Load Balancing vs. Failover Clustering

A pending post from long time!!! At distance both look quite similar and are point of confusion for many. Rationale though is making Load Balancing address scalability while Failover Clustering address high availability. Load Balancing is all about improvising performance (scale) while Failover Clustering is improvising uptimes mitigating system failures. Another difference is, you would find Load Balancing happening at web/application servers (stateless hopefully) and failover clustering at database servers (state full). Industry seems to be using word “Cluster” (set of connected nodes) for both – but with different intents of Load & Failover.

Both are also separate things in terms of configuration & setup. For instance, Windows 2003 (currently that’s what we have in our production) has separate options for Load Balancing & Clustering. Windows recommendation is not to mix both, i.e. you shouldn’t cluster machines for failover which are already configured for load balancing.

Setting up load balancing is simple – you need couple of machines connected to a common network and an additional IP where clients would connect to. This Virtual IP where the requests are made by clients, is in turn is used for Load Balancing nodes that part of this cluster (load balancing cluster).

Setting up failover clustering on the other hand is little complex. You need 2 networks a public and private (hear beat), a shared drive (called Quorum), and an additional Public IP (in addition to minimum – 2 public and 2 private IPs that 2 systems will have). Remember, creating a failover cluster at Windows level is a primary requirement to build a failover SQL Server cluster. Reason to create a Windows level cluster is install required cluster services and create cluster groups (logical collection of nodes). You can select a cluster group (obviously at least 2 nodes should be part of this group) and configure SQL Server Cluster or anything else on top it. SQL Server Cluster would require an additional IP, another shared disk for installation & database files (this disk is a shared resource for chosen cluster group), domain account (that has administrative privileges on all nodes) & group on that domain which that account has complete access. Shared Quorum and Shared Disk are normally part of SAN storage. I have also come across quite a few implementations using Starwind or similar tools to create these shared iSCSI targets in form of virtual disks (.img). It might be helpful to know that Windows 2003 doesn’t have the iSCSI initiator built-in and you can download the same from here.

Hope above helps to some extent 🙂 .

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