If network infrastructure is the backbone of modern business, the servers it connects would be the brain. Enterprises rely on these machines for data storage, processing and associated business apps. It comes as no surprise, then, that maintaining server health is one of your highest priorities.
With that in mind, what are the telltale signs of a server going south? Better yet, how can you keep an eye on your servers and stay sane at the same time?
1. Poor 'Heartbeat'
When it comes to server health, it's often helpful to think — much like a doctor would — in terms of vitals. What are the most urgent signs that a server is in poor health? First on the list of critical vitals is a server's heartbeat. And fortunately, it also happens to be one of the easiest to check. Typically done with a simple network ping, a healthy heartbeat shows the server is alive and accepting communication.
For servers with specific communication roles like Web servers and file servers, it's a good idea to tailor your heartbeat tests for specific ports — 80 or 21, for example. If the heartbeat of a server flatlines, there's a high likelihood it's either lost power or network access.
2. Peculiar Logs
Server logs represent another critical aspect of sever health. Essentially a 24/7 monitor of server dialogue, they can reveal even subtle server issues quickly. To maximize their effectiveness, however, monitoring should be integrated into an automated process. Warnings and errors can then be organized, aggregated and sent as regular notifications to increase your visibility into them. When a server starts experiencing issues, having a central repository of these logs can help you find the root cause more efficiently.
Another sure sign of server troubles is erratic or otherwise poor system performance. One of the best ways to gauge this is to monitor response times of major system functions. Much like the heartbeat, this metric can serve as an early warning sign to potential server issues.
For a more in-depth look, server usage can be examined to detect hardware deficiencies as well. In this case, monitors would be set up to routinely query server-specific tangibles. Application servers with a focus on data processing, for instance, would have a low CPU and memory threshold for reporting. When CPU use steps outside these bounds, an alert is sent and proper steps can be taken to resolve the issue.
Two Tools of the Trade
These "vitals" provide a quick look at the overall health of a server and (should) yield useful insight for detecting potential problems. But how does support manage to continuously monitor these aspects while still having time for other helpdesk tickets? Two words: automation and centralization.
The reasons for advocating automation in this role are pretty clear. Pinging heartbeats, polling utilization and aggregating logs are perfect examples of mundane tasks well suited for automation. The real linchpin of successful monitoring for server health is centralizing these tasks. By bringing together all of the vital information about your servers into a single point of interaction, you can more effectively accomplish the number-one goal of any IT monitoring software — high visibility.
You see, even with all the advanced metrics available to a support shop, compiling mountains of environmental health stats means very little if it's not easily digestible. Even less so if you never see it in the first place.
Through the automation and centralization components of modern network monitoring solutions, everything from system vitals to hardware configuration is quietly reported and served on a silver platter for your mediation. This takes all the effort out of mundane monitoring tasks while increasing risk visibility with automated alerts when vitals fall outside predefined thresholds.
This ultimately makes it easier to gauge server health at any given moment, which in turn can lead to a more stable infrastructure. By simply knowing the signs of an unhealthy server and implementing some centralized automation to monitor them, you won't need to wonder if your environment is on the brink of disaster.