The last thing you want to do when researching load balancing vendors is listen to a biased salesperson like me, right?!
I get it.
You want to do your own due diligence rather than take a stranger's word for it. And, hey, your job might even be on the line if you make the wrong call. After all, downtime isn't on most people's list of exciting things to talk about. Until something goes horribly wrong and your manager's screaming down the phone at you to "sort it out!"...
Rather than trying to sway you one way or the other, I've decided to pull together here, in one place, some of the resources you'll need to compare load balancing vendors. That way, you can draw up your own vendor shortlist and save yourself hours of Googling!
This blog assumes that you're already reasonably familiar with...
...and that you're now looking for a paid, commercial load balancer for your business, rather than a free, open source, DIY load balancing solution.
If you're not sure if/when you might need to consider a commercial solution, you might find this blog helpful: "Navigating the open source journey: When free is awesome, and why commercial solutions have their place".
Decisions to make BEFORE you start your research
Before you run through the long list of load balancer vendors make sure you know what you want to achieve, so you don't end up comparing apples with oranges or paying for things you don't actually need.
- What type of load balancer do you need? For example, network, application, or microservices?
- Where do you want to deploy it? For example, hardware, virtual, cloud, or containers?
- What about the cloud? If you need a cloud load balancer, do you need something cloud-native (e.g. AWS, Azure, GCP), or a cloud-agnostic solution to avoid vendor lock-in, and give you more architectural flexibility?
- What's the use case? For example, does your DevOps team need a load balancer to facilitate app development, or are you looking for a load balancer to add to your own OEM solution that needs to be commercially viable?
- What are your red lines? One of these is likely to be budget. The other might be features. Performance is way less of a problem these days. Some will be non-negotiable but others will be 'nice-to-have.'
- Where will the load balancer sit in your network? For example, as your first line of defense (we don't recommend this for these reasons), or right next to your applications?
- Do you need a WAF? Yes, some load balancers come with an integrated WAF, but WAFs can also exist as part of a separate solution, such as the brilliant Cloudflare.
- Do you care how the company is funded? Disrupters like Snapt did great things but weren't profitable, so ultimately disappeared overnight, leaving their customers in a bit of a pickle.
- How many load balancers do you need? In other words, do you want dedicated high availability for a critical application? or multi-site failover?
- What support do you need? For example, do you want someone else to provide 24/7 support, or do you have the resources and expertise in-house to do this yourself?
Market leader comparison
I figured, instead of giving you my opinion on each of the vendors in the market (which you'd understandably assume was biased), I'd point you to the relevant resources on each of the vendor's own websites so you can hear it directly from them — hopefully saving you a LOT of Googling, and a considerable amount of time! It also means the data in the table below is less likely to need updating every 5 mins, and is therefore more likely to actually be useful to you!
Intelligent but affordable load balancers:
|Model, specs & pricing
|Loadbalancer Enterprise hardware load balancers / Loadbalacer Enterprise virtual load balancers / Loadbalancer Enterprise cloud load balancers
|Sector specific experts, tierless support, price, no hidden charges (WAF & GSLB as standard)
|Kubernetes load balancer not yet available, SSO not available, relatively small customer base
|Progress Kemp LoadMaster hardware load balancers / Progress Kemp LoadMaster virtual load balancers / Progress Kemp LoadMaster cloud load balancers
|Feature focused, easy to use, price, SSO & authentication, good support
|Basic web interface, support & features tied together - can get expensive, default options don't seem to be logical, knowledge base/documentation not well organized
Great for features, but expensive:
|Model, specs & pricing
|F5 BIG-IP VIPRION hardware load balancers / F5 BIG-IP Virtual Edition
|Market leader, advanced functionality, security focused
|Price, complexity, need a specialist to make any changes
|NetScaler MPX/SDX hardware load balancers
/ NetScaler VPX/CPX/BLX virtual and cloud load balancers
|Market leader, advanced functionality, application focused
|Poor account management, price, baseline support can struggle, ownership & direction rapidly changing
|A10 Thunder hardware load balancers
/A10 vThunder virtual and cloud load balancers
|Command line interface is CISCO like, strong firewall and DDOS add ons, carrier Grade NAT, Telecoms focused
|Traditional core switch design, add ons can get expensive, relatively small customer base
|Radware Alteon D hardware load balancers
/ Radware Alteon V virtual load balancers
|DDOS & WAF focused, well integrated, skilled support teams, strong security focus
|Traditional core switch design, add-ons can get expensive, relatively small customer base
Great for DevOps, but expensive:
|Model, specs & pricing
NGINX (part of F5)
NGINX Plus virtual and cloud load balancers
|Powerful web server that also offers load balancing, simple configuration files
|Price, open source community for the load balancer is very small, basic functionality, monitoring/ logging tools not user friendly, command line focused, poor interface and product integration
HAProxy Enterprise ALOHA hardware load balancers /
HAProxy Enterprise ALOHA virtual and cloud load balancers
|Linux based, extremely flexible, backed by a big open source community and 20 year history, strong technical support for log analysis
|Web interface is basic, very inflexible licencing, patchy 24/7 technical support, advanced functionality hard to configure
Avi Networks (part of VMWare)
VMWare NSX ALB virtual and cloud load balancers
|Excellent control plane integration, great management dashboards, ingress controller for Kubernetes, good for vSphere on-prem cloud
|Price, no hardware load balancer, basic functionality, lack of proper sizing tool and limited options to scale, complex changes from NSX-V to NSX-T to NSX-T-Advanced
*Customer feedback/personal opinion
So, at a very high level, you have these choices to make:
- Want bells and whistles, and not fussed about budget? In which case I'd add a Citrix NetScaler, or an F5 BIG-IP to your shortlist.
- Or do you want to pay only for what you actually need, and something that's easier to maintain? Then I'd suggest taking a look at a Loadbalancer Enterprise, or Kemp LoadMaster.
A word on free trials...
Once you've narrowed down your shortlist to 3 or 4 vendors, I'd then strongly suggest taking advantage of their free trials and putting each of them through their paces by setting up a like-for-like test environment.
For tips on how to get the most out of a free trial, check out this blog: "Successfully evaluating a load balancer."
A word on peer review platforms...
To be honest, I'm personally not a fan of peer review platforms because their recommendations aren't always as impartial as they might appear, so they need to be taken with a big pinch of salt. You'll likely want to visit G2, Capterra, and Gartner but you're much better off asking a friend or colleague you trust for a recommendation based on their own experience.
If there are any other resources you've personally found helpful while doing your due diligence, please share them in the comments below. Similarly, if you have any specific vendors you've been particularly impressed by, or ones I've not mentioned here that you think are also worth highlighting, please do add them too!
A word on support...
Finally, don't forget to put the support team to the test, too! After all, some vendors charge an arm and a leg for it, so you want to know they'll be there to help you deal with any deployment or configuration challenges, as well as troubleshoot any technical issues that might crop up.
Let others know in the comments who you added to your shortlist and why, and feel free to share any resources you think others might benefit from.