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Binghamton University takes advantage of load balancing system

Binghamton University implemented a new load balancing system from Array Networks to better deliver educational and other online services.

One of the largest institutions in the State University of New York system has beefed up its application delivery capacity with a load balancing system that the school says delivers better performance.

Binghamton University (BU) last year rolled out two of Array Network Inc.'s APV series application delivery controllers (ADCs) to make it easier for students to enroll in classes and gain access to other online university services.

The new ADCs replaced a previous appliance that ran on open source software. They support a campus with 17,000 students and close to 3,900 faculty and staff, and distribute content from a comprehensive student information database and repository that resides on three front-end servers.

Previous load balancing system no longer delivering

BU began the process of retooling its load balancing system foundation in 2015, said Tony Poole, the university's assistant director for system programming.

The Array load balancing system, with its ease of implementation and accessible technical support, met all of BU's needs.

"The first application we started using with a load balancer was [grading application] Blackboard. As the number of students on that grew … we had to expand to multiple front-end application servers, [which] were our first inroads into [new] load balancers."

Meanwhile, a spike in the use of Banner, an educational ERP application, and other student-generated traffic, made it necessary for BU to further multiply the use of servers required to meet demand, said Poole.

The additional servers stressed Zen, the open source software BU was using to manage traffic. What the institution needed, Poole said, was a system that could manage load balancing across BU's increasingly complex network that included a segregated network that serves the school's residential halls.

Other systems also needed balancing, such as the front-end Web servers -- which worked well under normal circumstances, but were not always "dynamically supported."

"Internally, too, with our authentication, Active Directory for LDAP and non-Windows apps [balancing was needed]," Poole said.

Provides support throughout the load balancing process

The Array load balancing system, with its ease of implementation and accessible technical support, met all of BU's needs, Poole said. IT staffers had a few hurdles to overcome -- the Blackboard app had some snags and they also had to iron out some redundancy issues -- but overall, "it worked well."

As BU looks toward the future, Poole views load balancing as a critical piece of the puzzle to accommodate the university's critical applications. "I don't think the size of our network or its complexity impacts the load balancing question very much. The strategy of using a load balancer seems like a no-brainer. We've pretty much virtualized under VMware for apps. [We're] still running Oracle Linux, now under VMware, [but there's] much less Sun and Oracle presence than before. I know other universities are virtualizing their workloads."

However, as BU weighs using a private cloud on-site or deploying applications on an external cloud, and integrates Amazon Web Services for its portal, "With moving to the cloud, load balancing might come in, too," according to Poole.

Regardless of BU's cloud strategy, Poole said load balancing could play a bigger role in the university's application delivery, especially as demand for services continues to escalate. "Something we haven't really explored yet -- with Banner or with all applications -- is a dynamically growing architecture. [There are] four servers for apps. [We would] really benefit from six servers during high-demand times like finals. With the Web server, it's kind of the same thing. Dynamically grow it during an emergency with many hits. Set up all in advance, and handle the growth of that with additional application servers. The load balancer gives us the chance to do that dynamically."

Next Steps

How to get the most out of server load balancing

Load balancing with a virtual machine

A glimpse at higher education app delivery

This was last published in April 2016

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