Load balancing is a term that describes a method to distribute incoming socket connections to different servers. It’s not distributed computing, where jobs are broken up into a series of sub-jobs, so each server does a fraction of the overall work. It’s not that at all. Rather, incoming socket connections are spread out to different servers. Each incoming connection will communicate with the node it was delegated to, and the entire interaction will occur there. Each node is not aware of the other nodes existence.
Why do you need load balancing?
Simple answer: Scalability and Redundancy.
If your application becomes busy, resource limits, such as bandwidth, cpu, memory, disk space, disk I/O, and more may reach its limits. In order to remedy such problem, you have two options: scale up, or scale out. Load balancing is a scale out technique. Rather than increasing server resources, you add cost effective, commodity servers, creating a “cluster” of servers that perform the same task. Scaling out is more cost effective, because commodity level hardware provides the most bang for the buck. High end super computers come at a premium, and can be avoided in many cases.
Servers crash, this is the rule, not the exception. Your architecture should be devised in a way to reduce or eliminate single points of failure (SPOF). Load balancing a cluster of servers that perform the same role provides room for a server to be taken out manually for maintenance tasks, without taking down the system. You can also withstand a server crashing. This is called High Availability, or HA for short. Load balancing is a tactic that assists with High Availability, but is not High Availability by itself. To achieve high availability, you need automated monitoring that checks the status of the applications in your cluster, and automates taking servers out of rotation, in response to failure detected. These tools are often bundled into Load Balancing software and appliances, but sometimes need to be programmed independently.
How to perform load balancing?
There are 3 well known ways:
- DNS based
- Hardware based
- Software based