How to build a load balancer with HAProxy

If you’ve been reading my previous articles you must have noticed that in Horizon Workspace there is often the hidden assumption that you need and/or you already have in place a load balancer.

Load balancers are usually appliances sold in hardware that are put in front of your workloads to distribute load to multiple backend machines delivering the same services. The reason why you want to do that is to provide performance and availability to your service as it grows.

Horizon Workspace is no difference and since it’s pretty easy to have multiple gateway-va for redundancy and scalability then you are going to need a load balancer.

I don’t want to get much into details about how many vendors are out there and what is good and bad about them, nor what I see in production environments; what I am going to say is that:

  • load balancers can be an expensive combination of hardware and software;
  • nowadays they do a whole bunch of things besides just load balancing connections, like SSL offloading, caching, content inspection, etc.
  • since virtualization has become so mainstream we now have load balancers solutions all in software coming as virtual appliances

Some time ago I just happened to bump into a nice blog post by Luca Dell’Oca about a piece of software called HAProxy.

HAProxy is a opensource software that does HTTP/TCP load balancing with a lot of nice features including for example SSL Offloading; also HAProxy seems to be used in production in very large environments with no problems at all. Check their website for reference.

At the time I was looking for a way to load balance a VMware View environment and after reading Luca’s post about how to do it with HAProxy I became a real funboy. If a customer has no load balancing solution or needs to load balance only a small subset of services I always go with HAProxy now because I found it to be very reliable and it delivers great performance consuming very little resources. What can you ask for more?

The documentation is pretty broad and precise which is always good when it comes to learn your way through things.

Enough with evangelizing HAProxy, I will just get down to business and show you how I build my load balancers.

First let’s clear out some goals and assumptions:

  • I like to use CentOS to do this but it’s not mandatory
  • I’m a big fun of RPMs but i prefer to build HAProxy from source code
  • in this post i will provide with a basic installation just to start-up
  • in future posts i will publish specific configs i use for Horizon Workspace and about how to deploy more than one HAProxy virtual appliance for redundancy
  • by no means this is the best way to do it, it’s just what i do
  • by no means I’m discouraging you from buying commercial load balancers; always remember you are the only support for solutions you build!

What I do is downloading a CentOS iso for minimal install, it’s good for this task and it’s a small download. Pick x86 or x64. Whatever. Just install it as you normally would, connect it to the internet and install VMware Tools as well.

For this tutorial I used the latest CentOS which at the time of writing is 6.4.

After getting a ‘root’ prompt this is what I do:

yum install wget openssl-devel pcre-devel make gcc -y     # this installs prerequisites
wget     # download the package
tar xzvf haproxy-1.5-dev19.tar.gz     # extracting
cd haproxy-1.5-dev19     # enter the extracted directory
make TARGET=linux2628 CPU=i686 USE_OPENSSL=1 USE_ZLIB=1 USE_PCRE=1     # i compile it with compression and ssl support; use CPU=x86_64 for CentOS x64
make install     # install
cp /usr/local/sbin/haproxy* /usr/sbin/     # copy binaries to /usr/sbin
cp /root/haproxy-1.5-dev19/examples/haproxy.init /etc/init.d/haproxy     # copy init script in /etc/init.d
chmod 755 /etc/init.d/haproxy     # setting permission on init script
mkdir /etc/haproxy     # creating directory where the config file must reside
cp /root/haproxy-1.5-dev19/examples/examples.cfg /etc/haproxy/haproxy.cfg     # copy example config file
mkdir /var/lib/haproxy     # create directory for stats file
touch /var/lib/haproxy/stats     # creating stats file
useradd haproxy     # i like to make haproxy run with a specific user
service haproxy check     # checking configuration file is valid
service haproxy start     # starting haproxy to verify it is working
chkconfig haproxy on     # setting haproxy to start with VM

The main reason why I like to build HAProxy myself is that when I was learning about it I had troubles to make SSL offloading work even if I was sure I was configuring it right. Turns out most RPMs out there are built without SSL support so I started just building it up by myself. In this way I can always use the last version and even if the current latest is a development version I can tell you it’s pretty stable.

Don’t forget to disable all unneeded services/daemons; most of them are not needed to run a load balancer.

If you intend to leave the firewall on, go check Luca’s post which will give you a good insight about how to configure iptables to work with HAProxy.

Don’t bother disabling SELinux, it seems to go by with HAProxy pretty well.

Have fun with your new shiny (and free) load balancer.

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