Open source versus proprietary load balancers

Open source versus proprietary load balancers

Open Source
Updated on 4 mins

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Open source or proprietary?  Which is best?  Here our Chief Technology Officer at Loadbalancer.org, Miles Martin, lays out the three main battlegrounds in the longstanding contest between these two different approaches to load balancing...

"Before joining Loadbalancer.org, I worked both for an innovative developer of open source load balancing software, and for the market-leading supplier of proprietary load balancers.  This experience has given me what is perhaps a unique insight into the pros and cons of open source and proprietary load balancing solutions!  

There are, in my view, three main battlegrounds in the longstanding contest between these two different approaches..."

Open Source

The Power of Community


Battleground 1: Responsiveness

Open source communities comprise millions of skilled developers who react very quickly to emerging situations and share new code with everyone instantly.  When security threats are identified for example, patches can be released to the community, and made freely available, in a matter of hours.  Vendors of proprietary solutions, on the other hand, are typically much slower to react and can take days or weeks to address security threats.  Some commercial developers of open source software will create security patches quickly, but then release them in phases according to a hierarchy - with premium customers getting the updates first.  Either way, being tied into one vendor or one commercial developer will leave you with a load balancer that is less responsive to change.

As well as security threats, open source software is also more responsive to new technology trends.  New open source features emerge all the time, driven by the inventiveness and collaboration of thousands of like-minded and forward-looking developers within communities.  Take containerization, for example.  Proprietary solutions vendors were slow to capitalize on this new way of virtualizing operating systems, while the open source community moved incredibly fast to extend and exploit open source technologies in this field, including Kubernetes.

Battleground 2: Flexibility

Load balancer vendors like F5 have developed their own proprietary operating systems – and are now shackled to them.   Often very complex and based on aging technologies, proprietary platforms can be cumbersome to adapt, so consequently vendors don’t have the flexibility to easily adjust their products to meet changes in customer requirements.  If you need a new feature for your load balancer and it is not already in the proprietary product or in the vendor’s product road map, you won’t get it.  In time, many of the world’s most well-known vendors of proprietary load balancers will need to build new, more flexible data planes from the ground-up or acquire other start-up businesses with more dynamic platforms that they can adopt to give them greater product flexibility.  

In contrast, open source load balancers already have the inherent flexibility to adapt easily to different requirements.  Organizations that offer or use load balancers based on open source technology can easily assimilate new enhancements and select from a wide variety of features to build custom solutions.  One of the most mature open source load balancers, HAProxy, is constantly being expanded and enriched with new features, new programming languages and new code bases, giving users infinite possibilities for the future.

Battleground 3: Support

One of the main reasons why organizations select proprietary solutions over open source is their need for professional support.  They recognize that they may need help sizing and configuring their load balancer, and they want the peace-of-mind of knowing that a vendor is on hand to help them if they have any questions or encounter any issues in the future.  Vendors of proprietary solutions will be able to provide the reassuring package of documentation, telephone support lines, consultancy services, demos, pre-sales support and guaranteed service level agreements (SLAs).

Concern about support for open source solutions is often justified.  If users have any questions or issues, they can ask the open source community, but if they don’t get the response they need, there is nowhere else to go.  After all, there is no SLA from an open source community.  It is also worth noting here that not all open source technologies will thrive.  While some, like HAProxy, are mature and have a robust future, others are embryonic, may lose the interest of developers and may fade into obscurity.  There is also the risk that you could inadvertently become a de facto beta tester for an open source technology when what you really need is a proven enterprise solution.

Conclusion

So, as you can see, the picture is a mixed one.  There are many advantages of open source but also some advantages of proprietary.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could get the best of both worlds? Well, the good news is that you can!

Since its foundation twenty years ago, Loadbalancer.org has been offering solutions that combine the responsiveness and flexibility of an open source solution, with the support services of a commercial organization.

Our suite of load balancer appliances and virtualized load balancer solutions are all based on well-established open source technologies; including HAProxy and LVS.  They have a proven track-record in multiple industries and are updated quickly and regularly by incorporating new security patches and technology enhancements from open source communities.  This open source platform also gives us the flexibility we need to evolve our solutions rapidly and customize them to meet the needs of customers and partners.  

We are not beholden to any one open source platform. This allows us the flexibility to cherry-pick the best components of each open source technology and also from different technologies.  Furthermore, we can provide all the support services, documentation and SLAs that you would expect of a proprietary solution.    

The battle of open source versus proprietary has been raging for a long time and unnecessarily so.  If you are still undecided about which side to back, maybe it's time to call it a draw and find out more about solutions that offer the advantages of both...

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