A remote server is a combination of hardware and software that allows you to access IT resources remotely through an Internet connection or an intranet connection.
The biggest benefit of having access to a remote server, as the name suggests, is that it can be accessed remotely, across cities, states, countries, and continents. You can remotely use the software running on the server. For example, if you use Google Docs, it is a software application running on a remote server (managed by Google).
If you have a dedicated server, you can also decide what sort of operating environment you want. You can access files and documents. You can access the database. On an enterprise level server, thousands of your employees, scattered all over the world, can use your server resources.
Remote servers also give you additional security (if they are managed by a competent services management company like Dot Com Infoway), easy access to information, website hosting (both external and internal) and email services.
The data center architectures have evolved during the years. In the olden days, we had centralized mainframes, client servers and virtual servers.
Although many server configurations are still based on the older architecture, these days we also have hyper-converged infrastructure and disaggregated infrastructure.
In a hyper-converged environment, separate servers, storage networks and storage arrays can be combined with a single, hyper-converged system to offer you a simple, scalable remote server solution.
In a disaggregated infrastructure environment, your operations are not server-centric, but resource-centric. Smaller software and hardware “packages” are created according to the current need.
Whatever is your server architecture, managing a remote server is always replete with problems and challenges.
Normally, these are not “problems”, per se, these are the tasks that one needs to perform while managing a server.
Some of the common tasks that need to be performed on a routine basis are:
Keeping downtime at the minimum
This is one of the biggest problems faced by organizations and customers when they are using server resources. When the server is going through a downtime, websites become unavailable. Enterprise applications are not available to employees, customers and clients. Simply, all the server resources become unavailable until the problem is solved. Sometimes these downtimes can cost businesses millions of dollars.
Server downtime can happen due to software as well as hardware failure. They can also happen due to hacking attacks. DOS (denial of service) attacks are very common.
Lots of effort goes into keeping the server downtime at the minimum. Software and hardware tools can be used to monitor various activities and pre-empt many instances of downtime.
This task involves managing physical and virtual devices that host the operating system and installed software and databases. It may involve installing devices and component-level drivers, software applications, routine device configuration to make sure that the operating system and software are working properly and implementing security measures and processes. It may also involve
● Application distribution
● Group policy application
● Firmware inventory
● Remote device management
● IT provisioning
● Device architecture management
Taking care of updates and patches
Software and hardware are constantly evolving. Technology becomes obsolete every two months. There are unknown threats and issues constantly plaguing server environments. To make sure that everything is running smoothly, updates and patches continuously need to be implemented.
When new features are introduced you want them to be available to your clients. These features are introduced through updates. You either need to replace the existing software and hardware or you can simply install new libraries and components to implement the updates.
Patches are used to cover vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities can be human-induced (hacking attempts using existing vulnerabilities and “holes”) or an outcome of a bug that went unnoticed during the development of the software or hardware. Since the entire infrastructure cannot be replaced, patches are implemented to take care of the problem in the short term.
Configuring new applications
Server applications never work straight out of the box. Depending on the operating system, different steps need to be followed when you are installing and configuring new applications that will be either directly interfacing with the users or doing some background job.
The stakes are very high when you are working on a server, so if anything goes wrong while you are configuring a new application, thousands of people using your server may be affected.
Maintaining compliance requirements
The most prevalent example of compliance requirement can be seen among businesses that handle credit card transactions. In the US, if you are accepting credit card payments from your website, you have to follow the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).
Compliance with these requirements ensures safe handling of cardholder information which in turn prevents card frauds.
Compliance procedures detect security incidents and tell server managers what steps to take to not just ensure confidentiality and integrity, but also take corrective measures in case data breaches occur.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (Regulation (EU) 2016/679) makes it mandatory that even if there is an information exchange between your website and its visitors, you have to comply with data protection laws to ensure data safety of your website users.
Taking care of human errors
To err is human, but sometimes these errors can wreak havoc of unprecedented proportions. An erroneous command at the UNIX prompt, a wrong parameter in an SQL command, a JAVA function that triggers an infinite loop, or misplaced cabling in the data center, can bring the entire system to its knees. It can shut down hospitals, create traffic chaos, and render e-commerce websites useless. These human errors can take place due to absentmindedness, forgetfulness, incompetence or moral weakness.
Recently, some system administrator in Hawaii erroneously sent a missile alert message to hundreds of thousands of citizens of the island through the text messaging server. They thought North Korea had fired a missile. It almost caused an international emergency.
The person, or the team of people managing the server, must make sure that no such human errors occur and even if they do manifest, they are taken care of before they can cause massive damage.
Environmental factors can originate from the environment within which the server infrastructure exists. This can be the spatial environment, the quality of electricity, the quality of hardware and software and the qualifications of people onsite. These can all affect the way your server is managed and performs.
Environmental factors may include
● Skill level of the team members
● Hardware and software configurations
● Policy for hiring and training
● Work authorization system
● Sociopolitical conditions of the area where the servers are located
● Internal and external stakeholders
● Operating environment
Data and applications residing on the server are very critical assets and they need to be protected round-the-clock. It is the responsibility of server administrators to make sure that network security is up-to-date and without any kinks.
On the human side, compliance with clearly-defined rules and regulations can ensure data security to a great extent.
Network and server security can be implemented at various levels including
● Password security
● Secure communications
● Web application security
● Broader server security
Keeping the servers secure may involve updating the operating system regularly, installing patches and updates on a timely basis, making sure that antivirus mechanisms are in place and working to their full capacity, removing inactive accounts that can become publicly available, maintaining backups, restricting access to directories and giving proper permissions to users, maintaining strict records of the SSH keys and such.
Security breaches in the servers can be internal and external and the administrator has to be cautious of what types of attacks and incursions can take place.
Network growth can happen both due to growth in server users or the data and documents created by existing users. If there is a spurt of new users your server may choke, and it may also expose your server to vulnerabilities such as hacking attacks and data security compromise. In such circumstances, one not only has to take care of the growth so that instead of becoming an asset it doesn’t become a liability, but also take care that the entire server doesn’t crumble due to data breaches and hacking attacks.
As already mentioned above, these challenges are not really challenges in the negative sense, but these are responsibilities and tasks that the server administrator, or a team of server administrators, needs to perform to keep everything running smoothly.
Technology changes really fast
The growth in technology is said to be exponential. It doesn’t advance in steps, it advances in leaps and bounds.
But implementing new server technology doesn’t mean simply replacing or upgrading software and hardware. There might be many legacy applications that may stop working when you upgrade. An IT manager needs to be very careful about the needs of those who need an upgrade and those who may face a problem when software and hardware are upgraded. The challenge is to strike a balance.
Whenever there is a question of switching over to new technology, carefully take into consideration if the new technology helps you meet your strategic goals or not.
The challenge of big data
Big data is a boon, but it is also a challenge when it comes to managing your server.
Where does the challenge come from? 80% of the data that resides on the server is unstructured if it is not being stored in a normalized database. It may exist in the form of plain text, webpages, animation, video, voice, scripts, sensor inputs and every other format in which data can possibly exist.
Traditional data management processes may not be adequate to handle this complex variety of new data, especially when it comes to using big data for analytics and intelligence. The IT personnel managing servers need to make sure that this unstructured data is not only stored in a secure environment, but it can also be processed to draw intelligence out of it.
Interoperability and accommodating multiple devices and environments
Your server applications and data need to accommodate varying degrees of devices and operating environments. Your server should be able to send and receive data that is compatible on all user platforms or maximum number of user platforms.
The solution is, adopting open standards. Server administrators must avoid proprietary architectures and instead, adopt open architecture and frameworks so that your data and apps can communicate with different systems and operating environments.
The security challenge
Although security has been one of the major concerns for the IT industry, as more and more data — even confidential data — is rapidly moving to the Cloud, the issue of security has reached enormous proportions.
As server managers, you need to take care of data security for users who are highly sensitive towards the need for security, and for users who aren’t much educated about the dangers their data faces while they put their data on the Cloud.
To make sure that the privacy and security of your user data is intact, a system of secure user identity management, authentication and access control mechanisms needs to be established.
This is where compliance also helps. If your organization complies with regulations and standards stipulated by your own IT department and the law and order machinery, most of your security concerns are taken care of automatically.
The challenge of performance
Ultimately, all that counts is your server performance. All the businesses and enterprises using your server are primarily concerned with what they can do, rather than what all it takes to enable them to do what they want to do.
Businesses using enterprise level applications, mobile developers using mobile apps, users accessing apps and data from your server, they all depend on your server performance.
Some of the steps you can take to improve and maintain your server performance are
● Find and plug memory leaks
● Use an appropriate file system (NTFS, FAT-32, etc.)
● Avoid using incompatible apps
● Disable rarely-used services and unnecessary daemons
● Uninstall utilities that are not used
● Defragment disks as often as possible
● Use automated tools to adjust server response according to requirement
● Use compression technology
● Regularly clean up the modules and features
Listed below are some ways to handle these challenges.
● Keep track of configurations
● Handle data growth with dexterity and promptness
● Reduce possibility of human error
● Improve policy compliance
● Take your server security very seriously
You can use automated tools, manual tools and virtualization solutions to deal with server management challenges. These tools allow you to manage your network infrastructure on site as well as from remote locations.
Server management is a specialized field and it is better left on people who are qualified and experienced and have been managing servers for many years. There can be hundreds of protocols to follow, an equal number of software and hardware configurations to take care of and many network security issues you need to be aware of even to become an entry-level network administrator.
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