Most IT functions depend on the health and infrastructure of servers, making proper server management an essential task for data center administrators. Server management is a complex process, especially with the growth of cloud computing. System administrators must be able to continuously manage physical server hardware, virtual machines and a variety of application and database servers simultaneously.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the basic aspects of server management and some resources you can leverage to help keep your server environment healthy and running efficiently.
What is Server Management?
At its core, server management is about having control or access to servers in order to perform different types of administrative or maintenance operations. Server management also involves server monitoring and visibility into how a given server is operating to help improve and optimize performance.
Server Management Basics
The first step towards maintaining a healthy server environment is to understand some server management basics. Here are some recurring tasks that system administrators will encounter:
- Access: In order to manage a server, a server management tool, server management service or server management software needs to be able to access the server it is trying to manage.
- Updates: Among the most basic server management functions is the ability to help start and install software or firmware updates.
- Setup: The ability to set up new software, add-ons or functionality is often a core feature of server management.
- Monitoring: You must be able to monitor different types of servers for status, performance and anomaly detection.
- Optimization: Some server management tools and services will provide optimization capabilities to improve server efficiency and overall operations.
- Capacity planning: A more advanced task is capacity planning which provides a forecast of server utilization, helping administrators to plan for when additional resources will be required.
- Alerting: The ability to alert an administrator, via email, SMS, Slack or some other messaging system to different errors and incidents is another helpful component of server management.
Common Types of Servers
You may encounter servers in a wide variety of forms that each serve specific functions but there are some common types of servers that you will most likely be involved with managing. Understanding what each server does will help you ensure they’re operating properly.
- File Transfer Protocol (FTP) servers handle transferring data files back and forth between servers and devices.
- Application servers connect and run applications used by a large number of users and remove the need to host applications locally.
- Web servers display websites in browsers and collect and store website files.
- Database Servers store large amounts of data needed by organizations to function and make this information accessible.
- Virtual servers, also known as virtual machines (VM), make it possible for multiple servers to be hosted on a single piece of hardware. They are more complex to manage but increase efficiency by allowing admins to add more compute power with less hardware.
- Proxy servers create and maintain the connection between a client and an external server.
Server Management and Monitoring Tools
There is no shortage of different server management and monitoring tools that organizations can use to improve server management workflows with helpful features and automation capabilities. Depending on the use case and the type of server or server application the organization is looking to manage, there are a few key features that should be considered when searching for server management and monitoring tools.
Key Features of Server Management Tools
Not all server management tools are created equal – here are some key features of server management tools to consider when searching for solutions:
- Coverage: You should start by identifying what servers and applications your organization will be using. Then make sure the tools you’re considering are capable of covering all the types of servers and applications in your stack.
- User Interface: Basic server administration tasks can be accomplished via the terminal. However, the terminal may not be capable of handling more complex functionality. Some server management tools come with an intuitive user interface with visualization capabilities to make advanced tasks more feasible.
- Alerting: The ability to set performance or other thresholds that can generate alerts is essential. Consider what different alerting routes will be most important for your organization, such as email, SMS or other messaging applications like Slack
- Support: Server management can be complicated, so having professional support provided by the vendor is often critical to success.
To get a better understanding of what Server management and monitoring tools would be most beneficial for your organization, read our Best Server Monitoring Software and Tools for 2021 article.
What are Server Management Services?
Server management services help administrators to offload the direct responsibility for managing certain attributes of a given server. Depending on the type of server, there are different types of services that can be offered.
For hardware, server management can involve a fully managed service, where the service provider is responsible for the physical and software management of the server.
For web and application servers, server management at a hosting provider or in the cloud involves the management and maintenance of the core server software. It can often also include security as well as backup services for stability and overall resilience.
Server management services can also help organizations to identify the best server applications and perform server software comparisons.
Benefits of Server Management Services
There are a number of different reasons why you should consider using server management services. The best server monitoring software is only as good as the skill of the person using the software. And when some server management is shifted to a service – that is dedicated to managing servers professionally – there are multiple benefits to be had:
- Skills and Experience: Finding the right staff with the required skills and experience for different server management tasks can be challenging.
- Operational Costs: Many server management services are subscription-based with a monthly or yearly operational cost that may well be more cost-effective than ramping up an internal capability.
- Scale: Managing servers at a large scale can often require monitoring and management at scale as well, which is something that a server management service can provide.
- Support: On-call support with guaranteed response times is often a core benefit offered by the best server management services.