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Five Reasons to Outsource Compute Farm and Server Management

Published by SPK Blog Post
on January 27, 2012

The paradigm of computing resource configurations have changed several times of the last 40 years. From mainframes to mini computers, through desktops and file servers to server farms, software as a service and the cloud.

Any company that uses server farms or engineering compute farms needs to manage those machines efficiently and effectively to reduce the total cost of ownership and increase value for money. However managing a compute farm isn’t as simple as managing a simple web server or as straight forward as administrating a domain controller. If the right skills can’t be found in-house then outsourcing server and computer farm management can be the best solution. Using the people with the right skills will save money and boost performance.

Here are five reasons why server farm or engineering compute farm management and administration should be outsourced:

1. Server Farms Vary In Size

Not all server farms are equal. The beauty of server farms is their ability to scale. But as more computing resources are added, the complexity of the server farm increases, this in turn increases the complexity of managing those machines. A small server farm with less than a dozen machines is a very different thing than one with a thousand machines. As the farm size increases so does the complexity of planning for disk failures, hardware failures and backups.

2. Bad Load Balancing Will Kill A Compute Farm’s Efficiency

Depending on the architecture of the compute farm, a degree of load balancing will be employed either at the application level or lower. Bad load balancing will kill the efficiency of a compute farm. In a completely homogeneous farm, where every server is identical, this load balancing can be somewhat easy. But in a heterogeneous farm where servers differ in terms of computing power, memory resources and I/O, getting the load balancing right can be difficult. As farms scale over time they become more diverse with earlier servers generally being less capable than new servers. Correctly balancing the load in such an environment will yield greater performance results.  Properly configured job scheduler applications such as LSF or Oracle Grid Engine efficiently distribute user jobs to available compute resources.  These applications can raise the resource utilization of a farm from 15% (average) to 75% or even 90%.

3. Software Licensing Can Be Costly

Depending on the software used, a server farm can cost a significant amount of money in terms of license fees. Outsourcing the management of licensing can reduce overcharging by ensuring that only the correct number of licenses are bought. In addition, customers don’t have to worry about the legal issues because too few licenses have been purchased. Many software companies offer different volume licensing models including special cases for servers under the day-to-day management and control of an outsourcing company.

4. A Misconfigured Network will Limit Usability

Underlying any engineering compute farm is a complex infrastructure including a network. As a server farm grows so must the available bandwidth. To achieve this, switches need to be configured correctly, network addresses need to be allocated effectively and the network topology needs to remain balanced. Understanding and creating an efficient network will allow the maximum amount of computing resources to be used by the engineering staff.

5. Bad Security Policies Leave Servers Vulnerable

All servers need security auditing and patch management. An unaudited, unpatched machine is a danger to a company but rolling out patches for an entire compute farm can be a difficult task. Similarly security auditing requires professional input from security specialists. Either of these two tasks merit the use of an outsourcing company, more so when both are considered together.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the reasons why using an outsourcing company with experience in managing and administering a server farm can be beneficial, particularly when in-house skills aren’t available. This list is by no means complete, other problems to consider include server monitoring, virtualization deployment and storage management.

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