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Key Strategies for Implementing AWS Network Load Balancer

As organizations embrace microservices architecture and container orchestration with Kubernetes, securing inter-service communication becomes paramount. One powerful tool in the AWS ecosystem for achieving this is the Network Load Balancer (NLB). In this blog post, we'll delve into things to consider before adopting the AWS NLB in your design.

In the realm of cloud computing, load balancing plays a crucial role in distributing incoming network traffic across multiple servers or resources. Among Amazon Web Services' (AWS) suite of load balancing options, the Network Load Balancer (NLB) stands out as a powerful tool for achieving high availability, scalability, and efficient traffic distribution. AWS NLB is a highly scalable and performant load balancer that operates at the transport layer (Layer 4) of the OSI model. It is designed for applications that require high throughput and low latency.

Key Concepts of AWS NLB

  • Target Groups
    Target Groups are collections of resources (such as EC2 instances) that receive traffic from the NLB. They play a crucial role in defining how traffic is distributed.

  • Availability Zones
    AWS NLB can distribute traffic across multiple Availability Zones (AZs) for high availability. Understanding AZs and their relationship with NLB is crucial for designing fault-tolerant architectures.

  • Health Checks
    NLB monitors the health of registered targets by periodically sending health checks. Targets that fail these checks are removed from the pool, ensuring traffic is only routed to healthy instances.

  • Listeners and Rules
    Listeners define the protocols and ports that NLB uses to route traffic to targets. Rules determine how incoming requests are directed based on factors like host, path, or source IP.

  • Cross-Zone Load Balancing
    This feature allows NLB to evenly distribute traffic across instances in all enabled AZs, improving fault tolerance and application availability.
    NLB Ingress

Pros of Using AWS Network Load Balancer

  • High Throughput and Low Latency: NLB operates at the network layer (Layer 4) and provides ultra-high performance, making it ideal for applications that require low latency.
  • Support for Elastic IP Addresses: NLB supports assigning Elastic IP addresses to ensure a stable entry point for your application.
  • Target IP Affinity: NLB offers session stickiness at the connection level, ensuring that a client's requests are consistently directed to the same target.
  • Simplified Health Checks: NLB health checks are performed at the transport layer, which reduces the overhead on backend instances.
  • Support for Containers and IP Address Preservation: NLB supports targets specified by IP address, which is crucial for container-based applications.
  • Multi-AZ Resilience: NLB distributes traffic evenly across Availability Zones, providing redundancy and fault tolerance.
  • Support for mTLS (mutual TLS)

Keys considerations & tips for for leveraging AWS Network Load Balancer

  • Understand how NLB health check works
    When we register a new target to the Network Load Balancer, it is expected to take between 3-5 minutes (180 and 300 seconds) to complete the registration process. After registration is complete, the Network Load Balancer health check systems will begin to send health checks to the target. A newly registered target must pass health checks for the configured interval to enter service and receive traffic. For example, if you configure your health check for a 30 second interval, and require 3 health checks to become healthy, the minimum time a newly registered target could enter service is 270 seconds (180 seconds for registration, and another 90 (3*30) seconds for passing health checks) after a new target passes its first health check.

  • Sometimes NLB sends traffic to the target before marking it healthy
    It is a known issue at AWS NLB team and good thing is they are aware of it. So, I'm positive that we'll get a fix soon. Just make sure to keep this in mind and prepare your logs and alert framework accordingly.

  • NLB continues to send traffic to the target which is in draining state
    Another AWS known issue and AWS NLB team is working on it. When we deregister a target from Network Load Balancer, it is expected to take 3-5 minutes (180-300 seconds) to process the requested de-registration, after which it will no longer receive new connections. During this time the Elastic Load Balancing API will report the target in 'draining' state. The target will continue to receive new connections until the de-registration processing has completed. At the end of the configured de-registration delay, the target will not be included in the describe-target-health response for the Target Group, and will return 'unused' with reason 'Target.NotRegistered' when querying for the specific target.

  • Always set a proper de-registration delay using
    deregistration_delay.timeout_seconds: 300 seconds
    By default the load balancer will wait up to 300 seconds (or 5 minutes) for the existing keep alive connections to close on their own, before forcefully breaking them. ECS waits for this deregistration to complete before sending a SIGTERM signal to your container, so that any inflight requests do not get dropped.

The initial state of a deregistering target is draining. By default, the load balancer changes the state of a deregistering target to unused after 300 seconds. This is needed to ensure the requests are completed successfully.
If you enable the target group attribute for connection termination, connections to deregistered targets are closed shortly after the end of the deregistration timeout.
Enable connection termination on deregistration using deregistration_delay.connection_termination.enabled=true
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Recommendation for REST APIs deployed in EKS: deregistration_delay.timeout_seconds=<10-100>
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  • If you set the de-registration delay to 0 seconds then also NLB will take at least 2 minutes (120 seconds) to de-register the target.

  • There is no AWS API that tell if the deregistration has completed. However, use "describe-target-health" API call to check the status of the de-registration.

Few NLB best practices for EKS adoption

  • Use IP Target-Type Load Balancers- In IP-mode, AWS NLB sends traffic directly to the Kubernetes pods behind the service, eliminating the need for an extra network hop through the worker nodes in the Kubernetes cluster. IP target mode supports pods running on both AWS EC2 instances and AWS Fargate.
  • Always use Pod Readiness Checks for pods
  • Always include graceful shutdown of pods- When a pod is Terminated the application running inside the container will receive two Signals. The first is the SIGTERM signal, which is a “polite” request that the process cease execution. This signal can be blocked or the application could simply ignore this signal, so after the terminationGracePeriodSeconds has elapsed the application will receive the SIGKILL signal.
  • Find a right spot/value of de-registration delay- Elastic Load Balancing stops sending requests to targets that are deregistering. By default, Elastic Load Balancing waits 300 seconds before completing the deregistration process, which can help in-flight requests to the target to complete.

By carefully considering these important factors before implementing AWS Network Load Balancer, you're poised to harness its capabilities effectively and integrate it seamlessly into your AWS architecture. As you embark on your NLB journey, remember that informed decisions are the foundation of a robust and efficient network infrastructure. Happy load balancing!

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