Load Balancing for Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery

The Internet is a massive enabler for business operations. As consumers largely turn to an organization’s web presence as their primary point of contact with an organization, businesses can scale their operations through automating customer service functionality and saving limited manpower for extreme cases. The global nature of the Internet also means that organizations can easily reach widely distributed customer bases with little or no additional investment beyond that which is necessary for a local operation.

However, as businesses use the Internet to scale and grow, the need for load balancing solutions increases. While a single web server may be sufficient for a smaller business, larger enterprises may need multiple systems to deal with the volume of traffic generated by their customer base.

While load balancing systems are valuable for managing normal operations, this is not the limit of their utility. As customers increasingly use the Internet to interact with businesses, the loss of Internet access even for a moment can have a significant impact on sales and customer satisfaction. Load balancing is also a valuable solution for ensuring business continuity in the event of a natural disaster or other events that could interrupt normal business operations.

Load Balancing for Normal Operations

Load balancing solutions are a common way for large enterprises to optimize the availability of their web services and improve customer satisfaction. The speed at which web pages load is a significant factor in customer decision-making. In fact, a one second increase in load time can decrease conversion rates by 70% as customers give up and move to a more responsive site.

Load balancing is designed to maximize the performance of websites and web applications. This is accomplished by optimizing the distribution of traffic among different servers to reduce the load on any individual server and ensure that users receive responses as quickly as possible.

Geographically distributed load balancing systems can also be used to optimize the user experience based upon different features. The shorter the path between a user and the web server, the lower the latency. Geo-location information about a user can be used to ensure the fastest response time, serve different versions of a web page using URL rewriting, and provide other location-specific optimisations.

Load Balancing for Disaster Recovery

While load balancing is useful under normal operations, it can be invaluable when an organization is experiencing some event that could affect the availability of its web presence. 

An organization’s web presence can experience degraded or complete loss of accessibility to customers for a variety of different reasons. A botnet herder may be performing a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, rendering a server incapable of receiving and responding to legitimate user traffic. A web server may be infected with ransomware which makes the files and data needed for normal operation inaccessible to the web server. Loss of power or network connectivity could make it impossible for a web server to fulfill user requests. In all of these situations, a load balanced network of web servers dramatically decreases the probability that the loss of one web server impacts an organization’s ability to perform normal business operations.

Building load balancing into an organization’s business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) strategy can help minimize or eliminate the impact of these events on an organization’s ability to do business. Effective load balancing solutions should be able to detect when one of the organization’s web servers is offline or otherwise degraded and reroute traffic to other nodes until the incident is handled. 

Geographically distributed and load balanced servers with rapid fail over can ensure that loss of a web server has no discernible impact to customers. Even a small network of load balanced web servers can have a dramatic impact on the availability and robustness of an organization’s web presence.

Deploying Load Balancing for Business Continuity

Load balancing is a powerful tool for protecting business continuity against natural disasters and cyber threats. Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), which consist of a set of geographically distributed nodes that cache copies of a website’s content and serve it to users, are available and affordable with many web hosting plans and can dramatically increase the scalability and resiliency of an organization’s web presence.

When deploying load balancing for business continuity, it is important to build the functionality into the organization’s BC/DR plan and select solutions that are capable of providing the quality of service (QoS) guarantees that the organization needs. Minimizing downtime requires the ability to identify when a particular node in the network is currently experiencing an attack and to quickly perform fail over operations to route traffic to other servers in the system.

The use of CDNs and load balancing also provides a level of protection to the organization’s main web server since the network can be designed and configured so that no users interact directly with the organization’s main web server. Organizations should also consider a cloud-based load balancing solution, which provides increased scalability and reliability through the cloud services provider (CSP).

When deploying load balancing and a network of CDN nodes, an organisation’s sensitive data and functionality is distributed over a larger attack surface. Protecting this against attack requires security solutions capable of providing automated insight into data flows and access to protected data to ensure that sensitive data is not being stolen via compromised CDN nodes. When deploying a load balanced network of web servers, it is also important to ensure that the organization’s web security solution is up to the task of protecting them.

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