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What is Load Balancing? Do you need it at your Hotel?

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Guest Post from Brandon Miller – Hospitality WiFi CFO

Load Balancing

Those of you who own or manage properties that offer guest Internet access may have heard about load balancing. But do you know what it is and why it’s important?  I’d like to help de-mystify this topic by describing what load balancing is, what it is not, and a bit about how it works, and hopefully provide an understanding of why you might want to implement it at your property.

To begin to understand load balancing, we need to understand how data flows from computer to computer on the Internet. When data needs to flow from one computer to another, it is packaged in what are called “packets.”  Each packet is placed inside a connection stream. The connection stream concept is really important when understanding how load balancing works. In short, each connection stream is composed of multiple packets. A general rule of most traffic on the Internet is that each packet in a connection stream must originate and be destined for a single Internet address.

It is important to understand that load balancing simply distributes the load of traffic for your guest network between multiple ISP connections. It does not combine connections in a way that increases overall bandwidth. This is a key point; some equipment and service providers may try to confuse the issue to make it seem as if load balancing will give you a faster connection. For example, if two Internet connections are purchased, each being 10 megabits per second, load balancing distributes the load of data being sent and received between the two connections (based on packet streams).  It does NOT increase the available speed up to 20 megabits per second. However, if you aggregate the two connections and use load balancing, those two connections will allow you to handle 20 users at 1MB each – in other words, you can handle more users with a better Internet experience, but their speed isn’t any faster than the speed of a single connection.

Here is a simple analogy: Using load balancing with multiple, separate Internet connections is like driving on the highway. Each Internet connection represents one lane of the highway, each car represents a stream of data heading for a specific destination, and each car has luggage that represents the packets of data being sent or received. The speed limit of this highway is 55 miles per hour, but there are two lanes. Since there are two lanes instead of just one, the capacity of the highway is increased; more cars (or streams) can drive down the highway without causing a traffic jam. However, just because there are two lanes, the speed limit does not become 110 miles per hour!

Now that we know what load balancing is and what it is not, why would you want to use it? Load balancing multiple connections provides two main advantages over a simple Internet connection. First, it provides redundancy through what’s known as “failover.” If one of the connections goes off-line for whatever reason, load balancing will automatically switch over to the other available connection(s). Second, as noted above (just like a highway), load balancing provides more capacity for more users to get on the network with a more stable experience.

 

Brandon Miller has been working at Hospitality Wifi since 2004 as a developer and network engineer.  Brandon specializes in network design, product development and advanced troubleshooting of networks.

Brandon studied and earned his Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems at Purdue Univeristy Calumet in 2002.  College was just the beginning of Brandon’s journey of learning.  He continues to stay abreast of the latest trends in information systems and networking technology through continual study and research.

Brandon is currently working on the next generation of Radius Gateway products which include advanced threat management with virus detection and mitigation.

Brandon lives in Valparaiso, Indiana.  In his spare time he enjoys being an avid runner for fun and fitness, reading, and a good cup of coffee.  He has a wife and two boys (1 year and 3 years) who always keep him moving.

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