Why a full-proxy architecture is important to both infrastructure and data centers.
In the early days of load balancing and application delivery there was a lot of confusion about proxy-based architectures and in particular the definition of a full-proxy architecture. Understanding what a full-proxy is will be increasingly important as we continue to re-architect the data center to support a more mobile, virtualized infrastructure in the quest to realize IT as a Service.
THE FULL-PROXY PLATFORM
The reason there is a distinction made between “proxy” and “full-proxy” stems from the handling of connections as they flow through the device. All proxies sit between two entities – in the Internet age almost always “client” and “server” – and mediate connections. While all full-proxies are proxies, the converse is not true. Not all proxies are full-proxies and it is this distinction that needs to be made when making decisions that will impact the data center architecture.
A full-proxy maintains two separate session tables – one on the client-side, one on the server-side. There is effectively an “air gap” isolation layer between the two internal to the proxy, one that enables focused profiles to be applied specifically to address issues peculiar to each “side” of the proxy. Clients often experience higher latency because of lower bandwidth connections while the servers are generally low latency because they’re connected via a high-speed LAN. The optimizations and acceleration techniques used on the client side are far different than those on the LAN side because the issues that give rise to performance and availability challenges are vastly different.
A full-proxy, with separate connection handling on either side of the “air gap”, can address these challenges. A proxy, which may be a full-proxy but more often than not simply uses a buffer-and-stitch methodology to perform connection management, cannot optimally do so. A typical proxy buffers a connection, often through the TCP handshake process and potentially into the first few packets of application data, but then “stitches” a connection to a given server on the back-end using either layer 4 or layer 7 data, perhaps both. The connection is a single flow from end-to-end and must choose which characteristics of the connection to focus on – client or server – because it cannot simultaneously optimize for both.
The second advantage of a full-proxy is its ability to perform more tasks on the data being exchanged over the connection as it is flowing through the component. Because specific action must be taken to “match up” the connection as its flowing through the full-proxy, the component can inspect, manipulate, and otherwise modify the data before sending it on its way on the server-side. This is what enables termination of SSL, enforcement of security policies, and performance-related services to be applied on a per-client, per-application basis.
This capability translates to broader usage in data center architecture by enabling the implementation of an application delivery tier in which operational risk can be addressed through the enforcement of various policies. In effect, we’re created a full-proxy data center architecture in which the application delivery tier as a whole serves as the “full proxy” that mediates between the clients and the applications.
THE FULL-PROXY DATA CENTER ARCHITECTURE
A full-proxy data center architecture installs a digital "air gap” between the client and applications by serving as the aggregation (and conversely disaggregation) point for services. Because all communication is funneled through virtualized applications and services at the application delivery tier, it serves as a strategic point of control at which delivery policies addressing operational risk (performance, availability, security) can be enforced.
A full-proxy data center architecture further has the advantage of isolating end-users from the volatility inherent in highly virtualized and dynamic environments such as cloud computing . It enables solutions such as those used to overcome limitations with virtualization technology, such as those encountered with pod-architectural constraints in VMware View deployments. Traditional access management technologies, for example, are tightly coupled to host names and IP addresses. In a highly virtualized or cloud computing environment, this constraint may spell disaster for either performance or ability to function, or both. By implementing access management in the application delivery tier – on a full-proxy device – volatility is managed through virtualization of the resources, allowing the application delivery controller to worry about details such as IP address and VLAN segments, freeing the access management solution to concern itself with determining whether this user on this device from that location is allowed to access a given resource.
Basically, we’re taking the concept of a full-proxy and expanded it outward to the architecture. Inserting an “application delivery tier” allows for an agile, flexible architecture more supportive of the rapid changes today’s IT organizations must deal with.
Such a tier also provides an effective means to combat modern attacks. Because of its ability to isolate applications, services, and even infrastructure resources, an application delivery tier improves an organizations’ capability to withstand the onslaught of a concerted DDoS attack. The magnitude of difference between the connection capacity of an application delivery controller and most infrastructure (and all servers) gives the entire architecture a higher resiliency in the face of overwhelming connections. This ensures better availability and, when coupled with virtual infrastructure that can scale on-demand when necessary, can also maintain performance levels required by business concerns.
A full-proxy data center architecture is an invaluable asset to IT organizations in meeting the challenges of volatility both inside and outside the data center.