Load balancing for multi-cloud and hybrid cloud: How it works

Multi-cloud and hybrid cloud load balancers distribute traffic among various cloud service providers, not just between servers.

Learning Objectives

After reading this article you will be able to:

  • Contrast multi-cloud with traditional load balancing
  • Describe the key capabilities of multi-cloud and hybrid cloud load balancers
  • Explain how Cloudflare Load Balancing distributes traffic

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What is load balancing?

Load balancing is a method for distributing global and local network traffic among several servers. It helps to distribute server workloads more efficiently, speeding up application performance and reducing latency. The earliest load balancers were physical hardware devices that spread traffic across servers within a data center. Cloud-based load balancers, developed more recently, distribute traffic between servers in a cloud deployment.

What differentiates hybrid and multi-cloud load balancing from traditional load balancing?

Many applications today rely on a multi-cloud (multiple public cloud providers) or hybrid cloud (a mix of public cloud and private cloud or data center) infrastructure. In such circumstances, load balancing across servers is often not enough to boost performance. Distributing traffic between clouds and data centers is just as important as distributing traffic among individual servers. One cloud running far more load than another can drive up costs and reduce performance, but by distributing loads effectively, this can be avoided.

How does load balancing work across multiple clouds or hybrid deployments?

Many cloud load balancers are built to function within one cloud service provider's infrastructure, not across multiple service providers. Meanwhile, traditional load balancers are hardware-based, which is inefficient for distributing traffic to far-flung cloud servers.

Because of the distributed nature of cloud computing, multi-cloud and hybrid cloud load balancing have to be platform-agnostic, software-based, and global:

Platform-agnostic: A multi-cloud load balancer has to be able to distribute traffic regardless of the underlying infrastructure and the cloud services being used.

Software-based: A hardware-based load balancer cannot efficiently direct traffic across clouds, because traffic would bottleneck within the data center where the load balancer runs. Conversely, a load balancer that runs in software instead of hardware can run anywhere. Multi-cloud load balancers are software-based.

Global: Public clouds are distributed geographically. To reach users in any region and serve traffic to any cloud or origin server located anywhere, multi-cloud load balancers need to be able to direct traffic globally.

Because of these attributes, multi-cloud load balancers and hybrid cloud load balancers are typically offered as a cloud service. They are most effective when they run on a distributed network.

Does Cloudflare Load Balancing support multi-cloud and hybrid cloud?

Cloudflare Load Balancing is infrastructure agnostic: it uses global server load balancing (GSLB) to dynamically distribute traffic to healthy server pools no matter where they are located in the world. Learn more about Cloudflare Load Balancing or about GSLB.