Just like large firms, SMBs need reliability, scalability, performance and ease of management. Traditionally, server load balancing has been dominated by enterprise offerings from the likes of F5, generating good business for resellers to large organisations. But as the average number of servers in the SMB has risen from two to between 10 and 14, it is now very much on the shopping list.
Businesses used to have mostly separate systems and services to communicate and transact with customers, partners and employees. But functions such as order processing, billing and customer management are now being integrated into complete supply-chain web-enabled applications.
The internet is highly resilient but it was not developed with the demands of web-based apps and e-commerce in mind. For example, it does not distinguish between a business-critical transaction and a benign web page.
Server load balancing evolved to address website infrastructure complexity, performance, scalability and security and now we have application delivery controllers (ADCs), which take load balancing a step further and, among other things, can direct internet users to the best-performing, most accessible servers.
If a server or application fails, the user can be automatically rerouted to another functioning server, using load balancing algorithms that assess factors such as the number of concurrent connections and CPU/memory utilisation.
And for greater speed and security, ADCs can increase server performance and protection by offloading the encryption/decryption processes for SSL content.
Most are capable of providing Layer 4 to Layer 7 management. Layer 4 distributes user requests and conducts server health checks at the transport layer, which may suffice for most TCP/UDP-type applications. Layer 7 uses application-layer criteria to determine where to send a request and provides more granular control over forwarding decisions.
In addition, Layer 7-capable ADCs facilitate application-level health checking and can help establish server persistence.
Demands of Exchange 2010
Another big driver for server load balancing among SMBs is the list of changes that Microsoft has made to its core server architecture in Exchange 2010.
Now that Exchange Client Access Server is used to handle all client connections, it is important to ensure that email users do not suffer from poor performance and user experience. This is done by providing load balancing to automatically reroute and reconnect users to functioning servers.
Many SMBs migrating to Exchange 2010 are realising the need for load balancing for the first time. This offers a great opportunity to the reseller.
The same is true for those that have moved to Microsoft Lync and SharePoint, and you will see Microsoft increasingly recommend the use of server load balancing to optimise performance and resilience of these, and other core, business-critical, back-office services.
Many SMBs, of course, are also embracing virtualisation, driven by the promise of benefits such as removing the need to maintain hardware and reducing costs associated with power consumption, cooling, rack space constraints and other dependencies of hardware-based environments.
This in turn is creating a growing demand for virtual load balancers, providing high availability and improved application performance. A virtual appliance can be quickly configured and deployed, accelerating service provisioning and simplifying ongoing management to help reduce operating expenses and increase RoI.
The complexity and scale of the technology needed to run SMBs and managed hosting services has introduced many new challenges to delivering performance, high availability and security. SMB IT is the same as enterprise IT in everything but scale - and small firms want the same sort of functionality and quality in their IT services that enterprise CIOs take for granted.
George Zervos is UK channel manager at Kemp Technologies
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