Your guide to Linux server administration
Managing a Linux server is not the same as managing a Linux workstation, and Linux server administration is miles away from running a desktop operating system like Windows or Mac OS X. Read this article to find out everything you need to know about managing a Linux server, whether dedicated or cloud-hosted.
What is Linux server management?
Technology staff that are new to Linux server management need to understand that Linux servers are different from the many Linux distributions available for workstation, or desktop use. As with Windows server editions, Linux server editions are more powerful and are built to serve high demands.
Linux servers include additional features for Linux server management that makes it easier to handle network administration. These management tools include advanced system administration features and the ability to administer databases too. Your Linux server edition is also capable of running advanced web applications and other services.
Choosing a Linux server means you get the benefit of high levels of security and solid stability, while retaining a large degree of flexibility. Linux server administration involves choices, one of these are which Linux distribution you prefer – choosing amongst CentOS, Debian or Ubuntu for example. Server administrators like the fact that Linux is open source.
The difference between a dedicated and a cloud server
If you’re planning on acting as a Linux server administrator you need to understand the difference between a dedicated server, and a cloud server. A dedicated server is a machine that is fully dedicated to your application. You rent this server from a company who acts as the owner.
Linux server management could also involve a cloud server. Here, your server could be a part of a pool of cloud servers, sharing physical resources with other server instances. Cloud Linux servers are typically run as virtual machines and have their benefits, including a lower management overhead. But some server admins prefer dedicated servers.
How to perform Linux server management for a dedicated server
We’ve mentioned that each type of Linux server management has pros and cons. Dedicated servers undoubtedly have perks, mainly centered around the fact that you have more control over the server. With cloud hosted Linux servers, the ability to customize is more limited and you have fewer choices around the exact operating system version and the applications on the machine.
On the flipside, Linux server management that involves a dedicated server includes higher responsibilities. First, your responsibilities around security are much tighter: while cloud hosts will install firewalls and other protective services a dedicated server will require closer security management.
Linux server administrators in control of a dedicated server should pay attention to the limitations imposed by SSH. Network services use this protocol for a broad variety of purposes, and server functions tend to create a lot of connections. These purposes range from remote login through to management consoles. Exceeding the number of available concurrent SSH sessions can cause service disruptions.
We mentioned firewalls earlier, a salient responsibility that everyone that practices Linux server administration in a dedicated setting faces is that of updates and patches. Many operating systems would automatically run updates on a regular basis, but Linux requires the sysadmin to trigger patches when these are available. Regularly installing security updates are crucial and administrators are ultimately responsible for this on a dedicated server.
Finally, logs on Linux can be incredibly revealing. While the host is responsible for the smooth running of a cloud server, dedicated Linux server administration involves closer scrutiny. Whether it is the bootup process that needs debugging or a glitchy application, your dedicated server’s OS logs will tell you what the source of the problem is, quickly.
Managing cloud servers
Frankly, Linux server management involving a cloud server is a lot easier. There are some similarities with managing a dedicated server but there are quite a few points you simply won’t need to take care of. First and foremost, though some dedicated server providers will look after your hardware, many won’t, and dedicated server management could involve hardware management. With cloud servers, hardware management is not in the picture at all.
On the flipside cloud Linux server management involves constraints. You cannot customize too much with a cloud server because so many variables are under the control of the cloud host. In fact, you are sharing hardware which significantly removes customization options. Yet there is a range of choices with cloud providers, with some offering more opportunity for customization than others.
Also note that you are reliant on the cloud provider’s security arrangements. This could be a good thing if you have a very capable cloud provider, or a big risk if your cloud provider practices bad Linux server management. Yes, you can apply firewalls on some levels plus other security arrangements, but your options are nonetheless restricted.
The importance of server monitoring for Linux server administration
Server monitoring is clearly important, whether you are practicing Linux server management in a dedicated setting or in a cloud setting. Yes, cloud providers will monitor many aspects but any serious Linux sysadmin should use their own monitoring tools. Though every sysadmin needs to pick their tool of choice there are some tools that stand out. We think these tools are great choices:
- Disk utility. Try iotop to check whether your disks are in good shape. It provides Linux server management experts with real insights into the efficiency of the input/output aspects of their machines. Reliable data transmission is key to server performance.
- Monitor network traffic. Not sure what’s going on with your network traffic? Check out nload, which will show you what is consuming the most bandwidth on your machine and whether there are any network glitches.
- Connection monitor. Hacking and cybercrime is a huge problem. Monitor your network connections with iftop, the tool that shows you the active network connections to your server. Any unexpected connection should be investigated as it could be the result of an intrusion.
It’s worth consulting an expert
The right choice between dedicated and cloud Linux server management requires a real think-through of your business needs and requirements. Get help with this choice, even though dedicated servers have advantages many businesses find that cloud server are better for their needs. This is because a cloud server can provide a release from many of the requirements involved in maintaining a server operating system.
If you do decide to pay for a dedicated server, make sure you have the right Linux server administration expertise to fully manage the machine end to end. In fact, the skills you have available to your business may very well determine whether you choose dedicated server hosting, or choose a cloud hosting solution.