Can Windows Load Balance Network Traffic?

Can Windows Load Balance Network Traffic?

Microsoft Windows offers a diverse array of applications and technology solutions, from networks, to server platforms and cloud solutions, amongst many others. Many of these technologies are server-reliant which means that they can benefit from the usage of load balancing technology. 

But how does Windows load balance network traffic? And how does a load balancer work? 

Can Windows Load Balance Network Traffic? 

Windows Network load balancing is relatively simple and straightforward in terms of implementations and deployments. Windows offers in-built load balancing features that can simply be activated within the Windows Network management panel. The only downside is that in-built load balancing options tend to be more limited in terms of capabilities and configuration, prompting some to seek out third-party solutions. 

The Windows DirectAccess server array is one option for load balancing within the Windows landscape. While this is not an official in-built load balancer solution, configuration is relatively simple. It entails activating the server array and remote access management. Once activated, load balancing can be enabled within the remote management access console. The system is then configured using the Load Balancing Wizard. 

In cases where a user’s needs are not met by these Windows Network load balancing options, a third-party load balancer can be deployed instead.

In-Built Windows Network Load Balancing Solutions

Windows Network load balancing — also known as its NLB feature — is an in-built load balancer that balances traffic using TCP/IP networking protocols. The Windows NLB is compatible with Windows Server 2016, Windows Server 2019 and the newest version, Windows Server 2022. 

The in-built Windows NLB is installed using Windows PowerShell. Admins can then oversee NLB management and configuration via the Server Manager and NLB Load Balancing Manager interface. 

Many prefer this Windows load balancing option because it does not require the use of special hardware, which can be extremely costly to acquire and maintain. Since the load balancers are in-built, there is no need to make alterations to any of the Windows-based applications that may be used with the network interface.

Additionally, Microsoft provides a variety of Windows network load balancing tools in a single, centralized location. These tools empower admins as they can use a single remote or local computer to configure and manage their load balancing services. Configuration is also simplified with the Windows NLB tools since the platform “…enables clients to access the cluster by using a single, logical Internet name and virtual IP address, which is known as the cluster IP address (it retains individual names for each computer). NLB allows multiple virtual IP addresses for multihomed servers.”

The Windows NLB feature also supports multiple network adapters, allowing for the configuration of more than one independent cluster on a given host or server. This allows for greater versatility in cases where a user has multiple platforms utilizing their load balancing infrastructure.  

How Can Windows Load Balance Network Traffic? 

The process that is used by Windows to load balance network traffic is fairly straightforward. As a network load balancer, this option allows users to manage two or more servers that act as a central hub server and virtual server pool or cluster. Network load balancers work by intercepting incoming server client requests, which are processed by the hub server. The server requests are then evaluated using TCP/IP protocol before they are dispatched to the hosts that comprise the server pool. 

Windows Network load balancing is ideal for improving availability, performance and reliability. This technology prevents a scenario where a server is overloaded with server requests, resulting in sluggish performance and downtime. 

Load balancing clusters also reduce the number of error messages with server health checks and automatic redistribution of incoming client requests. The latter may occur when a server malfunctions or otherwise goes offline. The load balancer can flag servers for maintenance, dispatching client requests to the other hosts in the cluster until the malfunctioning server is restored. This improves reliability and user experience since there is a reduced incidence of error messages and server-related errors. 

Windows Network load balancing is commonly used in conjunction with applications such as Windows Internet Information Services (IIS), amongst others. 

Notably, admins must consider the fact that this network load balancer uses TCP/IP protocol. If a particular technology does not use TCP/IP protocol, a different type of load balancer will need to be utilized, such as an application load balancer or ALB. 

The Microsoft Windows Network Load Balancer operates on layer 4 of the OSI model layer 4, which is also known as the transport layer. As such, it performs a very superficial evaluation of incoming server requests and focuses on forwarding incoming TCP connections to the server. There is no evaluation of content such as that found within HTTP requests. The methods used to evaluate incoming server requests make NLBs some of the fastest load balancers out there, with low latency and zippy performance. 

Other load balancers, such as an ALB, operate on OSI layer 7 — also known as the application layer. These load balancers perform a far more in-depth evaluation of each incoming server request. Application load balancers have the capability to inspect the content of HTTP requests, among other traits. This makes ALBs very versatile, but a bit slower in terms of latency and overall processing speed. 

Finding the Best Windows Network Load Balancer for Your Needs

Third-party network load balancing services are another option to consider, particularly if a user has more advanced requirements surrounding functionality or security. A third-party load balancer can be implemented and deployed with relative ease, providing you select the right type of LB and the proper load balancing algorithm. 

If your company requires a third-party Windows network load balancing service, the team at Resonate can assist. We provide reliable, cost-effective, scalable and high-performance load balancers that can be used with Microsoft Windows apps, networks and other server-reliant technologies. Contact the Resonate team today and we’ll get started by discussing your load balancing requirements. Then, we’ll get to work finding the best Windows network load balancing option for your needs.