Companies depend on their server infrastructure for most IT functions, including data storage, hosting websites, emails, and applications. While many businesses have shifted to cloud services using servers located in enormous, distant data centers, a significant number of organizations still have in-house servers or use a hybrid environment of in-house and cloud services to host server data requiring management. Managing a server, whether in-house or in the cloud, means staying on top of hardware, software, security, and backups.
In this guide, I explore how to best manage servers with an understanding of today’s server technology, security concerns, and touch on the importance of having the right server monitoring software to support your efforts.
- What Is Server Management?
- What Is a Virtual Server?
- Server Management Basics
- Internal Server vs. External Server Monitoring
- How to Choose the Best Server Management Tool
- Final Thoughts on Server Management
What Is Server Management?
Server management is the process of monitoring and maintaining servers to operate at peak performance. Server management also encompasses the management of hardware, software, security, and backups. The primary goals of an effective server management strategy are to:
- Minimize—and hopefully eliminate—server slowdowns and downtime
- Build secure server environments
- Ensure servers continue to meet the needs of an organization as it evolves
What Is a Virtual Server?
Virtualization is a major trend in today’s server environments. While a traditional, physical server is typically a single server running on a single machine, a virtual server can allow multiple servers to be hosted on one piece of hardware.
Virtual servers—also known as virtual machines—can help increase efficiency by enabling more to be done with less hardware. They can be more complex to manage than physical servers, but the same server management principles apply to both. Anyone who manages servers needs to be familiar with a wide range of IT topics like physical vs. virtual servers to understand what environment is best to meet organizational needs.
Server Management Basics
Server management basics include management of hardware, software, security, and backups. The following are important elements of effective server management any IT strategy or software solution should help address:
Keeping hardware performing well is the foundation of effective server management. Without reliable hardware, business productivity can be affected, so it’s important to continuously monitor at least five primary components to help ensure server hardware performance. These hardware components include:
1. Central Processing Unit (CPU): The CPU is the brains of a server, performing all the calculations to make programs run. CPUs should be constantly monitored to avoid overuse. A CPU running close to 100% utilization for an extended period is overtaxed, meaning there’s no excess capacity for users to perform additional tasks, risking everything depending on the server slowing to a crawl.
To deal with an overused CPU, you may need to upgrade the chip, add more CPUs, or halt unnecessary programs taking up system resources. A more complex option is tuning the performance of other system elements to put less stress on the CPU.
2. Random Access Memory (RAM): RAM is a server’s working memory. This form of temporary storage runs faster than permanent hard disks. Programs running from RAM will perform better given this speed advantage.
The more RAM your server has, the better its potential performance. You should keep an eye on RAM usage and consider adding more when it nears capacity.
3. Hard Drive: The hard drive (also referred to as a hard disk) is a server’s permanent storage. Programs and data are saved here even when the machine is shut down. Performance can degrade when a hard drive nears maximum capacity.
You need to keep track of hard drive storage space, adding new drives or deleting unnecessary data when they fill up (or deciding to invest in a cloud storage solution for more storage capacity). The guide I wrote on how to check your hard drive health also explains how to know when a hard drive is bad.
4. CPU Temperature: Servers can generate a great deal of heat. Most physical servers come with wired thermometers to help you gauge whether the CPU temperature is in the normal range. If the CPU temperature gets too high, shut down the server immediately and assess the problem.
Cooling fans are another critical component of a physical server. These fans draw in cool outside air and expel hot air warmed by the CPU. If a fan fails, the server can overheat and cause permanent damage. Make sure to monitor fan speeds to avoid temperature spikes.
5. Operating Environment: In addition to the inside temperate of a server, you should also pay attention to the operating environment where the server is located. A server room must be kept at the proper temperature and humidity—with air flows maintained—for peak server performance and reliability.
When choosing server hardware, it’s important to carefully consider the server specifications you’ll need. It’s best to build in some excess storage and processing capacity, so the server has room to grow with the needs of the business. However, choosing components far beyond your current requirements may result in unnecessary hardware costs in addition to energy usage.