If you are searching on Google for load balancer comparisons - like I just did... you will come across some blatant sales pitches from various vendors. They use dubious figures to prove that they are better than F5 Big-IP or Citrix Netscaler.

I'm also guilty of writing a blog entry or two in the past — that may have exaggerated the benefits of Loadbalancer.org over Kemp Technologies :-). For the record I think they are a great company and our only serious competitor at this end of the market place.  Anyway back to the point, How do you compare load balancer vendors and products?

Researching any product can be frustrating, but the good news for customers is that the load balancer market has been around for a long time.

The load balancer market has followed the usual technology adoption curve:

Part of the reason I created Loadbalancer.org in 2002 was because I was frustrated with the cost and complexity of the CISCO local director - the first real load balancer way back in 1996. By the time Loadbalancer.org was getting off the ground with an open source LVS based solution F5 had just started to become the dominant market leader (F5 BigIP was launched in 1997). The fundamentals of layer 4 & layer 7 load balancing have not changed since around 2002. Just renaming something an application delivery controller doesn't change the fact its still primarily a router/proxy with health checks.

We are clearly at the end of the technology adoption curve which means several good things for prospective customers:

  • The price of the technology is as low as it can possibly get, although I'm sure some people will disagree.
  • All vendors & products have roughly the same features as we are at the plateau of productivity.
  • Late adopters demand easy to use appliances with simple fixes to application delivery requirements.

This obviously has had implications for the load balancer vendors in the market:

  • F5 has successfully moved on from its load balancer strong hold to high margin enterprise wide security products.
  • Citrix never left the high margin enterprise area, The Netscaler product has always been a bit of a "oh and we also do a load balancer...")
  • Juniper and CISCO both left the market a while back.....
  • Zeus managed to sell out at a crazy high price to Riverbed - who realised the mistake and flipped it at a loss to Brocade - who will regret it...update.. oh look they just sold it again to nobody
  • While at the low end of the market Barracuda Networks & Kemp Technologies are fighting it out and in the process destroyed my favourite vendor!
  • Yes, Coyote Point Systems (awesome product with dodgy middle ground positioning) was torn to shreds by their own resellers who defected...... and eventually Coyote Point was snapped up by Fortinet for peanuts ( who promptly destroyed anything left in the brand )
  • So what about Loadbalancer.org? Well we have always been a bit different, and we are quite happy with our current positioning in the load balancer market....

Anyway lets get back to the point:

How should you compare load balancers when they are all very similar?

Lets assume that you have done the obvious and typed "load balancer" into Google, you've had a look at the top couple of results which probably gives you F5 & Barracuda Networks. Then a quick look at the prices confirms that you are probably not in the F5 price bracket. So you dig a little deeper and come across Kemp Technologies, unlike Barracuda Networks they only sell load balancers. They also seem to have lots of customers and information about load balancing various applications. Fingers crossed you might even come across Loadbalancer.org! So we have quickly arrived at 3 decent load balancer vendors:

So after this (extensive?) research you decide the 3 most logical vendors to buy a load balancer from are:

  • Barracuda Networks, Inc. - Big and blue - usually through resellers - Open source based appliances as cheaply as possible.... focus on profit. (LVS + HAProxy + Linux)
  • Loadbalancer.org, Inc. -  Small and Red/White - usually Direct sales - Open source based load balancers with focus on giving a damn. (LVS + HAProxy + Linux)
  • Kemp Technologies, Inc. - Medium and yellow -usually through resellers - Open source based load balancers focus on feature range & rapid growth. (LVS + Linux)

How about asking them some simple questions?

How about trying some of the following:

  1. "I need a load balancer for a couple of web servers, how much is it?"
  2. "What performance or bandwidth restrictions do you put on the cheapest models?"
  3. "What feature restrictions do you have on the cheapest models?"
  4. "What are your support costs and who will be supporting me?"
  5. "Why should I use you and not Loadbalancer.org?"

Did you notice what I deliberately did not ask?

I did not ask anything about the load balancers features, Why? Because we already know the market is mature and I have no unusual requirements.
I did not ask anything about the load balancers maximum performance, Why? Because all load balancers are very fast....

So by now you should be getting a good feeling for how responsive the vendor is ... or at least how responsive the sales team are anyway :-).

What else should I take a look at before committing the time and effort to a free trial?

Normally I like to look at actual customer reviews - Try Gartner Peer Insights, or AWS Marketplace Reviews, before googling for independent reviews.
Then have a quick browse through the deployment guides. Reviewing the product matrix and features might be worthwhile at this point as well. I'm usually looking for things that look odd or out of place - kind of a gut instinct thing really.

Also this is time for a confession, I've never been very happy that Loadbalancer.org restrict the entry level appliance to 5 VIPs & 4 RIPs (5 clusters of 4 backend servers) and its my own company!

Unfortunately I can't think of a better way to segment our customer base ... and it is a much better solution than restricting support, features, bandwidth or performance.

It is time to take a quick look at the actual load balancer appliance, luckily this is pretty easy as all the vendors supply a virtual appliance for testing. If you are in a real hurry then just take a look at the online demonstration but personally I think you should commit at least 20 minutes of your time to download the virtual load balancer appliance and actually configure it. How many times have you downloaded a trial - got distracted and then forgotten all about it?

Make the effort and get it done.

While you are in the trial be ready to fire any questions at the vendor concerned to test the response time, and if you want why not ask them to do a WebEx demo for you?

So my conclusion to "So just how should you compare load balancers?" is:

However you like :-).

But please let us know how you think we compare because we would love to know.


OK, I thought I was finished however....

I've already had some private feedback from a couple of ex-Coyote Point Systems folk who seem happy enough with my comments. However JetNexus and Commercial HAProxy were a bit miffed I had not mentioned them...
Both great companies so I'm adding the links here.

I've also just got back from the IPExpo trade show in London (separate blog entry to follow with pictures of our stand etc.) and a couple of conversations reminded me of....

3 Resources you should definitely NOT use to decide on an ADC (Application Delivery Controller)

  1. Research from Gartner
  2. Advice from a Reseller
  3. Your 14 year old son

Gartner showed great timing by releasing its Application Delivery Controller Magic Quadrant (2015), this is always a good laugh to see what rubbish they are spouting this year.

Public Disclosure: I have not read the report, I have only seen the vendor press releases and the picture. But I don't need to read it because I have had plenty of conversations of Gartner in the past and it is always a waste of time unless you pay them money. A classic example was when one Gartner sales person (sorry researcher) told me that, "congratulations I could now have Loadbalancer.org in the magic quadrant because they had reduced the entry sales level to allow Barracuda Networks to be in it!" (they had less sales than us at the time).

What did I say? Something like "get stuffed" I seem to recall.


Can Gartner justify the research? Of course they can, and I vaguely agree with the quadrant (at least F5 is still at the top right). However is it just me that sees the irony in Gartners blog comment?

"Thus, the DevOps teams’ typically prefer...open-source such as Haproxy/Nginx versus the corporate IT standard (F5, Citrix, etc)."

Yet they DONT show the commercial vendors HAProxy, NGINX or Loadbalancer.org in the quadrant!!!

[UPDATE January 2018] Gartner has finally seen the light...

Gartner now also take into consideration real customer accounts of the purchasing and deployment process. You can check directly what customers having been telling Gartner about Loadbalancer.org, Barracuda Networks & KempTechnologies on the new PeerInsights platform.


So why not trust your reseller?

Well how about the fact we had a customer last year who our support team spent several days designing a relatively complex multi site exchange installation.
Long story short the happy techies in the very large customer asked their purchasing department to buy 6 of our R320 top end load balancers + 5 years support from a reseller...

And what did the reseller do when we ONLY offered them a 15% commission (for doing nothing)? Convinced the purchasing department to buy 6 units from Kemp Technologies instead!

Do you want me to name the reseller? Well let's save that for another blog! Because the Marketing manager won't let me...

I don't belive it. They've just done it again - Blackmailing us for more money, when one of our customers approach them! We had no choice but to pay up, because it was a new customer we'd been working with for 6 months...

Softcat lying to your customers and screwing your vendors on price, is not good business practice.

And finally...

Never ask a 14 year old to perform a load balancer comparison, especially if they like explosives: