Planning Network Load Balancing clusters

This tip originally appeared on SearchWinComputing.com.

Many applications and services can work with Network Load Balancing, provided they use

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TCP/IP as their network protocol and use an identifiable set of TCP or UDP ports. Key services that fit these criteria include the following:
  • FTP over TCP/IP, which normally uses TCP ports 20 and 21
  • HTTP over TCP/IP, which normally uses TCP port 80
  • HTTPS over TCP/IP, which normally uses TCP port 443
  • IMAP4 over TCP/IP, which normally uses TCP ports 143 and 993 (SSL)
  • POP3 over TCP/IP, which normally uses TCP ports 110 and 995 (SSL)
  • SMTP over TCP/IP, which normally uses TCP port 25

Network Load Balancing can be used with virtual private network (VPN) servers, terminal servers, and streaming media servers as well. For Network Load Balancing, most of the capacity planning focuses on the cluster size. Cluster size refers to the number of servers in the cluster. Cluster size should be based on the number of servers necessary to meet anticipated demand.

Stress testing should be used in the lab to simulate anticipated user loads prior to deployment. Configure the tests to simulate an environment with increasing user requests. Total requests should simulate the maximum anticipated user count. The results of the stress tests will determine whether additional servers are needed. The servers should be able to meet demands of the stress testing with 70 percent or less server load with all servers running. During failure testing, the peak load shouldn't rise above 80 percent. If either of these thresholds is reached, the cluster size might need to be increased.

Servers that use Network Load Balancing can benefit from optimization as well. Servers should be optimized for their role, the types of applications they will run, and the anticipated local storage they will use. Although you might want to build redundancy into the local hard drives on Network Load Balancing servers, this adds to the expense of the server without significant availability gains in most instances. Because of this, Network Load Balancing servers often have drives that do not use redundant array of independent disks (RAID) and do not provide fault tolerance; the idea being that if a drive causes a server failure, other servers in the Network Load Balancing cluster can quickly take over the workload of the failed server.

If it seems odd not to use RAID, keep in mind that servers using Network Load Balancing are organized so they use identical copies of data on each server. Because many different servers have the same data, maintaining the data with RAID sets isn't as important as it is with server clusters. A key point to consider when using Network Load Balancing, however, is data synchronization. The state of the data on each server must be maintained so that the clones are updated whenever changes are made. The need to synchronize data periodically is an overhead that must be considered when designing the server architecture.

About the author: Rahul Shah currently works at a software firm in India, where he is a systems administrator maintaining Windows servers. He has also worked for various software firms in testing and analytics, and also has experiences deploying client/server applications in different Windows configurations.

This was first published in August 2006

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