What are Windows Server Load Balancing Options?

What are Windows Server Load Balancing Options?

Configuring and deploying a new server-reliant technology comes with a slew of challenges, even for an experienced IT professional. One common pain point surrounds server load balancing — a technology that has evolved from a “nice to have” feature into a “must have.” And this all makes a lot of sense when you consider the functionality of a load balancing solution.

Load balancers drive performance, enhance speed, increase reliability and improve user experience (among other things!) This is achieved by intercepting incoming client traffic and distributing that traffic across multiple servers in a server pool or “cluster.” To ensure performance and availability, the load balancer typically queries each server prior to dispatching incoming client requests. These server “health checks” are used to verify that the server is working properly, thereby reducing the chances that a user will encounter a server error message or sluggish performance. Some load balancing systems will even use server data centers that are spread across a broad geographical area to improve reliability since the chances are remote that one might have outages impacting data centers on opposite sides of the planet. When all is said and done, the net effect of the load balancing process is improved speed, better reliability and a more positive UX. 

Today’s reality is this: users have gone from expecting to demanding a certain level of performance that is only achievable with load balancing technology. But with that said, many IT professionals are confronted with lots of decisions on the path to finding the perfect load balancer. What are the Windows server load balancing options? Should I deploy a hardware load balancer or a software load balancer? What load balancing algorithm is best for my needs? The answer will depend upon factors such as your server type and the precise technology that you’re working with (i.e. network, website, mobile application, etc.) 

Fortunately, for those working on Windows, there are in-built load balancers available for configuration. These in-built Windows server load balancing features are in-built on popular platforms such as Windows Server 2016 and Windows Server 2019. 

Load Balancing for Windows Server 2016

The in-built Windows Server 2016 load balancer is described as “the cloud-ready operating system that delivers new layers of security and Azure-inspired innovation for the applications and infrastructure that power your business.” 

A software load balancer (SLB), the in-built Windows Server 2016 load balancing solution operates on a virtual machine on Layer 4 using UDP and TCP protocols. It runs on an algorithm that evaluates incoming client server requests based upon application-level characteristics. These traits include IP address, response times, server connections, HTTP header and its contents, along with the content of the client request.

With the ability to perform non-TCP-based load balancing too, this Windows load balancer handles several workload and process types, such as outbound network address translations (NATs) and non-Windows workloads. 

Part of the Windows Software-Defined Networking (SDN) infrastructure, this load balancer can be configured from the Windows Server admin portal. There is no need to install, configure or integrate any third-party applications; everything you need to deploy load balancing on your Windows Server 2016 platform is contained within the admin portal. That’s good news for IT professionals who may prefer a more centralized approach to server management. 

Another Windows Server 2016 load balancing option is the in-built network load balancer (NLB), which is deployed and managed via the Windows Server Manager portal. 

This Windows network load balancer is only suitable for deployments that do not utilize the Software-Defined Networking infrastructure. The Windows NLB algorithm leverages a TCP/IP networking protocol as it evaluates the incoming client server requests across the server pool. Therefore, you must ensure that your deployment involves traffic that can be evaluated using this criteria. 

Load Balancing for Windows Server 2019

Many IT professionals opt for a Windows Server 2019 or Windows Server 2022 deployment, both of which bring a number of notable updates over the 2016 version. But what are the Windows Server 2019 / 2022 load balancing options? 

The aforementioned network load balancer serves as the in-built load balancing solution on the Windows Server platform. This means that those who wish to utilize a SLB or other load balancing technology will need to integrate a third-party solution. 

The Windows NLB can handle as many as 32 servers in a server pool or “cluster.” Unlike many load balancing configurations, there is no designated hub server; any server in the cluster can act as the primary hub server that manages and dispatches traffic across the entire pool.

One potential challenge surrounds the Windows’ network load balancer’s algorithm and its TCP/IP networking protocol — the criteria that is used to determine how and where server traffic is distributed across the cluster. If your incoming server traffic lacks features that align with TCP/IP evaluation, then you will need to find an alternative load balancer for your server. 

The one exception is those who have activated the Software-Defined Networking (SDN) infrastructure on their Windows Server 2022 or Windows Server 2019 platform. In this case, the aforementioned in-built Windows software load balancer (SLB) can be deployed.

What About Third-Party Load Balancers for Windows Servers? 

For a large percentage of Windows Server deployments, the in-built load balancing technology will be sufficient to provide all of the key benefits that one would expect from a load balancer. These include faster speeds, better reliability with fewer downtime incidents, and better user experience. That said, there are some cases where the in-built technology just won’t cut it. This is especially true for large-scale deployments or applications that require more sophisticated features such as geolocated load balancing. 

All Windows Server load balancers allow for some degree of custom configuration, but they fall short of what you might find with a third-party load balancing solution. If you require a more complex configuration, opting for a third-party Windows-friendly load balancer may be a better choice over Windows’ in-built features.

At Resonate, we specialize in reliable, cost-effective load balancing technology. We take pride in our ability to deliver exceptional performance, maximum uptime, tremendous scalability and there’s even potential for significant profitability with a healthy ROI. Contact the Resonate team today. Let’s discuss your goals and we’ll help you find the perfect solution for your unique load balancing needs.