Best practices for remote server management

Remote server management will continue to be an important part of data centers, but administrators should also take steps to ensure someone onsite will be able to perform tasks as well.

This tip is the third in a three-part series on  remote server management. Read the second tip on choosing remote server administration tools. You can also read part one about exploring remote server management options.

Remote servers are not going away any time soon. The simple fact is that server densities are increasing at a faster pace than the power and cooling resources available to handle them. With power and cooling hitting hard limits, organizations cannot deploy new equipment as quickly and effectively as they might like. So the move to multiple data center locations provides growth potential that might be impossible with a single centralized production data center. This tip looks at what the future of remote server management holds, and the steps administrators can take to ensure coverage during times when an actual person is needed to perform tasks onsite.

“It’s easier to deal with 10 10,000-square-foot data centers than one 100,000- square-foot [data center] because you’re probably not going to fill up those smaller spaces,” said, Ian Parker, senior Web services administrator for Thomson-Reuters, a business intelligence company based in Ann Arbor, Mich. Smaller spaces are generally allotted to company divisions or departments with limited computing needs, added Parker. And new deployments at one location will not affect power and cooling demands at other locations—reducing the impact of changes in production environments.

Virtualization is not required for remote server management, but it is playing an important role into the future. Server consolidation reduces the number of physical boxes, which eases the time and effort spent managing them. Companies can select larger and more powerful servers capable of hosting more VMs than a large number of basic “commodity” boxes, usually resulting in more efficient spending. The biggest challenge is managing computing resources and data protection processes as new VMs proliferate across data centers.

Remote server management tools are remarkably well developed, but expect to see continued refinement and added capabilities such as reporting and automation. “Increasingly, the hypervisor doesn’t matter so much. What matters when you’re looking at a virtualization vendor is what kind of management tools are they offering you,” Parker said. “The vendors themselves are talking more about their management tools, and the options they give you to do things with your virtual servers that are going to be pretty important,” he said.

The human factor
Although the continued evolution of remote server management products is reducing the need for human interaction, there are times when you really just need someone’s eyes, hands and technical savvy on-site. Here are a few choices to consider:

  • Have a staff member travel to the remote data center. This is probably the most inefficient solution because it may take many hours for a person to reach the remote data center before work can even begin. Downtime can be extremely costly for an organization, so this may also wind up being the most expensive solution to human interaction.
  • Hire a service provider. When distances and response time requirements make it impractical to put a technician in a car or on a plane, it is often possible to contract a local service provider to respond when service is needed. A cost-effective option, the service contract defines response times and can usually reduce downtime significantly. Still, the provider will need access to the remote facility, which can complicate security issues for your organization.
  • Talk through less technical on-site staff. This might be a reasonable solution for basic tasks. The local office manager might be able to cycle power to a server rack or perform other rudimentary procedures with telephone instructions from the remote IT administrator. This can vastly reduce the need for staff road trips or third-party service calls.
  • Reduce the need for human interaction by developing a comprehensive remote management architecture. Evaluate the capabilities and limitations of your remote management tools and consider adding or replacing tools to expand on needed features. Weigh the costs of management product deployment against the benefits and savings of adding those capabilities to the remote data center.

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