Kemp Load Balancer – How easy is it?

Today’s IT administrators and engineers are often pushed to do more and more, with less time and even less training. There is now an ever increasing trend towards admins having to posses a wider variety of skills. The disparate disciplines of network, storage and compute are becoming more of a necessary combined skill set for todays cloud and virtualisation bods. In pretty much the same way that there’s probably only 3 crew members who fully understand how the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) works, now it’s becoming the same in the world of IT.

This brings me onto the subject of load balancers. When I was in Barcelona for the VMworld 2014 event, I stopped by the Kemp stand to have a look at their latest offerings.

I was suprised by some of the new offerings that they have. I’ve never thought about issues with load balancing for VMware Log Insight  so it was interesting to see the Kemp implementation of a load balancer for that. Another offering which piqued my interest is the Global Server Load Balancing (GLSB) for VMware vCloud Air  which effectively allows you to extend your private data centre into the VMware vCloud Air virtual data centre and load balance between the two. Very nifty bit of design!! :-)

Load balancers can be both a blessing and a curse. Over the years I’ve used several different technologies, Cisco, F5 and Windows Network Load Balancing (otherwise known as NLB). Some are easier to setup than others.

I remember working on a client site and having to use Cisco Load Balancers (WS 500 range if memory serves). The issue was one of getting the right person to set them up. Keeping in mind that the client was a telecoms company with tens of thousands of employees, you’d think it would be a formality. However, after they were setup in a sort of working fashion from the network team, it took me almost a year to find someone who had the correct skill set to configure them properly. This person turned out to be a contractor, who was eight and a half months pregnant and was leaving at the end of the week! Anyhow, after barely two hours of work and it was done and they’ve worked faultlessly ever since.

Getting back to Kemp, I was telling them of this nightmare scenario, when they asked me if I fancied having a look at their virtual load balancer range. I’d seen their physical appliances on a customer site before and their VMware admin raved about their ease of use. So I said I would and then create a blog about it!

What I’ve also decided to do, which is something others might do for a proof of concept, is to not read the manual! So I’m going to install this using zero training or instructions and see if I can successfully install and configure the Load Balancer to sit in front of two standard web servers and load balance between the pair of then, in a round robin fashion. Something I would normally have for an internal web service for one of my enterprise level customers.

I downloaded the Kemp VLM-5000 virtual appliance, which is good for up to 5 Gbps and 10,000 SSL transactions per second. I’m not going to get anywhere near this, as I’m going to test the install usability only. To begin with, download the virtual appliance. This comes in a number of options and the best for me was to select the VMware OVF file format.

Download the Virtual Appliance

Download the Virtual Appliance

 

After downloading, it’s a simple task to deploy the OVF file.

Deploy the OVF File

Deploy the OVF File

As I’m just using my Mac Book Pro for this proof of concept install, using a nested ESXi server, I’ve gone for the thin provision option for the datastore.

Thin provisioning all the way! :-)

Thin provisioning all the way! :-)

 

Once you’ve gone through the install procedure, it’s time to power it up. It’s a true web browser thin client front end, which means that you have the option of setting this up, or even administrating it, via your iPad!

Once you’ve accepted the EULA and updated it, or not as the case may be, then it’s time to get it registered. I went for the online registration, which required me to use my Kemp username and password, which I’d previously setup. Pretty straightforward in this mode. I also tried the offline licensing mode, which is a bit more hassle, with having to get license keys and copying and pasting them into the browser window, but it’s no great hardship.

Registration time...

Registration time…

 

Once you’ve completed that part, reboot the VM and then you’re ready to start the config! One thing to remember is that the username is bal and the initial password is 1fourall. Something Three Muskateers-esk about that… :-)

After logging in, I configured the second internal interface, which is on a different subnet from the external virtual IP Address, otherwise known as a virtual service or VIP. The external network was on a 192.1.168.n network and the internal was setup as a 10.1.0.n network. The Kemp Load Balancer was going to act as both a round robin load balancer with a NAT on the front end.

Second Ethernet Connection

Second Ethernet Connection

 

Next thing to do was to create the front end, sometimes called a VIP or in Kemp parlance, a virtual service. This is the front door of two or more web servers that a user would connect to and would be oblivious to the workings behind the curtain.

Configure a Virtual Service

Configure a Virtual Service

 

Now we’ve sorted out the virtual welcome mat, it’s onto the magic at the backend. I’ve created a couple of small WordPress web servers from a great resource at Turnkey for downloading ready made Linux wordpress VM’s here. Once installed, it’s a case of creating a resource on the Kemp Load Balancer, called somewhat ironically, real servers.

Configure Real Servers

Configure Real Servers

 

Once setup, you check on the status of the web servers, as shown below.

Web Server Status

Web Server Status

 

It’s also really easy to check on the status of the actual front end of the virtual service as well. As you can see, it’s setup for round robin.

Virtual Service Status

Virtual Service Status

 

Round robin to Web Server 1.

Welcome to Web Server 1

Welcome to Web Server 1

 

Round robin to Web Server 2.

Welcome to Web Server 2

Welcome to Web Server 2

 

And it works exactly as it says on the tin! I set this Kemp VLM-5000 virtual appliance up as a single load balancer, on layer 7 with round robin load balancing, all without the aid of instructions or a safety net!

I couldn’t really time this install, as I spent more time taking screen shots than actually installing it. But on a typical install, I reckon once you’ve downloaded the OVF file, you should be able to go from zero to hero within 20 minutes, easily!

For me, it’s all about the usability, because I’m busy enough without having to learn yet another CLI environment. The fact that I can get this up and running and load balancing with zero RTFM required, makes me a happy bunny. I also appreciate that I can get this installed and running on my own proof of concept, running on VMware Fusion on my Mac, test my config design and then export it, ready to be uploaded onto a production environment. Not only that, but I can easily hand this over to the support team for them to look after it, with minimal training from me!

Easy to test, easy to setup and really easy to handover to support :-)

Have a look at the Kemp Technologies site for more details on their products.

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