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Server Infrastructure Tools, The Basics

By Nelson King (Send Email)
Posted Mar 31, 2005


So you've done your research and purchased your servers and possibly signed a service agreement. Now what? If you said, walk away and let 'em run, think again.

Collectively, the way the servers are organized and the tools are provided to support them constitutes the infrastructure.
No matter how thought out the server purchasing process, a server room's potential is achieved only through careful management. Infrastructure tools are an essential component. We kick off a new series with an overview of server infrastructure tools.

Life around servers is rarely that simple. A sys admin in a large server room, or rooms, will most likely need tools to help him or her keep the servers running effectively. This is where software to manage, monitor, and configure the server infrastructure comes in. Thus, the question is not whether you need some of the tools, but which ones and from whom.

This article, is the first in our series of overviews of infrastructure tools, and an overview of overviews of sorts. It introduces the ServerWatch-defined category of server infrastructure tools, the constituent products, and some of the trade-offs that come into play when using vendor supplied, third-party, or outsourced (ASP) tools.

Definition

When it comes to servers, what do we mean by infrastructure? Simply put, it's organized server support. Do all of your servers work in isolation as stand-alone units? Probably not. There are groups of them: different types, different functions, clusters for scalability, and so forth. You organize them to support them and enable them to work better together. Collectively, the way the servers are organized and the tools are provided to support them constitutes the infrastructure. To make the infrastructure work, you must set the servers up in the right way, monitor their operation, and manage their services. Not a simple task by any means.

Start with a rule of thumb: The greater the number of servers, the greater the need for infrastructure tools. One server does not constitute an infrastructure. On the other hand, if you have a thousand servers, boy do you need infrastructure tools! With that many servers, you probably need infrastructure tools just to keep them running. Then, there's the no small matter of getting the most out of the servers, ultimately known as maximizing ROI. Infrastructure tools are necessary for that as well.

Tools to Consider

These "tools" are, of course, products. Sometimes they come in suites, such as IBM Tivoli, or Computer Associates Unicenter. They are also sold in various combinations or as individual (even stand-alone) products. Infrastructure tools cover a very large range, as this by no means inclusive list illustrates:

  • Application Deployment and Management
  • (IT) Asset and Inventory Management
  • Backup and Archiving
  • Batch Processing
  • Configuration and Change Management
  • Cluster Management
  • Data Management
  • Desktop Management
  • Disaster Recovery
  • Enterprise System Management
  • File Transfer Management
  • Job Automation and Scheduling
  • License Management
  • Network Management
  • Performance (Load and Stress) Testing
  • Patch and Update Management
  • Print Management
  • Security Management
  • Storage Management
  • User Management
  • Web Systems Management

There are many ways to slice and dice this territory of server infrastructure. With hundreds of products that have considerable overlap, vendors, analysts, and journalists can (and do) see infrastructure tools through many perspectives.

As numerous and confusing as the server infrastructure products can be, one needn't be a computer scientist to reach an understanding about what an organization must have to support its servers. Some basic information is required: Where servers are located, what they are doing (at least in general), and some details of their configuration (what hardware and software they are running). From there, consider other areas of server management (such as items on the above list) to determine strengths and weaknesses. If there are gaps or problems managing the server infrastructure, start looking at tools to cover them. Fundamentally, the process is the same for small and midsize businesses as it is for very large enterprises.

People with experience will say, "It's not that easy." True. The process described in the previous paragraph leaves out some important complications, including budget limitations, existing infrastructure elements, personal preferences (e.g., those of executives), and resistance to change. Nor is comparing server infrastructure products necessarily easy. Products may have many common features, but their vendors may describe them differently. There are also overlaps in functionality. Finally, not all vendors are equally skilled in marketing, which means sometimes a good product (or feature) is not effectively represented. More often, though, it means some products (or features) are oversold.

>> Options and Trade-Offs

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