What is server monitoring?
Server monitoring is the systematic tracking, measuring or observing of processes and operations on a server. The aim is to use the collected data to draw conclusions about the health and condition of the server and thus ensure its optimal performance.
Servers are central elements of any IT infrastructure, regardless of whether they are operated as hardware-only servers or as cloud servers, or whether virtualized servers are used. In any case, servers provide hardware resources or functions to other systems and applications and are indispensable for a functioning IT. The various possible uses for servers, for example as web servers, e-mail servers or file servers, mean that different types of servers can be distinguished once again according to their purpose.
Depending on the server type, their monitoring also differs. This makes server monitoring a very challenging process, since different data must be used to ensure performance depending on the server type and put in the right context, for example with historical data. System administrators therefore need monitoring tools that support them in this complex task, otherwise the manual effort required for server monitoring is far too high.
Why is server monitoring so important?
Servers serve as a platform for the provision of various applications, services and functions in the IT infrastructure and thus often take on critical tasks. It should be kept in mind that in networked environments, many other systems can be affected by the malfunction or overload of a server.
A slow or failed server quickly affects the entire IT infrastructure. Files or programs then cannot be executed as usual. This disrupts user interaction and leads to employee and customer dissatisfaction. The result is inefficient work processes and customers who migrate to the competition because they are offered better digital interaction there.
Server monitoring always helps to ensure the performance and functionality of servers. To ensure smooth operation, however, server monitoring must be specially adapted to the server's purpose. In addition to performance data such as CPU, memory, storage utilization and network connection, additional information on other applications, services and processes must be included in the monitoring, depending on the specific server type.
For a file server, for example, this is different data than for a web server. In addition, the monitoring requirements differ if the server is physical or virtual. Ideally, the monitoring tool used should alert the responsible system administrator if an error or problem occurs, so that he or she can react immediately. It is also possible to predict developments based on historical data and thus anticipate possible bottlenecks in the future, for example in storage capacities, and take appropriate countermeasures.
What is a virtual server?
While a typical server is most often a physical machine running an operating system and one or more server applications, a virtual server is detached from the hardware. By abstracting from the hardware layer, multiple virtual servers running typically as virtual machines (VMs) can share the underlying hardware. In this way, hardware resources can be dimensioned as needed for each VM and thus used more efficiently. This is often done via a hypervisor, which distributes the hardware resources such as CPU, RAM and hard disk space among the VMs.
One big advantage of virtual servers is that hardware resources can be added remotely. Just as with physical servers, the operating system and applications can also be managed centrally. Furthermore, it is possible to adapt them to current developments by scaling them to deal with performance peaks - or to readjust the allocated hardware resources to lower performance requirements.
However, the monitoring of virtual servers is more complex, since the hypervisor or virtualization platform, the virtual machine and the underlying hardware have to be mapped as several dependencies in server monitoring. This is the only way to identify all the interdependencies and correctly locate the causes of problems. Security management must also be taken into account for virtual servers.
What is server management? How does server monitoring simplify server management?
Server monitoring is often seen as part of server management. However, server management also includes the regular application of updates and security patches, the installation of new devices and the correction and elimination of problems. But also the provision of sufficient resources for the daily requirements, i.e. planning of server capacities, is part of it.
Excluding the setup of new systems, a powerful server monitoring tool can support all these described server management tasks. In addition to monitoring the health and performance of systems and identifying problems, server monitoring can provide information about the server's hardware and installed software and their patch levels, depending on data availability. This makes it possible to see when updates or patches have not yet been installed on a system. By comparing this with historical monitoring data, trends and developments can also be read for the future. This information is in turn useful for capacity planning.
How do I monitor server performance?
Server performance monitoring is not about a broad monitoring approach as server monitoring is. Instead, the focus here is strictly on monitoring performance metrics. In the case of a physical server, for example, these are CPU utilization, memory consumption, disk I/O and network performance. However, depending on the server type, performance monitoring focusses on different metrics, such as response time for a web server or the network bandwidth utilization for a backup server.
Monitoring server performance also allows conclusions to be drawn about potential performance problems, such as when loads have reached a critical point after implementing a new application. Furthermore, it can also support capacity management, for example to discuss the resource requirements of new workloads.
Server performance data can also be used to verify SLAs, such as whether servers were available for the specified time while providing the required performance.
What is open source monitoring?
Open source monitoring is usually an open source based monitoring solution that often includes other open source tools or the use of Linux. However, when it comes to monitoring the IT infrastructure, these solutions are not limited to Linux servers, but can usually monitor all commonly used operating systems.
Open source also allows users to view, change or distribute the underlying code.
What kind of monitoring systems are available?
As with any other software, monitoring systems also come in the usual variations: On-premises, cloud based or as a mobile app.
On-premises: The monitoring solution is installed on a separate system in the IT infrastructure or connected to the network as a hardware appliance. Depending on the tool and the devices to be monitored, the configuration effort can vary. However, this customizability of the solution does not have to be a disadvantage. In addition, with an on-premises solution, you retain control over your data, since it is also stored on site.
Cloud based: In contrast to the on-premises option, some monitoring systems can be obtained as a service from the cloud. Configuration and administration are also usually managed via a web interface. Since no software has to be installed on the company's infrastructure, the installation is often relatively quick. The advantage of the SaaS variant is that these are usually good for monitoring cloud and microservice infrastructures and are distributed via a subscription, which can also be flexibly cancelled.
However, it becomes more difficult when a company needs to monitor IT assets in the cloud and on-premises. Transferring the monitoring data of these systems to the cloud often involves additional configuration effort. Data transfer to the cloud also results in higher costs. Especially when monitoring SNMP devices, large amounts of data are generated that have to be transferred to the cloud. At the same time, one should be aware that with a cloud solution, the monitoring data is located with a third-party provider, which may violate data protection guidelines.
Mobile applications: In general, monitoring systems are not provided as a mobile application. However, it is more common for manufacturers of monitoring tools to offer their users access to dashboards and monitoring data via a mobile application. However, these often have fewer functions than the user interface of the PC version.
What are the best practices for server monitoring?
Server monitoring is a complex topic. Depending on the server landscape, there are different things to consider for holistic monitoring. However, there are some generally applicable tips that absolutely belong in server monitoring, regardless of the IT infrastructure to be monitored:
Put monitoring data in the right context: Without having comparative metrics, it's difficult to know if a server's behavior is unusual. It may be that CPU utilization at this time is not unnatural behavior because the server is rolling out important updates at this time. So it is always also important to be able to put the data into the right context. Only then correlations between different components can be identified even over longer periods of time – and problems can be identified at an early stage and ideally eliminated in advance.
Use monitoring for capacity planning: Comparing monitoring data over a longer period of time also allows conclusions to be drawn about future developments. For example, it is possible to predict how storage space will develop over time with normal usage or whether CPU utilization is still in the healthy range. Long-term monitoring of servers enables administrators to react to the needs of their servers at an early stage.
Use of precise alerts: Good monitoring only helps if the administrator receives immediately a notification should a critical threshold value be undercut or exceeded or a problem occur. The alerting must be configurable in such a way that, on the one hand, only the responsible person receives a notification and, on the other hand, only when there is a real need for action. Otherwise, there is a risk that a critical alarm will be lost in the flood of less important notifications. At the same time, the monitoring tool should allow different ways of communication, for example via e-mail, call, SMS or messenger.
Asset management for servers: Monitoring should also provide an inventory of all installed hardware and software on the server. This makes it possible to immediately identify defective or modified hardware, such as missing hard disks or defective memory blocks. The same applies to the software on the server. An inventory helps to detect newly installed software and its version, or to track changes to the operating system or updates to applications. Available information about the software in use can also be transferred to a license management system, for example. In addition, some monitoring solutions can be connected to a configuration management database (CMDB) and the data of the monitored systems can be transferred directly to it.
What features must the best server monitoring tool have?
Broad coverage: For the monitoring tool to get the data it needs, it must also be able to retrieve it from the server. Therefore, it is necessary that the solution supports the all commonly used operating systems and monitors all services. Furthermore, the solution must support both virtual and on-premises systems.
Intelligent alarm management: Another point is an easily configurable alarm management. This includes the setting of sensible thresholds and the method of notification should an error or warning occur.
Extensive root cause analysis: For a server to function, several areas interact: the hardware and operating system layers as well as the application layer. A good monitoring tool not only indicates that a problem is occurring, but also offers the possibility of viewing the problem in context, for example, in which it represents certain dependencies.
Ease of use: The true value of a solution is directly related to its usability. For a monitoring solution, it is important that the software is easy to use and also provides powerful dashboards for visualizing the monitoring data. This makes it possible to see all important areas of a server at a glance and to react immediately to errors or problems.
Support policy: Support is an important issue, especially in the enterprise field. Therefore, in the decision-making process, you should always check how easy it is to contact support in the event of problems.
Server monitoring is essential for IT operations
Servers are among the most important components of a company's IT infrastructure. As soon as a server fails or only functions to a limited extent, the effects are usually immediately felt elsewhere, for example because certain services fail or response times are significantly longer. The result is not only inefficient employees, but also dissatisfied customers looking for an alternative. It is therefore logical that it is in the IT team's best interest to monitor the performance and health of their servers. Comprehensive and consistent server monitoring also helps them not only identify current problems, but proactively prevent incidents in the future.
Server monitoring with Checkmk for scalable infrastructures
Checkmk is an all-in-one monitoring solution which lets you monitor thousands of servers with a single instance. Due to its distributed monitoring capability it can easily scale horizontally to let you monitor even larger infrastructures. Checkmk supports the monitoring of almost every operating system such as Linux, Windows, macOS, but also many other OS like BSD.