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Packet brokers play an essential role in creating a visibility fabric that spans your entire network. And as you evaluate the market for network packet brokers (NPB) or inline packet brokers, you’ll notice that many vendors offer a similar, core set of features. One of these features, which plays an important role in the performance of your security and monitoring solution, is load balancing.
Even though load balancing is a common function of network packet brokers, it’s not a set-it-and-forget-it feature. To take advantage of load balancing features, you need to know the basics: what is load balancing? Why do you need load balancing? And how does load balancing work?
Load balancing is a network packet broker feature that takes incoming network traffic and uses a variety of algorithms to distribute packets across multiple ports. This feature allows you to pass packets to out-of-band and inline security and monitoring tools without interrupting the flow of traffic.
There are a handful of use cases that make load balancing a critical component of any network packet broker. You should expect load balancing features to:
Load balancing is certainly not a new idea. In the past, load balancing has helped you create network redundancy and improve survivability. And while it’s still used for those use cases, network packet brokers have made load balancing more dynamic, which brings more valuable benefits to networking teams.
The reason you need more dynamic load balancing is that network management has become significantly more complex in recent years. Nearly every mission-critical application is now network connected, demanding ever-increasing amounts of bandwidth. It’s not enough to upgrade the links between routers and switches to handle 40G or even 100G speeds. Without a way to maintain visibility into growing volumes of packets, you put your business at risk. Whether missed packets lead to more downtime, performance issues, or security incidents, you can’t afford to deal with the consequences of mismanaged network traffic.
Load balancing alleviates these pressures by ensuring you can manage your network flexibly, scale your architecture to meet new speed and bandwidth demands, and reduce downtime. While load balancing isn’t valuable in and of itself, its ability to support more efficient operations for your network and its various visibility components makes it a critical mechanism in any modern data center.
IT Teams are typically tasked with getting more out of their existing tool investments, which becomes challenging with growing traffic volumes and legacy architecture. As security and network tools can be oversubscribed as traffic growth outpaces the existing tools capacity, this leads to reduced throughput and effectiveness. Load balancing, filtering and aggregating are all packet broker functions designed to unburden current tools by reducing traffic load, increasing tool effectiveness and performance -- even utilizing lower speed tools in higher bandwidth networks.
The most basic form of load balancing is the traditional static method. This is where you manually define parameters for packet distribution to various out-of-band and inline tools. Even this simple approach can help you limit downtime and performance errors to an extent.
But if you want to unlock the real benefits of load balancing, you need a network packet broker that will dynamically distribute your packets. This means that it uses a variety of calculations for connection and response timing to determine the best route for packets to maximize visibility for your out-of-band and inline security and monitoring tools without impacting the flow of traffic.
There are many different ways that packet brokers can execute your load balancing needs. The following 4 types of algorithms are the most common, giving you a variety of approaches to ensure packets are balanced properly across your network.
The flexibility of your network packet brokers will determine how many different approaches you can take to load balancing. But because load balancing is just one aspect of a network packet broker’s job, you need to make sure you’re investing in a well-rounded solution.
Garland understands that your security stack will continue to grow with a mixture of inline and out-of-band solutions. Garland’s new EdgeLens® Inline Security Packet Broker is a bypass TAP, network packet broker hybrid, purpose-built to provide the ultimate failsafe traffic management device to future proof your network. The EdgeLens family allows you to effectively manage a variety of inline and out-of-band tools with filtering, aggregation and load balancing, while providing bypass resilience to your inline links - with the goal of improving the effectiveness and performance of your security stack tools.
Looking to add load balancing capabilities in an inline or out-of-band deployment, but not sure where to start? Join us for a brief network Design-IT Demo consultation. No obligation - it’s what we love to do.
Ross is the European Sales Director for Garland Technology with over 30 years experience in the networking & security industry. Ross's experience spans computer/network engineering, consultancy, sales and senior EMEA business management roles.