The public sector is still facing budget cuts and demands for increased efficiency. More services are being made available online, around the clock.
Responsive and reliable applications are essential, whether they're websites, transactional platforms or internal applications such as Microsoft Exchange and Lync or CRM and ERP services.
Channel partners can enhance their earnings by offering complementary technologies to improve user experience and guarantee service availability – as long as they ensure they are delivering value for money, rather than expensive or over-engineered technology. As such, the channel must recognise and understand the specific needs of the public sector.
In that sector, the workforce has high expectations of application performance. The rising number of remote and mobile workers means more are accessing applications via their laptops, smartphones or tablet devices. They demand the same user experience they would get using a desktop PC.
Yet the reality is that using services across the WAN, rather than the LAN, can make for slow or even unavailable applications – which can obviously have a negative impact on employee productivity.
For public sector organisations looking to deploy the latest versions of Exchange or Lync, resellers must enable more effective management of these more complex network topologies.
With Lync, for example, VoIP calls must be just as reliable as calls made on a traditional telephone network.
One technology that many resellers have missed a trick with to date is load balancing. It is nothing new but the channel has typically either focused on high-end enterprise offerings or ignored it completely.
Many resellers have perceived load-balancing technology as expensive and complex but with virtualisation and changing application architectures, demand is rising and opening up multiple requirements.
I believe load balancing should now be an integral part of a resilient Exchange or Lync infrastructure – although many organisations are still using Windows Network Load Balancing (NLB), which has limited functionality and only very crude controls.
In fact, Microsoft itself recommends a third-party load-balancing offering. So this represents a great opportunity for the channel to add value to customer implementations by replacing NLB in either a physical or virtual environment.
A dedicated load-balancing hardware appliance remains a good option for the more demanding traffic environments, especially for customers wanting to offload a lot of SSL or run CPU-intensive tasks such as web-traffic manipulation on the fly. It may also suit those who want their resources to be physically isolated.
And there are still many customers who want to see a physical box, with flashing lights, in their datacentre.
Another option is to put a software load balancer on standard server hardware. This can help customers reprovision their existing hardware, although it does require a good understanding of the underlying operating systems – a barrier to entry for public sector organisations that may not have the skills needed.
Public sector bodies with an eye on the future are looking to provision virtual appliance load balancers to fit their existing virtualisation policies. In three or four years' time, will a network team want to look after extraneous hardware appliances in an otherwise fully virtualised, centrally managed estate? Probably not.
There are certainly advantages to going down the virtual route, including efficiency, cost, flexibility and scalability.
Virtual appliance load balancers can meet the traffic requirements for almost all internal applications and have the ability to scale up resources as and when required, making them a better fit for disaster recovery or business continuity scenarios.
If customers are not adding another box to their network, deployment is faster. In addition, the configuration is easy, so load balancers can be managed by a non-specialist.
One final consideration is throughput. As data demands show no sign of reducing, a load balancer must handle hundreds of megabytes of throughput, whether it is a hardware or virtual appliance.
IT budgets are still tight, particularly in the public sector, yet demands on performance are greater than ever.
Greg Howett is chief executive of JetNexus
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