This message is as much for people who buy load balancers as it is for those who sell them.
A couple months ago, I published a piece called F5 vs. Avi Networks: 9 Reasons Why Hardware Is Better Than Software where I implied I was a new, naive employee defending the state of the industry. Indeed, I was new to Avi Networks. But I’ve been aware of the state of traditional load balancers for a while. The better part of my career has been in enterprise IT, where legacy load balancing solutions have been a pain in the side of many of the customers I’ve served. Enterprises often referred to them as a “necessary evil”—bulky, expensive, inelastic—the last living remnant of the dot-com era.
Avi Networks showed me what a load balancer should be: modern application services that aren’t confined to hardware. Avi didn’t show me whiteboard diagrams or fancy PowerPoint presentations, I was shown customers—dozens and dozens of Fortune 1000 companies, including many of the world’s leading banks, media companies, telecom companies, and technology firms. These companies use Avi Networks to provide load balancing and application services to their most critical workloads, in production environments.
The legacy load balancer is no longer a necessary evil, because it is no longer necessary.
This shouldn’t be much of a surprise as the traditional load balancer industry has lacked vision, grown complacent, and lost sight of delivering real value. Leadership has become a revolving door and the products have stagnated.
Now enterprises are experiencing incredible digital transformations—every company is now a software company, the data center has been reimagined in the cloud, new applications and architectures are changing the world around us—yet the role traditional load balancers play in these digital transformations has been minimal to nonexistent. In fact, traditional load balancers are often a major obstacle for the modernizing enterprise.
The State of Today’s Modern Enterprises
Enterprises care less about inputs and more about outcomes. “Automation”, “scale”, and “elasticity” are requirements for the modern enterprise. Legacy load balancers use these words in their marketing, but the meaning of the words is absent in the product.
The application landscape has changed. Applications aren’t just the lifeblood of the IT organization, they are the lifeblood of the enterprise. Enterprises have embraced applications and modern application architectures. It’s no longer a question “if” load balancers should support containers and microservices. It’s a question of, “Why are traditional vendors still unable to support modern applications?”
Infrastructure has changed too. Enterprises no longer depend on hardware. They have extended their datacenter with “as-a-service” offerings from Amazon, Google, Microsoft. Enterprises don’t want to build IT, they want to consume IT. And they want load balancing solutions that provide services and pricing models similar to these major cloud providers.
The Pathway Forward
The demand for load balancing and application services is surging. Digital transformation requires solutions that reduce cost and complexity, increase visibility and control, and improve speed and performance. It’s time for a smart load balancer that offers elastic and intelligent features and pricing (I compare smart and traditional load balancers in more detail here). Load balancers must become agnostic. They cannot be opinionated about what applications they support. Also, we now live in a hybrid cloud world. Load balancers must operate across, not within, the silos of data centers and clouds. A modern load balancer must extend beyond the confines of hardware or a single cloud.
Additionally, load balancers are positioned to be an incredible source of intelligence for enterprises. Load balancers have a front row seat with clear visibility into traffic, applications, infrastructure, and the network. With access to such rich data, it is baffling that traditional load balancers still force IT organizations to spend days sorting through TCP dumps or log files to debug basic application connectivity issues. Basic analytics, machine learning, and automation can reduce trouble ticket resolution times to mere minutes. Applying modern technology to L4-L7 of the network is the last mile of an enterprise’s digital transformation.
Avi Networks has re-imagined the load balancer, and not from the outside. We have assembled some of the greatest minds in networking, load balancing, and application delivery. Many helped create this industry and come from companies like F5 Networks, Citrix NetScaler, A10 Networks. The difference is that no one at Avi Networks is satisfied with complacency.
It’s time for enterprises and legacy load balancing vendors to answer the wake up call. It’s time to rethink load balancing.