Maintaining your mission critical servers and avoiding serious outages.
In a perfect world your IT partner would install a server or a technology solution and it would just run flawlessly and indefinitely. Unfortunately, this is not often the case. With any technology, there are several moving parts which include periodic patches, updates, and maintenance. Larger businesses will typically have dedicated IT staff with access to enterprise level monitoring solutions to keep a constant surveillance on mission critical servers and core applications. The SMB owner may not have this luxury.
Monitoring mission critical servers and applications is an important aspect of IT that is often overlooked or excused. While there may be several reasons why a business may not choose to engage an IT partner, most common reasons seem to be strained budgets and lack of understanding the benefits of monitoring. Those who choose not to monitor their mission critical servers and core applications eventually learn that monitoring is a necessity. Some, unfortunately, learn the hard way.
Recently I was brought in to evaluate a failed server for a client desperate for a miracle. The client, like many small businesses, only has one server in their environment.This server is the backbone for their business connecting all their user workstations to their files stored on the server’s hard drives.
The server has a RAID5 three disk set that contains all the company and user documents. When I was contacted by a frantic manager for the company, I was informed that two of the disks were flashing amber lights and that they could not access their mapped drives on the server. Based on this brief description of the situation, I knew exactly what had happened, and that this company was not going to like my analysis. While RAID 5 is meant to offer redundancy and can withstand the loss of a single hard disk, it cannot survive the loss of two disks. Two new replacement disks would have to be ordered and files would have to be restored from backups.
It certainly isn’t impossible for two hard drives to fail on the same day, however, what likely happened (and more often does) is that one of the hard drives had previously failed but no one was alerted to replace the failed disk. Business went on as usual until the second drive finally failed.
Had this company been utilizing a monitoring solution with a respectable IT partner, they could have received the full benefit of having a RAID disk setup and never ended up “offline” for what effectively was two full business days. Many IT vendors have the capabilities to install software to remotely monitor servers and business applications. Also, most entry level servers and operating systems have configurable options for monitoring and alerts that can be utilized to notify management and IT partners to impending failures.
Benefits of Monitoring
Monitoring your IT infrastructure and pro-actively reacting to alerts has many benefits. Some of these benefits include:
- Reduce long term down time.
- Establish baselines and trends.
- Help Identify Performance Issues and Troubleshooting.
- Peace of mind.
Reduce long term down time.
Being able to identify potential problems allows for solutions that can be scheduled and planned. Monitoring systems would bring an impending failure or performance issue to the attention of assigned IT staff who could then react accordingly, and if necessary schedule the necessary down time to address the problem.
As noted in the scenario presented in this article, had the company had an IT provider regularly monitoring the server, they would have been aware that the server had a failed hard drive. Because disks in the server were hot swappable, the IT provider could have easily replaced the failed disk (even during business hours) and the company would have experienced zero down time.
Establish baselines and trends.
Monitoring servers and core applications allows for the creation of baselines and trending. The information obtained from monitoring can be used to identify when systems are performing at optimal levels. While there may not be any “critical” alerts or warnings that are encountered in the day to monitoring, the information gathered is useful in establishing a baseline. When systems or applications begin to operate outside of the established baseline, your IT partner can take the necessary steps to correct the situation before it becomes a problem.
Help Identify Performance Issues and Troubleshooting
With being able to establish baselines and trends, monitoring allows for identifying performance issues that are creeping up in your environment. Monitoring collects data that can be used to troubleshoot issues that do appear. If information is saved and archived, it serves as a great reference resource for your systems and can be used to troubleshoot various issue as they may happen with your infrastructure. Without any historical information or understanding of your systems that you gain from monitoring, troubleshooting issues can take longer.
Peace of mind.
Knowing someone is monitoring the mission critical systems and process in your business allows you to focus on your business and your clients. You can rest assured that should there be any serious failures that your IT partner will be alerted and will be able to react accordingly.
This past year, I received email alerts from a client system that MIS monitors. The alerts were from the UPS indicating the system was on standby with follow up alerts counting down the battery life available. I was able to be on site before the office opened and engage the building management company to send their maintenance person to allow us access to the utility closet. We quickly resolved the issue with minimal down time. This is an example of the type of peace of mind a business should expect from their IT partner.
What should be Monitored?
Obviously all hardware level components should be monitored. Mission critical applications such as email, databases, and custom applications should be included in the monitoring process. Functions such as backups and windows updates should be monitored as well as these services are critical in the health of any environment. Security logs should be monitored to track failed attempts to authenticate to your internal network.
In short, any component or process that is an integral part of your day to day business operations and critical to your business continuity planning, should be monitored.
Many of the server offerings from companies such as Dell, HP, and IBM do include entry level software that allows for the monitoring and alerting of hardware level events. The server components have the ability to recognize if a hardware component is not performing within specifications (either default or configured) or completely fails.
Examples of these components include, but are not limited to: disk drives, storage controllers, memory modules, and fans.
Enterprise level applications will usually come with alert thresholds that can be set. Even if your application does not have built in alerting features, there are various services, process and events that are registered by the operating system. Your IT provider should be able to develop a custom strategy utilizing available tools built in the operating system or administrative scripting to monitor your mission critical applications.
Monitoring mission critical servers and applications is an essential aspect of any IT service. The SMB owner who does not have qualified IT staff should look to align themselves with an IT partner that can provide this service. While watching the bottom line, it may seem easy to justify not acquiring such a solution. Like the adage goes, it’s not “if the server or system will fail: it’s when will it fail?” Keeping a constant and a knowledgeable eye on your infrastructure is crucial in minimizing disasters. Do not learn the hard way like the business owners outlined in this article.
MIS Monitoring Solutions
Modern Information Solutions provides 24/7 remote monitoring of servers and infrastructure for our clients. We offer multiple Maintenance Packages including the “Small Business Standard Malignance Plan 1” which includes Remote Monitoring. We also offer this as a standalone service for those interested in protecting their IT infrastructures and having the peace of mind that comes with choosing an IT partner. For more information on MIS Monitoring services or Maintenance Packages can bring your SMB peace of mind, please visit www.miscindiana.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org .