In today’s IT best practices, load balancing router is one of cornerstones of the WAN (Wide Area Network) architecture. The reliance on a high performance and highly available Internet connectivity is a direct result of the services shifting to a centralized, private or public cloud based WAN architectures.
Load balancing routers sits right at the LAN/WAN boundary of the office and therefore takes on many functions at that so important gateway location. So as a network administrator, what capabilities should you require for your load balancing router?
Broadband Bonding at packet granularity: With today’s deep-packet inspection and high packet processing capabilities of routers, the load balancing router should implement the aggregation at a packet granularity. This is not only proven to be significantly more efficient in terms of bandwidth utilization, but also opens the door for many other sophisticated and useful features. Once the load balancing router has the capability to act on each packet (and sometimes at even smaller granularity) there is a wide-range of networking techniques that can be leveraged over multiple WAN connections that can result in better application performance.
In multi-office deployment scenarios, the ability to split up individual sessions into packets become even more important, as a rudimentary session level load balancing router will lack the ability to utilize the bandwidth beyond a single WAN links. This is primarily because of the single session that exists on the branch office and that is the VPN tunnel that connects the branch to the HQ (Head Quarters). Your load balancing router should be able to split up the single VPN session into smaller packets and spread them over the available WAN resources to take advantage of the multi-WAN resources.
Another important advantage of having a packet level load-balancing router is the fact that the loss of any of the links (or packet losses on that link) will not impact the continuity of the session. In other words, during a file-transfer, VOIP call or a Citrix session, if one of the WAN links fail that is carrying part of the traffic, this negative WAN link behavior can be shielded from the application layer and therefore provide a much improved user experience even during network failures.
Traffic grooming capabilities: The best of breed load balancing routers will have capabilities beyond broadband bonding such as identifying traffic, grooming the identified traffic to behave in certain ways and also shape the WAN link in certain ways to shape the bandwidth according to the applications running through the WAN. A practical example is to have the capability of traffic shaping any of the WAN links, including the bonded tunnel, so that certain types of real-time traffic (such as VOIP / SIP traffic) can be assigned a dedicated and prioritized virtual pipe and therefore get protection against other traffic stepping over it and creating QoS (Quality of Service) issues.
Load balancing routers with bandwidth shaping, quality of service reservation capabilities and certain application specific treatment of traffic for better performance are high value add capabilities of today’s gateway device.
Fundamental additional modules: Perhaps not as fundamental as the previous features, however, load balancing routers can and should be equipped with certain optional features and modules that would create custom value to specific deployment scenarios. Examples include firewall capabilities, content filtering features, network monitoring and analysis and others. These are primarily features that can be obtained via another network appliance in the network, however, the additional value of combining these features into the load balancing router is usually an option that the IT manager appreciates.
Cahit Akin, CEO, Mushroom Networks, Inc.
Mushroom Networks is the provider of SD-WAN (Software Defined WAN) and NFV solutions capable of Broadband Bonding that enables self-healing WAN networks that route around network problems such as latency, jitter and packet loss.