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How to prevent and recover from server failure

Hardware, software and facility issues can lead to server failure. With the right protocol and preventive maintenance, you can reduce failure amount and troubleshoot time.

Server failure is a common issue that affects all organization types and sizes, and the cost of server downtime can include days without system access to loss of critical business data. This can lead to operation issues, service outages and repair costs.

Potential causes of failure can originate in the server hardware, software or the data center facility. If you understand what can cause server failures, you can head off issues before they develop and avoid downtime altogether, but it's best to have a contingency plan in place if a server failure does happen.

What can cause a server to fail?

If you receive an alert or notice something off, the first step to resolve server failure is identify how and why a server failed; how fast you can do this can be the difference between minutes and days of downtime. Common reasons for server failure include:

  • Overheating. If a server runs at too high a temperature, it can lead to poor performance or complete failure.
  • Hardware issue. Sometimes, a hardware component simply breaks. This could be due to a failure in the actual component, such as a battery failure or a disk failure, a malfunction in the cooling system or the equipment's age.
  • Software issue. An outdated OS can collapse under high-traffic operations, and unvetted patches can lead to bugs or data corruption. Software upgrades and updates can also fail and cause new issues.
  • System overload. Peak traffic periods and full server logs can result in system overload and failure.
  • Cyberattack. A lack of network security or an outdated, unsupported OS can leave servers vulnerable to cyberattacks that can paralyze or crash the server.
  • Natural disaster. Earthquakes, fires, flooding and thunderstorms can wreak havoc on network systems and cause service outages.

How to prevent common server failures

Constant reboots and sudden slowness indicate a faulty server. The better you can spot these signs, the faster you can act. A server monitoring software can help you keep tabs on servers and let you closely monitor critical systems and get alerts for any potential issues.

Along with a monitoring tool set, there are also preventive maintenance steps you can take to ensure server uptime and health.

  1. Ensure optimal environment temperature. Servers need proper ventilation and temperature control to avoid overheating. Check for dirt and dust buildup on both interior and exterior surfaces and adjust temperature settings as needed.
  2. Conduct routine maintenance. Hardware issues tend to be the most difficult to predict and prevent because they can happen at random. Pay attention to the age of each server, perform routine disk checks and regularly update/upgrade the system. When the time comes, replace outdated parts or the machine altogether. Predictive analytics can also help identify when parts might fail.
  3. Regularly install updates. Install software, OS updates and patches on a regular basis. This keeps performance up and protects servers from easily exploitable software vulnerabilities.
  4. Maintain strict access control and detailed event logs. Human error is nearly impossible to eliminate. Automation can minimize human error, but human intervention is still required. To lower risk, maintain strict records of who can access the server room and management software. You should also keep detailed event logs and review them on a regular basis.
  5. Monitor performance trends. With continuous performance monitoring reviews, you can better predict required resources for peak periods and identify sluggish performance, which might be a sign of an imminent failure. These trends might also reveal potential hardware and software issues or areas of a server room that require additional cooling. Make sure you maintain log files, empty the recycling bin, delete files in temporary folders, and defragment hard drives tasks to preserve performance levels and avoid system overload.
  6. Develop a server contingency plan. Redundancy is a big component to prevent downtime from server failure. A server contingency plan should establish available secondary hardware such as multiple power sources, redundant RAM and backup servers.
  7. Design a disaster and data recovery plan. In the event of a natural disaster or security breach, a disaster recovery plan and a data recovery plan will save you from long periods of downtime and catastrophic data loss. Having a backup plan is essential for the worst-case scenarios.

How to resolve and recover from server failure

Even if your servers fail despite preventive maintenance, there are steps you can take to effectively recover. Aside from a restart, there are visual cues and diagnosis software you can use to narrow down a possible cause.

Once you've identified the root cause, then you can switch to a backup server and take the requisite steps to repair the machine failure.

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