"The Future of" and Various Papers

The Essentials of Server Maintenance

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The Essentials of Server Maintenance

William Donaldson, Afeez Babatunde, Daniel Rose, Joel Rodgers,

Table of Contents

  • Cover Page
  • Table of Contents
  • Abstract
  • Server Roles and Requirements
    • Web server
    • Application server
    • Database server
  • Proper Server Maintenance Techniques
    • Change Management
    • Patch Management
    • Hardware Maintenance
  • Asset Management
    • Licensing and Warranty
    • Labeling
    • EOL (End of Life) and Disposal
  • Documentation
    • Server Configuration
    • Network and Architecture Diagram
    • Service Level Agreements
  • Conclusion
  • References

1.0       Abstract

Server technologies are an integral part of information technology. Most businesses around the world use this technology to provide non-stop services and solutions every single day to their users. A server’s performance heavily depends on how they are maintained. Server maintenance in any IT environment is crucial. To best explain this, our group project will focus on a training module titled, “The Essentials of Server Maintenance”

The Essentials of Server Maintenance

2.0       Server Roles and Requirements

The term “server” is often used to describe a certain type of device and its architecture. It is also used to describe the operating system or application the device is running. It is easier to understand the term “server” when described in the context that a discussion is aimed at. In this group project, the term “server” will be used when describing applications, operating systems, and/or hardware. A server role is defined by the type of applications it is running and the service it provides. There are numerous roles a server can assume, which are used to define them. This group project will describe server roles for web servers, application servers and database servers. The requirements for each of these servers typically vary by their functions. For instance, a database server may require a large number of computing resources to perform its regular operation, while a web server will typically require a lot less. Capacity planning is a decisive step to solve the issue of the various requirements server roles can require. It will help determine the minimum configuration that a server needs to perform at its expected level.

Web server as a server role is an application that serves in the capacity of providing access to web pages via a web browser based on client request. A web server essentially communicates to an application server to fulfill clients requests. Depending on the page a client is requesting, web servers use the HTTP protocol to serve regular web pages to clients via port 80, while it fulfills the same client’s request via port 443 if the requested page is a secure page. The secure pages run on the HTTPS protocol using a secure socket layer (SSL) to encrypt the connection and data transferred. Setting up a web server as a role on a “server” requires several considerations. One of the requirements includes having a general idea of the traffic the web server is expected to serve. This will help build the right server configuration for the web server. It can also help determine the most appropriate NIC for traffic purposes, the correct number of CPU cores for computing reasons, and the reasonable amount of memory without causing swap issues for the main memory or cache memory. A fast storage solution is recommended to avoid latency in client requests.

The application server is another role that is also very important to discuss regarding server roles. Technically, application servers operate at the middle tier by talking to both web servers and database servers to fulfill client’s request which clearly defines its roles. This is also known as the three-tier architecture (webserver ↔ application server ↔ database server). For the role this server is going play, requirements are always more than what may be required for a typical web server. Application servers are resource demanding, which means they will need additional CPU cores for its operation. Application servers are also memory intensive, especially applications that run on java. Adequate memory consolidates the total processing time for every client’s request. Another crucial requirement is the NIC (Network Interface Card). A high-speed gigabit NIC is highly recommended for application servers, preferably dual channel, to further help forward traffic as fast as possible. For this server role, fast storage is not a significant concern as it does more processing than it does reading or writing to disks.

A database server is one of the few server roles that require “everything.” By everything, we mean very high computing resources for CPU, memory, NICs, and storage. Database servers act as the piece where all users’ information is stored. A database server can be accessed either directly by running queries on it or by accessing it indirectly via the application server. Because a database performs a large number of reads and writes, a speedy and reliable storage solution is non-negotiable. A RAID5 configuration with multiple disks or better configuration would be an ideal storage solution. Due to its nature of requests continually occurring, especially for a very busy database, all computing resources are expected to be very high. Computing resources like multiple CPU cores, high memory reservation, and gigabit network interface are highly recommended for fast processing of data as well as reads and writes for I/O. With all of these resources in place, the database is expected to serve the clients with a speedy response.

3.0       Proper Server Maintenance Techniques

Keeping the servers properly running continuously is essential to provide availability and to ensure business productivity. Servers will need to be maintained and not just repaired. Keeping the servers maintained will result in less downtime, fewer hardware problems, and less work for everybody in the business. These tasks include performing change management correctly, managing patches optimally, and monitoring the hardware so that any maintenance needed can be performed before having it replaced.

Realizing servers cannot run forever, it will be necessary to plan for server downtime properly. At some point, the server will need to be taken offline for maintenance or replacement. Having a consistent process to follow for changes will assist in keeping the business running as a whole. Anticipating the impact before the impact takes place will provide preparedness throughout the company. Putting in place some type of management board for reviewing any proposed changes is imperative so that there are not any unexpected or detracting actions being made without first being approved or denied.

The change management board will review the impact, what the change is, and how it benefits the business before any changes are actually made. When requesting a change to be made, it is vital for details of expected downtime and what negative aspects could come are included with each request. This is why it is essential to implement all proposed changes in the test environment before applying it to the production environment. This will promote a healthy and thriving business.

Operating systems and drivers are often in need of patches at some point in time to ensure servers are stable and free of security vulnerabilities. Patch management is essential so that there are no negative impacts made from a patch and so that no crucial patches are missed. When managing patches, it is important to include all applicable software used throughout the business. Often, the ability to update a system by a user is unavailable and can only be done by the administrator. Keeping this available only to the administrator will ensure that the entire system and devices on it are all operated with the same updates and that no devices are vulnerable to additional issues by performing updates on their own.

When considering the maintenance of a server, the first thing that should be considered is the hardware itself. Just as different hardware performs different tasks, it is critical that each is maintained towards the specific hardware each time. Some of the main types of hardware include memory, disks, removable drives, processor, graphics cards, and the cooling system. When maintaining memory, it is important to keep the memory dust free. Having dust build up on the memory chips can cause them to become hot which can potentially damage the memory if not removed. Using compressed air to blow out the server cases periodically can help minimize this risk and keep things maintain a dust-free environment.

Hard drives need to be maintained in at least two ways. First, defragmenting the drives ensures that the drives perform at a high level. Secondly, planning for the replacement of the hard drives helps reduce surprise failure occurrences and will increase the uptime instead. Removable drives are similar to hard drive maintenance. Defragmenting and failure preparedness is also needed for the removable drives that are being used.

The processor should also be kept free of dust. Monitoring the temperature and making sure it is adequately cooled will improve the life of the processor and keep it running optimally. This may be done by a fan or other cooling solution such as water cooling. Cooling is important for all components of the server. Keeping the entire system cool comes in two ways. First, the area that the server is operated in must be kept cool and positioning each device properly will help assist in the cooling process. Second, the components inside the server must be kept cool by using heat sinks and fans for airflow. Modern methods include using some type of liquid cooling that is much cooler than the traditional fan option. Overheating servers can cause permanent damage which is why monitoring and maintaining the temperatures of the components inside the server and the room the servers are deployed will reduce the risk of failure due to overheating components.

 4.0       Asset Management

To run a successful operation, we need to manage our assets for the servers in the area of what to do with the licenses and warranties for each. Companies spend a lot of money on licenses for their servers and the programs on them. They need to be kept in a secure area, either the actual license (if included) or the digital copy that was provided when the software was obtained. This needs to be done with the warranties that you have as well. Organize them and have a master list stored with them or saved on the network for easy access.

Licenses need to be matched to the products they pertain to. This need to be done to make sure all programs and anything else on the servers is accounted for. Everything should match one to one with what you have. Even licenses with multi-device access should be matched up to what is actually being used.

After this, the documentation should list the program, server, or host that it is attached to.  When this is completed, it should be saved to the network and a hard copy secured with any licenses that are not in digital form as well as any warranties. This will allow the company to save money by not ordering additional licenses when they may have some that are not in use.  It will also help save the money to replace equipment that should be replaced by warranty.  Businesses are audited and face issues when they have programs or devices that they do not have enough licenses for. That is why this is a key area any business cannot overlook.

Storing server labels and their related documentation is critical. Labeling assets should have a proper indication showing the description of the asset, what it is used for, and where it is located. The label can also be used to identify the server and their grid location within the data center or the location they are installed. These will usually list the contact number for IT service and where to return if found.

Labels can be created by using scan bars, RFID, or written by hand. The scan bar and RFID provide the greatest options to include the most information with them and can be scanned into a database and later retrieved. The main things to include are the item number or name, serial number, location, and any dates serviced.

The idea of asset labels is to make sure inventory is kept track of so that loss is kept to a minimum. Maintaining consistent labels will result in the labels being easy to read and knowing exactly what and where to look. This can be done by following the same standard for all labels by putting each piece of information in the same order and by keeping the labels short but to the point.

Knowing when something should be sent to warranty or sent to disposal can only be done by proper asset management. Asset management allows businesses to keep track of when the hardware is purchased, how long it’s been in use, and whether there’s a lease expiring on the component or warranty. For system IT departments, it is important to know what version of the software and how long end-users have been running the software on their system.

If you do not know all of this information, an excellent place to start is the vendor or manufacturer and whether it is still supporting a device or program. This will assist in knowing if the item is under warranty, where it would need to be sent, and any specific information that may be required by the manufacturer.

When this point comes, there is a need to make sure that devices are cleared and destroyed or saved based on the company’s requirements for data disposal. Most items will be destroyed or securely wiped, such as a DOD3 type hard drive wipes. Companies need to make sure that items are shredded by an electronics shredder that is owned or operated by a third party.  If these are not options, they can be manually destroyed to make sure they are no longer accessible. Hard drives are going to be the most common item that will need to be destroyed entirely to protect data. Other items can be recycled or donated, if not needed like monitors or printers. Getting rid of the devices that are not in use will lower the total amount the company is taxed will be reduced by lowering the total business worth and business hardware in its possession.

All three of these suggestions make up good asset management and should be included in any management or asset planning and updated on a regular basis depending on current needs. This should be facilitated by either the admin or manager to make sure all things are done consistently.

5.0       Documentation

Documenting a network is a very important job as it explains how the network is created, functions, and provides detailed instructions on how to troubleshoot problems, implement upgrades, and provide the proper blueprints needed for future network expansions. It should describe every section of the network in a simple to understand manner. Documenting a network is crucial in both troubleshooting and supporting the system. If a problem arises, this documentation can aid the network administrator with step-by-step instructions, thus taking a significantly less amount of time and effort in resolving the problem.

Also, network documentation plays a substantial role in implementing changes to the hardware or software. The network documentation should comprise information about the server configuration, network map, anticipated and actual traffic loads, the types of traffic involved, network capacity, network topology, the various algorithms and techniques used, reliability statistics, and software information. The network documentation is never complete as it should be a continuous process. Every time a new user, device, or protocol is presented, this information must be included and documented. Everything including the serial numbers of the devices or equipment used must be recorded and safeguarded. In the event of disaster or theft, this information will provide many helpful abilities.

Network documentation should be secured in a location where it can be easily accessible, however, protected by high-security measures. If this documentation should fall into unauthorized hands, this person could possibly change the network’s settings, access sensitive information, or even disable the entire system. This information should be regularly updated and saved into a log. Each log should be signed and dated by the network administrator.

A proper diagram of a network should always be an integral part of any network’s documentation. A network diagram demonstrates how a system or computer communicates with others. This is very useful when problems arise or creating and implementing new systems or networks. With the help of a network diagram, a potential problem can be easily traced and identified, as well as provide reliable information on how to fix it. Network diagrams can be created using many different methods ranging from a simple pencil and paper to an advanced diagramming tool that can be purchased or obtained for free online.

When creating a network diagram, one should start with a focus; a single computer, network, or device. After this is done, it is recommended to place components that are connected to your focus, keeping in mind to not spare any details. Proper labeling of these devices and components is required to ensure that the diagram is as informative as possible. By drawing lines to each component of the network, one can show how they are all related and connected to one another. There are numerous free network diagram programs one can download and also many more advanced programs that are available for purchase. A network diagram is one of the most important components of proper network documentation and should always be included, no matter the size of the network.

Another important area in any network documentation is service-level agreements (SLA). These are contracts between internal or external customers and their service provider. These agreements outline what services the provider will provide as well as describe the performance obligations that the provider is required to fulfill. Some of the obligations that are included in SLAs are availability and uptime of the services provided, application response times, help desk response times, as well as usage statistics. Companies providing services such as cloud storage and computing, network providers, and managed service providers all require SLAs. SLAs are also often created within an IT department so that the services they provide can be measured, authorized, and compared to other outside vendors. In any SLA, proper documentation must be kept of all agreements as well as what they cover.

A description of the service that is provided should be the main section, including criteria such as network connectivity, reliability, and responsiveness. The document should also provide proper procedures for reporting problems, who to contact when they occur, and most importantly, the consequences of not meeting the required service obligations. These consequences can include credit reimbursement or even the termination of the contract. Finally, escape clauses, and constraints should be well documented, and all employees should be knowledgeable will all aspects of each SLA. SLA’s often need to be renewed, and if this isn’t done, it can cause severe problems such as legal, financial, or productivity issues.

Network documentation should be a highly detailed and informative report of the many areas that are involved in designing, implementing, and maintaining a network. It should be continuously updated as new devices are added, different rules and regulations are created, and network topology changes. Network documentation involves creating a comprehensive disaster recovery plans that outline what employees should do in every situation possible, such as fire, flood, or power outage. It also needs to have all SLAs, and other binding paperwork safeguarded and revised continuously. Proper network documentation can also make updating contracts and subscriptions easier. By following these suggestions, one should be able to create a sufficient level of network documentation and therefore make future expansions easier as well as reduce the time it takes to diagnose and fix a problem.

6.0       Conclusion

Proper server maintenance and continually following all previously mentioned processes will help increase business growth by keeping the availability high and reducing any unexpected downtime. By adequately managing changes, patches, and maintaining hardware, a business can be kept running smoothly, which creates the possibility of making a profit. When maintaining servers, it is important to make sure that all the aspects are covered and that no steps are being left out. Neglect is possible, even if some elements are being maintained when other areas are not. Staying on top of each of these will provide a total server maintenance plan.

References

Carpenter, T. (2011). Microsoft Server Administration Essentials. Indianapolis, IN: Sybex.

Gibson, D. (2011). Microsoft Windows Security Essentials. Indianapolis, IN: Sybex.

Kaiser, A. (2012, November 4). Best practices for software license management. Retrieved from http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/tech-decision-maker/best-practices-for-software-license-management/

Lucid Software Inc.. (2017). What is a Network Diagram? Retrieved from https://www.lucidchart.com/pages/network-diagram

McMillan, T. (2016). CompTIA Server+ Study Guide. Indianapolis, IN: John Wiley & Sons.

Mohan, V. (2013). IT Asset Management, Benefits, and Best Practices. Retrieved from http://web.swcdn.net/creative/pdf/Whitepapers/IT_Asset_Management_%20Benefits_%20Best_Practices.pdf

Rouse, M. (2016, July). Service-Level Agreement (SLA). Retrieved from http://searchitchannel.techtarget.com/definition/service-level-agreement

Tech-FAQ. (2017). Understanding Server Roles. Retrieved from http://www.tech-faq.com/understanding-server-roles.html

Whittle, R. (2011, February 17). Asset Labeling Quick Guide. Retrieved from https://www.itassetmanagement.net/2011/02/17/asset-labelling-quick-guide/

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