When it comes to load balancers you have probably heard terms such as, "Software Defined Hardware" (yes, they actually said that!) or "Software First" from vendors like F5 Networks and Citrix NetScaler. What they are really telling you is that they understand the importance of software, but need to keep selling you hardware.Don't be fooled - in this post I help separate fact from fiction.
When we speak to our Global 2000 customers, we find that automation and application velocity is an overriding theme for their data center or cloud environments. They wish to transition from a slow and manual ticket driven operational model to a self-service experience where users or application owners can spin up instances of their application and the Layer 4 -7 services that the applications need in an automated fashion.
If you choose webscale principles for your data center environment, the compute layer can run on standard x86 servers and allow complete automation. The entire compute infrastructure is managed as a single fabric without the need to manage each server separately. Since there are no proprietary appliances (which can be potential snowflakes) for application 1 versus application 2, you can easily automate the environment. Imagine trying to do this for network services such as load balancing and other application security services. You would have to manage each device individually and manually configure them.
The way that F5 Networks and Citrix NetScaler have built virtual load balancers is to simply take the software code that runs on a physical appliance and plop it to a virtual machine - inheriting the architectural debt of monolithic appliances and losing any performance advantage that their hardware gave - a double whammy. Even worse, they have used the same approach for containers or even the public cloud. F5 BIG-IP virtual editions and Citrix NetScaler ADC Virtual Appliances are still monolithic load balancers with static capacity that have the data plane and control plane running in the same VM, container, or public cloud instance. Moreover, deploying them can often be more complex than deploying a hardware appliance.
This makes it impossible for customers to truly realize the benefits of a software-defined data center. It's no surprise that hardware load balancers still represent the majority of the dollars spent in the market and why they become the boat anchor for the customers. These virtual appliances are nothing but hardware-defined software. This is not really a good representation of high performance and agility. Most importantly, it is NOT software-defined and is not solving any of the challenges of cost, complexity, inelasticity, and manual operations that exist with traditional appliance-based load balancers. Instead, a fundamentally different architecture is needed.
Ashish Shah, Director of Product from Avi Networks recently hosted a webinar, "Virtual Load Balancer Challenges and How to Conquer Them." It shows how you can easily overcome the challenges of virtual load balancers by looking at a radically new architecture. I encourage you to take a look at this recent webinar to better understand the challenges of poorly architected virtual load balancers and what is really needed in modern data center or public/private cloud environments.