Around 30 years ago, a server was usually a standalone PC or mainframe that provided only one service. Think of a dedicated mainframe for emails, for instance. Things evolved from this to single standalone hardware that provides multiple services (email, http, ftp combined, for example) through virtual machines that can host multiple operating systems running dozens of services, and up to today, where servers are software defined and can run on anything from your washing machine to a drone.
What Is Server Management Software?
Even in the scenario of a single mainframe providing a single service, there’s a need for dedicated software to operate the machine. We must make sure that the service is running properly, that it functions as expected. We need to be able to modify its state (run/stop/restart) or modify its configuration. In addition, we need to monitor the machine as a whole. We must make sure that the machine has enough memory and disk space, that the CPU is not overloaded, and that responses from the server come in a short and well-defined period of time (latency lower than 200 ms, for instance). Finally, we need to manage the server’s security and continued operation (via backups, for instance). All these tasks are handled by a server management software solution.
As this discussion implies, managing a server is not an easy or a one-off task. It requires dedicated tools to fulfill a range of different responsibilities, including performing backups and security, managing the application that provides the service, and monitoring disk space. And this is only for a single server. Bear in mind that in recent years, we’ve seen a literal explosion of servers. We’ve transitioned from single mainframes to virtual machines to software-defined containers. Any enterprise nowadays can have hundreds or thousands of servers running simultaneously, in different geographical regions. This increased complexity makes obtaining the right tools for the job more important than ever. Basically, in our day and age, manual management of servers is nearly impossible or at least very hard to do.
Top 5 Server Management Tools
In this post, I’ll list the top five server tools for some of the different tasks involved in managing servers.
If you have served an application as a service (SaaS), most likely it’s a distributed application and spans multiple containers. To be able to debug issues in the application, you need a way to aggregate all those logs in one place—run analysis on them, filter them, etc. SSHing to each container and checking the logs just isn’t practical anymore. In this context, Scalyr and other log observability solutions can be a real lifesaver. Scalyr aggregates all your application logs, allows you to visualize them, and lets you do a deep drill down into problematic server metrics like latency.
AppOptics is a full suite application monitoring platform (APM). It provides you with raw data regarding disk, RAM, and CPU usage on your compute units running your app. In addition, it lets you set alerts for the IT department based on those metrics. For instance, if your CPU usage is over 80%, you get a notification in a format you can usually modify. Furthermore, it has a neat feature called “Visualization of Application Topology.” In the day and age of microservices, it’s hard to have a full mental model of your application. It’s hard to understand what microservices call other microservices and vice versa. AppOptics visualizes the topology of your services and lets you do root cause analysis faster (What microservices are involved in this faulty request?).
Stackify is a next-generation APM. It provides you with all the features of Scalyr (aggregated logging, distributed traces, log visualization) and AppOptics (metrics and alerts). But it also adds additional functionality on top of that. Stackify adds an app score that indicates the performance, server metrics, and error rates. Thus you can instantly identify the problematic applications. In addition, it provides you with a side-by-side view of logs and code exceptions, thus facilitating faster bug resolution. Furthermore, it has tools for developers to speed up development and for DevOps engineers to deploy new applications with confidence.
Netreo is the current leader in the server management software space. It provides unparalleled coverage of features and combines it with a proactive and intelligent approach to managing servers. Having software that provides most if not all of your needed features greatly simplifies the tasks of server management. It eliminates or at least significantly reduces the amount of time and effort required for syncing data across different tools. In addition, it simplifies the work of an IT professional by providing a unified view from a single source of truth.
Netreo provides application topology as other software, but does it automatically for all locations in the network and populates each location with relevant metrics. In addition, it provides an auto discovery mechanism This way the topology map is automatically updated when there are changes without manual intervention. Finally, Netreo lets you add user-specific metadata, like network flowcharts or diagrams, to the automated maps.
Netreo provides an out-of-the-box measurement of system metrics (CPU, RAM, etc.) but takes it to the next level with automated reporting of aggregated data. Thus, the IT administrator can get instant insight into what needs attention without manually tracking each metric. The metrics themselves are collected in an agentless manner. This means that, unlike other solutions, there’s no need to manually install any collecting and monitoring agents on each container/VM that runs the server management software. Netreo leverages existing protocols to get baseline statistics for a wide range of operating systems and databases.
Automated Anomaly Detection
Instead of manually checking for anomalies or waiting for clients to complain about downtime and decreased quality of service, Netreo actively and automatically scans for anomalies and notifies the relevant stakeholders in real time. This saves a considerable amount of time and effort and reduces IT costs.
Site24x7 provides metrics and server monitoring similar to other solutions. Its main differentiating feature is the vast list of plugins and integrations. There are plugins for databases, webservers, load balancers, and so on. This way, Site24x7 provides you with application-specific visibility for most of the apps on your servers. In addition, Site24x7 provides a public status page to increase the transparency of your business with the clients. Lastly, it provides application-level monitoring as well by monitoring websites for uptime and transactions simulations.
Server management software is a vital tool in any IT department’s toolbox. The increased complexity and amount of servers make manual management hard to impossible, thus emphasizing the need for a dedicated software solution. There are many tools on the market that can help you with the task of managing the servers. You should pick the right tool for you based on your organization’s specific needs. Note that picking a feature-rich tool can save you a lot of back and forth and coordination efforts between different tool vendors. Having a single source of truth regarding the state of your servers can greatly simplify and reduce the costs of server management.
This post was written by Alexander Fridman. Alexander is a veteran in the software industry with over 11 years of experience. He worked his way up the corporate ladder and has held the positions of Senior Software Developer, Team Leader, Software Architect, and CTO. Alexander is experienced in frontend development and DevOps, but he specializes in backend development.