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What is a Load Balancing Network?

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  • Written By: Mike Howells
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Intended as a solution for situations where critical applications, such as databases, web servers, and filesharing platforms, must be available at all times, a load balancing network has the ability to scale performance based on system usage. It does this by distributing traffic across a number of server clusters that make up the overall system, known as the host. Typically, enterprise-level features such as Internet access, proxies, virtual private network, media streaming, and specialized applications are supported by a load balancing network. Users implementing e-commerce applications may find value in a load balancing network given its ability to dynamically appropriate resources relative to demand.

The theory behind a load balancing network is to improve performance by distributing user requests among a number of servers, reducing the load on any single server at any given time. Additionally, a load balancing network typically has the ability to monitor and compensate for device failures, minimizing or eliminating potential downtime if a single or even multiple servers break down. Load balancing utilizes multiple copies of the same Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) application, for instance a web server or e-commerce application, and ties them to a single primary IP using a number of virtual IP addresses. The effect for an end user is seamless integration and the appearance that the application is operating off a single server. For all intents and purposes, the application functions as if it were on one server as well.

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When operating correctly, a load balancing network is able to interpret incoming data and process discrete requests simultaneously. This means different elements of the same website can be fed from different clusters, for instance. Using either preset ratios or statistical distribution, a load balancing network tracks client usage and responds by dynamically routing requests to various server clusters. Through repetitive pings, the cluster servers communicate with each other and are able to compensate in a short period of time following any failure or disconnection of a certain cluster from the whole. Typically in such cases, the client's software will automatically re-attempt connection, and the delay is virtually imperceptible.

Management of a load balancing network is similar in practice to management of any other server. An administrator may log in remotely to various clusters from any point within the network. It is possible to exert granular control over individual servers within a cluster, although the load balancing algorithm can also handle full control. System and even hardware updates are generally possible "on the fly," which can be beneficial in applications where uptime is mission-critical.

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