‘What is a load balancer?’ and ‘Do I need a load balancer?’ are two questions we get asked pretty often here at UKFast. So, if you’re considering the load-balancing route, here are the basic facts and considerations you need to know.
In simple terms, a load balancer allows the distribution of network or application traffic across a number of servers.
This brilliant but simple innovation is widely used to increase the capacity and reliability of applications, allowing you to get 100% uptime on your service by having two servers available to deal with your traffic.
The number one reason people get a load balancer is increased redundancy. If your applications all sit on a single server, you’ve effectively got nowhere to hide if something goes wrong. But with a load balancer, should a server or a single component within it fail, there’s another server ready to take over.
Having a load-balancing solution in place also allows your end users to have a seamless, uninterrupted and unaffected experience in any situation. For instance, if you wanted to make a few upgrades to your code on Server 1, you could choose to direct all your traffic to Server 2 while you did this. Then, you can direct 20% of your traffic to Server 1 to test the updates. If all goes well, you can then direct 100% of traffic to Server 1 until the upgrades to Server 2 are also made, then go back to a 50/50 split once you’re all done. At no point has your website had to go offline while you do your updates and your customers are happily using your site as though nothing has happened!
But it’s not just about giving two servers half the workload. Load balancers can also offload applications like encryption certificates. Having encryption certificates on each individual server can form quite the hefty overhead – especially if you have ten or twenty servers on the go. Instead, you can put your certificates on the load balancer, which makes the management of deploying new servers much easier and potentially decreases the overhead of encryption on your servers.
Ultimately, load balancers prevent a single server from being overwhelmed and mean you can maintain responsiveness and availability even during periods of high demand. Load balancing gives you higher redundancy, fault tolerance and all this leads to greater peace of mind that if your server goes offline, your entire operation doesn’t have to go down with it.
Load balancing is a great solution for anyone who expects high availability for their systems or sites. And in a modern world where everything is about speed and convenience, you won’t find many eCommerce sites without it.
It is worth considering that if you’re a business used to working off a single server and not load balancing, session handling does also come into play.
This is where a shopping basket for instance is maintained in RAM on one of the web servers as with a traditional eCommerce site, next time a customer receives data from the site – their connection goes to a different web server meaning the session data has been lost. The same basket or ‘session’ needs to appear regardless of which server the customer goes to. There are a whole variety of methods available for developers to handle sessions within a service – but it’s really important this is considered for the best possible user experience. If session control is used, regardless of which server the load balancer sends the user to next time, they can always get a seamless user experience with their shopping basket or session remaining intact.
Get yourself a server that guarantees maximum uptime for your business, with 24/7/365 support right when you need it.