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Using WebLogic Server Clusters

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Cluster Architectures

This following sections describes alternative architectures for a WebLogic Server cluster"


Architectural and Cluster Terminology

This section define the terms used herein to refer to the components of clusters and and Web applications.


In this section he term "architecture" refers to how the tiers of an application are deployed to one or more clusters.

Web Application "Tiers"

A Web application is divided into several "tiers" that correspond to the logical services the application provides. Because not all Web applications are alike, your application may not utilize all of the tiers described below. Also keep in mind that the tiers represent logical divisions of an application's services, and not necessarily physical divisions between hardware or software components. In some cases, a single machine running a single WebLogic Server instance can provide all of the tiers described below.

Combined Tier Architecture

A cluster architecture in which all tiers of the Web application are deployed to a single WebLogic Server cluster is called a combined tier architecture.

De-Militarized Zone (DMZ)

The De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) is a logical collection of hardware and services that is made available to outside, untrusted sources. In most Web applications, a bank of Web servers resides in the DMZ to allow browser-based clients access to static HTML content.

The DMZ may provide security against outside attacks to hardware and software. However, because the DMZ is available to untrusted sources, it is less secure than an internal system. For example, internal systems may be protected by a firewall that denies all outside access. The DMZ may be protected by a firewall that hides access to individual machines, applications, or port numbers, but it still permits access to those services from untrusted clients.

Load Balancer

In this document, the term load balancer describes any technology that distributes client connection requests to one or more distinct IP addresses. For example, a simple Web application may use the DNS round-robin algorithm as a load balancer. Larger applications generally use hardware-based load balancing solutions such as those from Alteon WebSystems, which may also provide firewall-like security capabilities.

Load balancers provide the capability to associate a client connection with a particular server in the cluster, which is required when using in-memory replication for client session information. With certain load balancing products, you must configure the cookie persistence mechanism to avoid overwriting the WebLogic Server cookie which tracks primary and secondary servers used for in-memory replication. See Configure Load Balancing Hardware for more information.

Proxy Plug-In

A proxy plug-in is a WebLogic Server extension to an HTTP server—such as Apache, Netscape Enterprise Server, or Microsoft Internet Information Server—that accesses clustered servlets provided by a WebLogic Server cluster. The proxy plug-in contains the load balancing logic for accessing servlets and JSPs in a WebLogic Server cluster. Proxy plug-ins also contain the logic for accessing the replica of a client's session state if the primary WebLogic Server hosting the session state fails.


Recommended Basic Architecture

The Recommended Basic Architecture is a combined tier architecture—all tiers of the Web application are deployed to the same WebLogic Server cluster. This architecture is illustrated in the following figure.

Figure 6-1 Recommended Basic Architecture





The benefits of the Recommended Basic Architecture are:

Note: When using a third-party load balancer with in-memory session replication, you must ensure that the load balancer maintains a client's connection to the WebLogic Server instance that hosts its primary session state (the point-of-contact server). For more information about load balancers, see Configure Load Balancing Hardware.

When Not to Use a Combined Tier Architecture

While a combined tier architecture, such as the Recommended Basic Architecture, meets the needs of many Web applications, it limits your ability to fully employ the load balancing and failover capabilities of a cluster. Load balancing and failover can be introduced only at the interfaces between Web application tiers, so, when tiers are deployed to a single cluster, you can only load balance between clients and the cluster.

Because most load balancing and failover occurs between clients and the cluster itself, a combined tier architecture meets the needs of most Web applications.

However, combined-tier clusters provide no opportunity for load balancing method calls to clustered EJBs. Because clustered objects are deployed on all WebLogic Server instances in the cluster, each object instance is available locally to each server. WebLogic Server optimizes method calls to clustered EJBs by always selecting the local object instance, rather than distributing requests to remote objects and incurring additional network overhead.

This collocation strategy is, in most cases, more efficient than load balancing each method request to a different server. However, if the processing load to individual servers becomes unbalanced, it may eventually become more efficient to submit method calls to remote objects rather than process methods locally.

To utilize load balancing for method calls to clustered EJBs, you must split the presentation and object tiers of the Web application onto separate physical clusters, as described in the following section.

Consider the frequency of invocations of the object tier by the presentation tier when deciding between a combined tier and multi-tier architecture. If presentation objects usually invoke the object tier, a combined tier architecture may offer better performance than a multi-tier architecture.


Recommended Multi-Tier Architecture

This section describes the Recommended Multi-Tier Architecture, in which different tiers of your application are deployed to different clusters.

The recommended multi-tier architecture uses two separate WebLogic Server clusters: one to serve static HTTP content and clustered servlets, and one to serve clustered EJBs. The multi-tier cluster is recommended for Web applications that:

Note: Consider the frequency of invocations from the presentation tier to the object tier when considering a multi-tier architecture. If presentation objects usually invoke the object tier, a combined tier architecture may offer better performance than a multi-tier architecture.

The following figure depicts the recommended multi-tier architecture.

Figure 6-2 Recommended Multi-Tier Architecture




Physical Hardware and Software Layers

In the Recommended Multi-Tier Architecture the application tiers are hosted on two separate physical layers of hardware and software.

Web/Presentation Layer

The web/presentation layer consists of a cluster of WebLogic Server instances dedicated to hosting static HTTP pages, servlets, and JSPs. This servlet cluster does not host clustered objects. Instead, servlets in the presentation tier cluster act as clients for clustered objects, which reside on an separate WebLogic Server cluster in the object layer.

Object Layer

The object layer consists of a cluster of WebLogic Server instances that hosts only clustered objects—EJBs and RMI objects as necessary for the web application. By hosting the object tier on a dedicated cluster, you lose the default collocation optimization for accessing clustered objects described in Optimization for Collocated Objects. However, you gain the ability to load balance on each method call to certain clustered objects, as described in the following section.

Benefits of Multi-Tier Architecture

The multi-tier architecture provides these advantages:

Load Balancing Clustered Objects in a in Multi-Tier Architecture

WebLogic Server's collocation optimization for clustered objects, described in Optimization for Collocated Objects, relies on having a clustered object (the EJB or RMI class) hosted on the same server instance as the replica-aware stub that calls the object.

The net effect of isolating the object tier is that no client (HTTP client, Java client, or servlet) ever acquires a replica-aware stub on the same server that hosts the clustered object. Because of this, WebLogic Server cannot use its collocation optimization (described in Optimization for Collocated Objects), and servlet calls to clustered objects are automatically load balanced according to the logic contained in the replica-aware stub. The following figure depicts a client accessing a clustered EJB instance in the multi-tier architecture.

Figure 6-3 Load Balancing Objects in a Multi-Tier Architecture


Tracing the path of the client connection, you can see the implication of isolating the object tier onto separate hardware and software:

  1. An HTTP client connects to one of several WebLogic Server instances in the web/servlet cluster, going through a load balancer to reach the initial server.
  2. The client accesses a servlet hosted on the WebLogic Server cluster.
  3. The servlet acts as a client to clustered objects required by the web application. In the example above, the servlet accesses a stateless session EJB.

    The servlet looks up the EJB on the WebLogic Server cluster that hosts clustered objects. The servlet obtains a replica-aware stub for the bean, which lists the addresses of all servers that host the bean, as well as the load balancing logic for accessing bean replicas.

    Note: EJB replica-aware stubs and EJB home load algorithms are specified using elements of the EJB deployment descriptor. See "weblogic-ejb-jar.xml Deployment Descriptors" in Programming WebLogic Enterprise JavaBeans for more information.

  4. When the servlet next accesses the EJB (for example, in response to another client), it uses the load-balancing logic present in the bean's stub to locate a replica. In the example above, multiple method calls are directed using the round-robin algorithm for load balancing.

In this example, if the same WebLogic Server cluster hosted both servlets and EJBs (as in the Recommended Basic Architecture), WebLogic Server would not load balance requests for the EJB. Instead, the servlet would always invoke methods on the EJB replica hosted on the local server. Using the local EJB instance is more efficient than making remote method calls to an EJB on another server. However, the multi-tier architecture enables remote EJB access for applications that require load balancing for EJB method calls.

Configuration Considerations for Multi-Tier Architecture

IP Socket Usage

Because the multi-tier architecture provides load balancing for clustered object calls, the system generally utilizes more IP sockets than a combined-tier architecture. In particular, during peak socket usage, each WebLogic Server in the cluster that hosts servlets and JSPs may potentially use a maximum of:

For example, in Figure 6-2, each server in the servlet/JSP cluster could potentially open a maximum of five sockets. This maximum represents a worst-case scenario where primary and secondary session states are equally dispersed throughout the servlet cluster, and each server in the servlet cluster simultaneously accesses a remote object on each server in the object cluster. In most cases, the number of sockets actual sockets in use would be less than this maximum.

If you use a pure-Java sockets implementation with the multi-tier architecture, ensure that you configure enough socket reader threads to accommodate the maximum potential socket usage. For details, see Configuring Reader Threads for Java Socket Implementation.

Hardware Load Balancers

Because the multi-tier architecture uses a hardware load balancer, you must configure the load balancer to maintain a "sticky" connection to the client's point-of-contact server if you use in-memory session state replication. For details, see Configure Load Balancing Method for EJBs and RMIs

Limitations of Multi-Tier Architectures

This section summarizes the limitations of multi-tier cluster architectures.

No Collocation Optimization

Because the Recommended Multi-Tier Architecture cannot optimize object calls using the collocation strategy, the Web application incurs network overhead for all method calls to clustered objects. This overhead may be acceptable, however, if your Web application requires any of the benefits described in Benefits of Multi-Tier Architecture.

For example, if your Web clients make heavy use of servlets and JSPs but access a relatively small set of clustered objects, the multi-tier architecture enables you to concentrate the load of servlets and object appropriately. You may configure a servlet cluster of ten WebLogic Server instances and an object cluster of three WebLogic Server instances, while still fully utilizing each server's processing power.

Firewall Restrictions

If you place a firewall between the servlet cluster and object cluster in a multi-tier architecture, you must bind all servers in the object cluster to public DNS names, rather than IP addresses. Binding those servers with IP addresses can cause address translation problems and prevent the servlet cluster from accessing individual server instances.

If the internal and external DNS names of a WebLogic Server instance are not identical, use the ExternalDNSName attribute for the server instance to define the server's external DNS name. Outside the firewall the externalDNSName should translate to external IP address of the server. Set this attribute in the Administration Console using the Server—>Configuration—>General tab. See Server—>Configuration—>General in Administration Console Online Help.


Recommended Proxy Architectures

You can configure WebLogic Server clusters to operate alongside existing Web servers. In such an architecture, a bank of Web servers provides static HTTP content for the Web application, using a WebLogic proxy plug-in or HttpClusterServlet to direct servlet and JSP requests to a cluster.

The following sections describe two alternative proxy architectures.

Two-Tier Proxy Architecture

The two-tier proxy architecture illustrated in the following figure is similar to the Recommended Basic Architecture, except that static HTTP servers are hosted on a bank of Web servers.

Figure 6-4 Two-Tier Proxy Architecture



Physical Hardware and Software Layers

The two-tier proxy architecture contains two physical layers of hardware and software.

Web Layer

The proxy architecture utilizes a layer of hardware and software dedicated to the task of providing the application's web tier. This physical web layer can consist of one or more identically-configured machines that host one of the following application combinations:

Regardless of which Web server software you select, keep in mind that the physical tier of Web servers should provide only static Web pages. Dynamic content—servlets and JSPs—are proxied via the proxy plug-in or HttpClusterServlet to a WebLogic Server cluster that hosts servlets and JSPs for the presentation tier.

Servlet/Object Layer

The recommended two-tier proxy architecture hosts the presentation and object tiers on a cluster of WebLogic Server instances. This cluster can be deployed either on a single machine or on multiple separate machines.

The Servlet/Object layer differs from the combined-tier cluster described in Recommended Basic Architecture in that it does not provide static HTTP content to application clients.

Multi-Tier Proxy Architecture

You can also use a bank of Web servers as the front-end to a pair of WebLogic Server clusters that host the presentation and object tiers. This architecture is shown in the following figure.

Figure 6-5 Multi-Tier Proxy Architecture


This architecture provides the same benefits (and the same limitations) as the Recommended Multi-Tier Architecture. It differs only insofar as the web tier is placed on a separate bank of Web servers that utilize WebLogic proxy plug-ins.

Proxy Architecture Benefits

Using standalone Web servers and proxy plug-ins provides the following advantages:

Proxy Architecture Limitations

Using standalone Web servers and proxy plug-ins limits your Web application in the following ways:

Proxy Plug-In Versus Load Balancer

Using a load balancer directly with a WebLogic Server cluster provides several benefits over proxying servlet requests. First, using WebLogic Server with a load balancer requires no additional administration for client setup—you do not need to set up and maintain a separate layer of HTTP servers, and you do not need to install and configure one or more proxy plug-ins. Removing the Web proxy layer also reduces the number of network connections required to access the cluster.

Using load balancing hardware provides more flexibility for defining load balancing algorithms that suit the capabilities of your system. You can use any load balancing strategy (for example, load-based policies) that your load balancing hardware supports. With proxy plug-ins or the HttpClusterServlet, you are limited to a simple round-robin algorithm for clustered servlet requests.

Note, however, that using a third-party load balancer may require additional configuration if you use in-memory session state replication. In this case, you must ensure that the load balancer maintains a "sticky" connection between the client and its point-of-contact server, so that the client accesses the primary session state information. When using proxy plug-ins, no special configuration is necessary because the proxy automatically maintains a sticky connection.


Security Options for Cluster Architectures

The boundaries between physical hardware/software layers in the recommended configurations provide potential points for defining your Web application's De-Militarized Zone (DMZ). However, not all boundaries can support a physical firewall, and certain boundaries can support only a subset of typical firewall policies.

The sections that follow describe several common ways of defining your DMZ to create varying levels of application security.

Basic Firewall for Proxy Architectures

The basic firewall configuration uses a single firewall between untrusted clients and the Web server layer, and it can be used with either the Recommended Basic Architecture or Recommended Multi-Tier Architecture cluster architectures.

Figure 6-6 Basic Proxy with Firewall Architecture


In the above configuration, the single firewall can use any combination of policies (application-level restrictions, NAT, IP masquerading) to filter access to three HTTP servers. The most important role for the firewall is to deny direct access to any other servers in the system. In other words, the servlet layer, the object layer, and the database itself must not be accessible from untrusted clients.

Note that you can place the physical firewall either in front of or behind the Web servers in the DMZ. Placing the firewall in front of the Web servers simplifies your firewall policies, because you need only permit access to the web servers and deny access to all other systems.

Note: If you place the firewall between the three Web servers and the WebLogic Server cluster, you must bind all server instances using publicly-listed DNS names, rather than IP addresses. Doing so ensures that the proxy plug-ins can freely connect to each server in the cluster and not encounter address translation errors as described in Firewall Considerations.

If the internal and external DNS names of a WebLogic Server instance are not identical, use the ExternalDNSName attribute for the server instance to define the server's external DNS name. Outside the firewall the externalDNSName should translate to external IP address of the server. Set this attribute in the Administration Console using the Server—>Configuration—>General tab. See Server—>Configuration—>General in Administration Console Online Help.

DMZ with Basic Firewall Configurations

By denying access to all but the Web server layer, the basic firewall configuration creates a small-footprint DMZ that includes only three Web servers. However, a more conservative DMZ definition might take into account the possibility that a malicious client may gain access to servers hosting the presentation and object tiers.

For example, assume that a hacker gains access to one of the machines hosting a Web server. Depending on the level of access, the hacker may then be able to gain information about the proxied servers that the Web server accesses for dynamic content.

If you choose to define your DMZ more conservatively, you can place additional firewalls using the information in Additional Security for Shared Databases.

Combining Firewall with Load Balancer

If you use load balancing hardware with a recommended cluster architecture, you must decide how to deploy the hardware in relationship to the basic firewall. Although many hardware solutions provide security features in addition to load balancing services, most sites rely on a firewall as the first line of defense for their Web applications. In general, firewalls provide the most well-tested and familiar security solution for restricting web traffic, and should be used in front of load balancing hardware, as shown below.

Figure 6-7 Basic Proxy with Firewall and Load Balancer Architecture


The above setup places the load balancer within the DMZ along with the web tier. Using a firewall in this configuration can simplify security policy administration, because the firewall need only limit access to the load balancer. This setup can also simplify administration for sites that support internal clients to the Web application, as described below.

Expanding the Firewall for Internal Clients

If you support internal clients that require direct access to your Web application (for example, remote machines that run proprietary Java applications), you can expand the basic firewall configuration to allow restricted access to the presentation tier. The way in which you expand access to the application depends on whether you treat the remote clients as trusted or untrusted connections.

If you use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to support remote clients, the clients may be treated as trusted connections and can connect directly to the presentation tier going through a firewall. This configuration is shown below.

Figure 6-8 VPN Users have Restricted Access Through Firewall


If you do not use a VPN, all connections to the Web application (even those from remote sites using proprietary client applications) should be treated as untrusted connections. In this case, you can modify the firewall policy to permit application-level connections to WebLogic Server instances hosting the presentation tier, as shown in the following figure.

Figure 6-9 Application Components Have Restricted Access Through Firewall


Additional Security for Shared Databases

If you use a single database that supports both internal data and data for externally-available Web applications, you should consider placing a hard boundary between the object layer that accesses your database. Doing so simply reinforces the DMZ boundaries described in Basic Firewall for Proxy Architectures by adding an additional firewall.

DMZ with Two Firewall Configuration

The following configuration places an additional firewall in front of a database server that is shared by the Web application and internal (trusted) clients. This configuration provides additional security in the unlikely event that the first firewall is breached, and a hacker ultimately gains access to servers hosting the object tier. Note that this circumstance should be extremely unlikely in a production environment—your site should have the capability to detect and stop a malicious break-in long before a hacker gains access to machines in the object layer.

Figure 6-10 DMZ with Two Firewalls Architecture


In the above configuration, the boundary between the object tier and the database is hardened using an additional firewall. The firewall maintains a strict application-level policy that denies access to all connections except JDBC connections from WebLogic Servers hosting the object tier.


Avoiding Problems

The following sections present considerations to keep in mind when determining your cluster architecture.

Administration Server Considerations

To start up WebLogic Server instances that participate in a cluster, each Managed Server must be able to connect to the Administration Server that manages configuration information for the domain that contains the cluster. For security purposes, the Administration Server should reside within the same DMZ as the WebLogic Server cluster.

The Administration Server maintains the configuration information for all server instances that participate in the cluster. The config.xml file that resides on the Administration Server contains configuration data for all clustered and non-clustered servers in the Administration Server's domain. You do not create a separate configuration file for each server in the cluster.

The Administration Server must be available in order for clustered WebLogic Server instances to start up. Note, however, that once a cluster is running, a failure of the Administration Server does not affect ongoing cluster operation.

The Administration Server should not participate in a cluster. The Administration Server should be dedicated to the process of administering servers: maintaining configuration data, starting and shutting down servers, and deploying and undeploying applications. If the Administration Server also handles client requests, there is a risk of delays in accomplishing administration tasks.

There is no benefit in clustering an Administration Server; the administrative objects are not clusterable, and will not failover to another cluster member if the administrative server fails. Deploying applications on an Administration Server can reduce the stability of the server and the administrative functions it provides. If an application you deploy on the Administration Server behaves unexpectedly, it could interrupt operation of the Administration Server.

For these reasons, make sure that the Administration Server's IP address is not included in the cluster-wide DNS name.

Firewall Considerations

In any cluster architecture that utilizes one or more firewalls, it is critical to identify all WebLogic Server instances using publicly-available DNS names, rather than IP addresses. Using DNS names avoids problems associated with address translation policies used to mask internal IP addresses from untrusted clients.

If the internal and external DNS names of a WebLogic Server instance are not identical, use the ExternalDNSName attribute for the server instance to define the server's external DNS name. Outside the firewall the externalDNSName should translate to external IP address of the server. Set this attribute in the Administration Console using the Server—>Configuration—>General tab. See Server—>Configuration—>General in Administration Console Online Help.

The following figure describes the potential problem with using IP addresses to identify WebLogic Server instances. In this figure, the firewall translates external IP requests for the subnet "xxx" to internal IP addresses having the subnet "yyy."

Figure 6-11 Translation Errors Can Occur When Servers are Identified by IP Addresses


The following steps describe the connection process and potential point of failure:

  1. The client initiates contact with the WebLogic Server cluster by requesting a connection to the first server at The firewall translates this address and connects the client to the internal IP address of 205.20.yyy.100:7001.
  2. The client performs a JNDI lookup of a pinned Object C that resides on the third WebLogic Server instance in the cluster. The stub for Object C contains the internal IP address of the server hosting the object, 205.20.yyy.300:7001.
  3. When the client attempts to instantiate Object C, it requests a connection to the server hosting the object using IP address 205.20.yyy.300:7001. The firewall denies this connection, because the client has requested a restricted, internal IP address, rather than the publicly-available address of the server.

If there was no translation between external and internal IP addresses, the firewall would pose no problems to the client in the above scenario. However, most security policies involve hiding (and denying access to) internal IP addresses.

Evaluate Cluster Capacity Prior to Production Use

The architecture of your cluster will influence the capacity of your system. Before deploying applications for production use, evaluate performance to determine if and where you may need to add servers or server hardware to support real-world client loads. Testing software such as LoadRunner from Mercury Interactive allows you to simulate heavy client usage.


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