Server administration – 14 Tips to succeed

You need more than just the required technical skills to be successful at server administration. There is much more that you can do today to become a better server administrator. Check out this list of tips to see if you are doing all you can to be the best at server administration.

Monitoring

A lot more goes into monitoring than just watching swap usage. Successful server administrators measure and record data about the hardware usage. Things can get sticky if users are complaining about a server going slow and management looks to you to explain why, but you haven’t got any data on it to prove your point… or worse, don’t even know why it’s going slow. So if you haven’t got a server for monitoring and storing data on hardware usage, make sure you get/build/buy one as soon as possible. Here is a shortlist of the things you want to monitor and record:

  • Memory Usage
  • Load Average
  • Disk I/O
  • Transfer
  • Transfer per Virtual Host
  • Network Throughput per Visual Host
  • Network Throughput
  • Average Response Time of Test URI
  • Average Response Time of a PHP Page
  • Disk Storage
  • SSH Logins
  • Whatever else you feel needs monitoring or you may be asked questions on later

When you have consistent data, you’ll be able to start seeing and recognizing patterns that appear unusual. With this data, you can get an idea of where to start looking when things go wrong.

Project Management

Successful server administrators develop good project management habits even if they’re just a one person team. These habits can help you stay on task as well as help you get back on task after you’re handed a project that requires you leaving whatever you’re currently working on. Write down your scope of work, the requirements, set up a schedule for yourself, and record all of your activities.

Wunderlist is a great app to use for managing your projects. With it you can plan out each step of each project and set dates you want to have it all accomplished by. If you have team members, you can also assign different tasks to different people and set up reminders to keep yourself and your team members on task.

All of this may seem like a lot of red tape, but it will help you to stay organized and not forget any steps that are needed to complete each project.

Develop a System

A successful server administrator knows it’s good to have a system set up for how they complete their day-to-day work. A To Do list won’t only help you stay on task, but it can also help to set up your and your employer’s expectations on what you can get accomplished in one day.

You can use a Kanban board to list everything you have to do for the day. Then if your employer asks you to work on something else, you can show them the board and ask which task should be replaced by what they want you to do. This will help your employer to understand your workload and set realistic expectations for your work.

Even if no one looks at your To Do list besides you, it helps to keep you organized.

Communication Skills

Great communication skills make successful server administrators. Even if you just want to stay in your office and keep things running without any interaction, you still will find times that you need to communicate with other employees and your boss. You need to know how to communicate expectations, and also how to propose new business ideas and advocate for them.

Great ideas never get through on their own merit but depend entirely on how well you communicate them to be implemented. Maybe you will need to convince upper management that they need another server, or have to convince a programmer that his or her code is creating memory leaks without seeming accusatory. The point is that you are going to need to communicate with others to get things done, and those things won’t get done if you have poor communication skills.

Prepare Ahead of Time

Think about all the things that could go wrong and prepare for them ahead of time, so they don’t make you panic should they actually happen. Server crashes, hacked servers, corrupted backups, and more are all scenarios you can consider now and prepare for so you’ll be ready for them should they happen.

Once you start asking questions about what could go wrong, you can start training yourself to react to them properly. It’s a good idea to set up a server just for you to mess up and fix to practice for various scenarios you may encounter while server administrating.

Know Your Team

Successful server administrators get to know their teams strengths and weaknesses. This helps you get the best out of them by supporting them in their work and helping out in areas where you know they may be weak. Encourage everyone to set personal objectives and reminders every day. Prioritize tasks and get your team to share the workload during busy times, then use quiet time to get files and systems in order.

Have The Right Software

Administrative tasks can be a lot simpler, quicker, and have less human errors when you have the right administrative software at your disposal. New software may seem like an expensive luxury if you’re doing everything manually, but it will pay for itself in the long run. Consider the expense of mistakes and team hours when you consider purchasing administrative software, and ask yourself if the software will help reduce this. There is a plethora of administrative software available, and a lot of it is tailored to fit the needs of a business or industry.

Efficient Work Environment

Successful server administrators work in environments that maximize their speed and efficiency. Take a look around your workspace and see if there are any changes you could make to make your environment more efficient for you to use. Make sure all your work equipment is in shape for its purpose and not causing any delays. Organization plays a huge role in maximizing workspace efficiency as well, so make sure that everything is organized in a way that people can find what they’re looking for.

Keep On Top of Training

New technologies and new methods of server administration are constantly popping up, and the world of server administration is constantly evolving. Because of this, it is important to make sure you stay on top of training for yourself and your team. This will help you and your team keep your skills up to date and relevant to your work. New hires should go through an induction process and be given an administration manual to refer to when no one is around to help them.

Get The Big Picture

Successful server administrators understand the long term implications of all the work they do, and they keep long term objectives in mind when working on new technologies. It’s easy to get consumed by day-to-day tasks and forget the bigger picture, so make sure each day you’re taking some time out to consider what the long term goals are for your business and how you are working to achieve them.

Never Make a Mistake You Can’t Fix

Everything you do should have a backup plan for in case things go wrong. A successful server administrator always has backups available and knows how to undo things in case the changes they are making take a wrong turn. Take notes on every command you issue and create backups of every configuration file you make changes to. Apply your changes to a test server before you apply them to a production server so you can make sure your changes will be successful and won’t mess the production server up.

Don’t Change Anything on a Friday

Don’t commit any changes on a last day at work when you’re going to be absent the subsequent day(s). You should always allow the changes you make to settle under your supervision before you take a day off, so they can prove to you that they are safe and secure.

Automation

Successful server administrators automate any tasks they have to repeat more than three times by writing a script to conduct the actions for them. This not only saves you time, but also spares your servers from human error. Additionally, if someone has to do these tasks for you, it makes it easier on them to have success at doing so.

Log Files

Make sure you are frequently checking the server’s log files for any issues with the kernel or other software. Monitoring your server’s log files can ensure you become aware of issues as soon as they start. Often Check for error messages in your server’s log, or employ software that monitors the logs for you if you find they are too much to go through.