Home > Monitoring different server types: What is a server?

Monitoring different server types: What is a server?

Ferdinand Kunz
By Ferdinand Kunz on May 31, 2021

Manual testing of servers is time-consuming, so organizations usually turn to a monitoring tool to ensure the efficient operation and performance of their servers. Since the application scenarios of servers differ depending on the server type, any monitoring must also be tailored accordingly. In this blog series I will show you how to tailor your server monitoring to different server types using Checkmk. Each server type has its own monitoring requirements. Therefore, in the following blogposts, I will first go into the peculiarities of each server type and then explain how you can best take these into consideration in your monitoring.

This is followed by one blog article each for monitoring NAS servers, file servers, SQL servers, virtual servers, cloud servers, mail servers, VPN servers and print servers. Checkmk also allows you to monitor web servers with ease. But before I go into the details of each server type, in this first part I will explain the term "server" from a monitoring perspective.

 Graph in Checkmk showing the CPU utilization of a server

What is a server?

As the name suggests, a server serves other systems or applications by providing them resources or services. IT literature often distinguishes between hardware servers and software servers. However, in server monitoring, it is important that you are aware of and monitor both the hardware and software components.

A hardware server refers to a physical platform on which an operating system and one or more server applications run. The hardware server is therefore also referred to as a host. As a rule, hardware servers are part of a network and are therefore connected to other systems. Although hardware servers are always physical, they come in a wide variety of forms - from mini-servers to large server racks floor in huge server farms.

Software servers are programs that provide at least one service for other systems. These other systems are referred to as clients of the software server. When exchanging data in such a client-server model, certain transmission protocols are used depending on the service and the location of the server. You can set up software servers on hardware servers, but also on virtual servers or in cloud infrastructures.

If the hardware is overloaded or not working correctly, the software server will not be able to retrieve the hosted files and programs properly. Without a view into the hardware monitoring data, you may mistakenly look for the cause of a problem in the server application and not find it at all. Also, if a hardware server overheats, there is a risk that the installed hardware will be damaged, and you will lose data.

The key challenge in server monitoring is the right combination of monitoring data from a variety of sources. Monitoring agents are a good foundation for monitoring key operating system processes and some applications. However, a monitoring tool must also have insight into server logs and the health of server hardware, as well it must be able to monitor the hardware’s functionality. In addition to the agent's monitoring data, this usually requires a check of hardware data, for example via SNMP, and an active check of a server's transmission protocols.

You can get a good overview of this subject in our introduction to server monitoring. As a first example, in the following blog post I will show you what you should consider when monitoring NAS servers.

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