While many businesses have transitioned their internal IT systems to cloud services, utilizing servers situated in remote data centers, a substantial number still maintain in-house servers or operate within a hybrid environment that combines both in-house and cloud services. Irrespective of their location, server management encompasses the continuous oversight and upkeep of hardware, software, security protocols, and data backups.
In this article, we’re going to give you an overview of server management, including looking at some useful tools and security issues to consider.
What is Server Management?
Server management refers to the administration, configuration, maintenance and oversight of a server or servers. It includes key functions including server provisioning (acquiring, installing, and configuring new servers), setting up components, keeping software and security patches up-to-date, monitoring and managing performance, keeping servers and their applications continuously available to minimize downtime, controlling access permissions, managing backups, developing disaster recovery plans, planning upgrades, and more!
Server Management Basics
Central Processing Unit (CPU)
The CPU is the brain of any computer, and its job is to perform the calculations that allow programs to run. The CPU and servers work hard, running around the clock and handling the peaks and troughs of diverse workloads. This makes constant monitoring essential because overtaxing server CPUs can result in expensive service outages, so part of server management involves monitoring them to ensure that they are always working within acceptable limits. With on-premises servers, a server management professional has limited scope, but they can shut down processes that are hogging resources or shift loads onto other servers in their inventory if available.
CPUs and hard drives consume electricity and generate heat. The more there are of them the more heat is produced, and this is one of the reasons why nations like Iceland have taken to hosting server farms. They can naturally cool thousands of CPUs cheaply and naturally with their abundantly available sub-Arctic air.
It’s easy for on-site or even remote technicians to monitor CPU, memory, and hard drive temperatures as modern systems have built-in temperature sensors that will sound the alarm if they go beyond acceptable ranges.
Random Access Memory (RAM)
Every smartphone, computer, tablet, and server uses RAM. It’s a volatile storage medium which means that when the power goes the memory is wiped, so it’s only used as working memory. More RAM in a system means it can handle more processes. When RAM fills up, the system will be forced to temporarily use slower hard drive storage which will reduce system performance.
Hard drives store data magnetically. In years gone by, they contained spinning platters so they were known as hard disks. These still exist, but faster options have become available in the shape of SSDs or Solid State Drives. These use fast flash memory to store information, and they are ideal for intense workloads. Traditional, moving hard drives are better suited to archiving data or managing less dynamic workloads.
As with RAM, adequate hard drive space is essential for maintaining an optimally configured server. Another element to consider with hard drives is the chance of failure. Physical spinning discs can and do fail (SSDs too, but less frequently), so part of the role of a server technician is to ensure that drive health is constantly monitored, failing devices are replaced promptly, and backup policies are in place to avoid data loss.
The ideal temperature for a server room is 64.4°F to 80.6°F (18°C to 27°C). Humidity should be kept within a specific range (usually 40-60%) to prevent static electricity build-up and to reduce the risk of hardware failures.
Proper ventilation and airflow are crucial to prevent overheating, so servers should be arranged in racks with sufficient spacing between them, and the room should be designed to facilitate efficient air circulation. Server management should ensure a stable and reliable power supply, perhaps by using uninterruptible power supplies (UPS).
Since servers contain such important data, the physical environment should be secured against access by unauthorized visitors, and 24/7 surveillance is recommended.
Network connectivity is another consideration. To avoid connection loss, some companies will use multiple Internet connections from different providers to ensure that their service is reliable.
Keeping service software up to date is another part of the job. It needs to be constantly monitored, maintained, and upgraded to ensure that it functions well and stays secure.
With your entire business potentially resting on your servers working as they should, regular backups and backup testing are critical server management tasks. The only way that you can hope to come back from a ransomware attack or natural disaster is by restoring your entire system from complete and current backups. Cloud solutions are probably the most secure option, and managed service providers will often offer backup solutions. Configuration and testing can be built into the service level agreement so that everything is taken care of, but you will need to weigh up the cost and efficiency benefits of using different providers.
A physical server has its own CPU, motherboard, hard, drive, and memory, and it runs a single instance of its operating system. A virtual server, in contrast, is a server that’s emulated using hypervisor software, and it allows numerous virtual servers to a physical server’s resources. So, multiple virtual servers can coexist on the same physical hardware, each of them operating as if it were a dedicated server.
There are application servers, web servers, email infrastructure servers, and file storage servers – classified as network attached storage. You may also use the term “server” to identify the hardware part under your application layer. Your management tasks and the performance evaluation will be different depending on the each separate case.
Cloud services have completely changed server monitoring and administration routine. If you use cloud services – the applications, e-mail and storage facilities you use will be offsite. Indeed, keeping track of all these co-located servers can become a real server management nightmare.
The first step in infrastructure management is getting a single interface to monitor all your servers from your single workstation. It’s important to get real-time data on your hardware. Your server checking software should show you instant facts covering processor use, memory utilization, and disk space availability. On top of that, you must be able to see which processes are operating on the server. Including what amount of resources each of these processes consume.
Essentially you need to rely on a tool which can provide alerts based on live data evaluation. On top of collecting data, your checking tool must be able to automatically flag issues to someone who can respond to these issues. This could include notification via e-mail or SMS.
Finally, we would highlight that it is key to keep on top of utilization. If you see your apps are increasingly taxing your machine, you can add capacity before a demand spike causes issues.
Planning Server Management
Planning the capacity of your server is a new area of server management. You never want to provide an excess of machine capacity. Doing so can mean wasting hardware resources, paying too much for utilities and spending too much on support. However, you do need to plan for surges in demand. So a bit of spare resources is always a good idea.
Note that provisioning for computing requirements involve also provisioning other areas such as your physical network. All while providing physical space for equipment including power supply is also important. You also need to account for staff requirements. These are variables that create a unique situation for your business. Meaning you need to pick a server management tool that fits your company the best.
Server management software should make it easy for sysadmins to keep an eye on hardware availability. Alongside the expiration of software licenses, patches that are due and automated alerts when unauthorized software installations are performed.
Server Administration Roles
Senior staff is generally responsible for infrastructure management. Meanwhile, day-to-day maintenance and checking can be allocated to more junior staff. Or be fully-automated using management software.
Your company size of number of admin employees defines your flexibility regarding user roles and restricting access to system data. Small businesses, for example, may have just a single person in charge of machines. With a single associated user role and a single user account for your server management tool.
On the flip side, larger groups can benefit from allocating specialized tasks to individual employees. Hence making managing access to management functions a priority. To effectively manage your infrastructure, you need to use a range of software, including remote server administration tools.
Choosing Server Management Tools
You’re likely to continue using the management tool you choose for a long period of time. So it’s worth carefully considering your choice. Factors you should keep in mind include:
Yes, you may be satisfied with your current hardware provider. But as you upgrade and renew your machines you may change providers or introduce a mix of providers. Don’t choose a server monitoring tool which restricts you to a specific provider. Even if all your equipment is from a single vendor, try to ensure long-term flexibility via a tool compatible with multiple vendors.
Server Monitoring Overheads
Every piece of software consumes resources, including server management and checking software. In most cases, a tool is likely to fit clients with operations that are a certain size. Importantly, you should avoid getting a tool which slows down your operations. Or which generates too much traffic on your network. Not sure what the resource impact of a tool will be? Many vendors offer trial periods on their software – just try it out first.
Match Your Server Administration Requirements
Different software come with different features, so try to match the tool you buy to your company’s oversight needs. Thought an extremely comprehensive package may look attractive, you should be careful not to buy software that you will never use. For small environments, buy a simple tool. For larger environments, consider a tool which can deal with complexity and which includes group-management functionality. However, never buy a tool that’s so complicated you end up not using it.
Server Management Roles
It’s useful to be able to grant restricted access to management consoles. Even if there’s just a single sysadmin looking after servers. You can, for example, give management staff the ability to directly view reports so that they can draw their own conclusions. Or, you may in future employ an assistant in which case you would need your junior employee to access functionality without giving full control to your assistant.
Scaling Server Monitoring
Your computing requirements may change in future. Smaller outfits should consider buying a cut-down edition of a tool which is made for large operations. Should you need to upgrade you can simply step up inside the product family, so you don’t need to retrain. Packages which only work with smaller environments may mean that you will need to switch vendors later on which can involve a learning curve.
Automating Server Management Processes
With the complex server environments so common nowadays, the mere ability to perform checking is no longer enough. Instead, you need to be able to automate the regular server administration tasks that are time-consuming. Good software can reduce much of the server administration tasks down to simply checking logs. It’s a job that gives the opportunity for interns to gain knowledge while freeing up the time of expensive sysadmins.