can be fulfilled in the most efficient manner.

Where the cloud comes in

Achieving a load balancing configuration using physical servers can be a costly and time demanding procedure because it is necessary for someone to manually install the servers and configure the physical network as appropriate in the data centre. However, the same configuration can be achieved in cloud environments that utilise the IaaS architecture and offer virtual machine features such as vLANs.

By swapping physical servers for virtual machines, you are able to reduce the amount you need to spend on a load balancing infrastructure not only because dedicated servers cost more, but also because of the rack space that is being utilised by these machines. In simple terms, with the cloud you will only ever be paying for the resources that you are using; some may feel that rather than provisioning a new VM, it may be simpler to just extend the resources of the existing VMs when load spikes are experienced.

In a virtual environment you will also have the added benefit of being able to provision new virtual machines for your load balancing cluster as and when necessary so that additional capacity can be put in place to cope with any unexpected load spikes immediately. If this were to be necessary with a physical server infrastructure then a considerable amount of time would have to be spent on obtaining the additional hardware and configure it to function with the existing infrastructure.

By implementing a load balancing infrastructure for your website, you are able to negate the negative effects of any load spikes that you could face in the future. Rather than lacking the capacity necessary for when a large number of customers are attempting to access your site, with a cloud load balancing solution you can quickly provision additional resources and capacity so that your virtual doors can stay open and because of the way it works, your users are unlikely to notice anything going on under the hood. Efficiencies are achieved by utilising only the resources that you specifically require, cutting down costs with the use of the cloud and employing a distributed platform to remove any single points of failure.

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