Network Load Balancing - Essay Example

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Network load balancing is a technique which is used to increase the availability and scalability of critical systems and services (Microsoft, n.d.). The need arises as mission critical systems (like internet servers, web servers, ATM servers, etc.) require 24x7 availability; and should be able to deal with increased network traffic during busy times…
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Network Load Balancing
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Network Load Balancing Network load balancing is a technique which is used to increase the availability and scalability of critical systems and services (Microsoft, n.d.). The need arises as mission critical systems (like internet servers, web servers, ATM servers, etc.) require 24x7 availability; and should be able to deal with increased network traffic during busy times. This is achieved using the network load balancing techniques that distributes traffic across various cluster hosts. Thus, more than one host provides the services (though it is transparent to the users). As and when the traffic increases, the number of hosts can be increased by the organisation without degrading the performance levels; thus network load balancing provides high scalability.
The high availability is achieved by early detection of host failures and re-distributing their workload to other cluster hosts. Thus, failure of one host does not affect the services. Users would still feel as if they are being served by the same server despite of the fault. The downtime is thus, eliminated.
There are two types of configuration for network load balancing (NLB):
1. Unicast mode
2. Multicast mode
Unicast Mode
This is the default mode in which all the cluster servers are given the same MAC address (Cisco, 2009). Thus, each packet (addressed to this MAC address) reaches all the cluster servers. Even if one server is unavailable or cannot process the request due to workload, another server will reply to the data packet.
One problem with unicast mode is that if all servers are assigned the same MAC address and are connected to the same switch, the switch will be unable to identify the destination (due to same address of all servers). It is not possible to have two ports on same switch with same MAC address.
The unicast mode addresses this problem with MAC address masking. The MAC address of each server is masked with a bogus MAC. So when the switch relays a packet, the NLB array decodes the masked address and then transfers the packet to destination (Cisco, 2009). However, when the incoming packet arrives at the switch, it carries a destination address which is not assigned to any switch port (because all ports are masked with bogus MAC), thus it is relayed to all ports and hence all cluster servers receive the packet (ISA, 2003).
Multicast Mode
In the multicast mode, each server carries two network adaptors (virtually, not physically); one adopter having the MAC address of the server (the server's own MAC address) and the second network adaptor carries the multicast MAC address. A multicast MAC address is one which can be listened to by all servers using that specific multicast MAC address.
Thus, all network packets addressed to that specific NLB multicast MAC address, are received by all cluster servers; while the packets addressed to specific MAC address are received by individual servers. In this fashion, the cluster servers can send/ receive packets to/ from each other (using their individual MAC address) and can send/ receive packets to/ from end clients/ users using NLB multicast MAC address (Cisco, 2009).
Cisco. (2009). Catalyst Switches for Microsoft Network Load Balancing Configuration Example. Updated on 23 February 2009. Available from: [Accessed 4 May 2009].
ISA (2003). Using NLB with ISA Server Part 2: Layer 2 fun with Unicast and Multicast Modes. Updated on 10 February 2003. Available from: [Accessed 4 May 2009].
Microsoft. (n.d.). Network Load Balancing Technical Review. Available from: [Accessed 4 May 2009]. Read More
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