Once your website is designed and live, most webmasters sit back and relax a little. It might seem like everything’s permanently in place, but in reality, your website will require ongoing, active monitoring if you want it to succeed.
Not only will you need to provide ongoing content for your blog and main pages, and keep customers updated on the latest news, you’ll also have to pay close attention to how your site is hosted, and the status of your central server. Unfortunately, even the best servers are prone to issues, and you’ll need to know what those issues are if you want your site to remain live and uninterrupted.
How Servers Work
First, it pays to know a little about how web servers actually work. That way, you’ll find it easier to conceptualize the problems that servers can face, and you’ll be able to make better choices with your own servers (and/or hosting provider). The server is where the information for a given webpage is stored. When a user requests access to a site by entering the URL on their machine, or by clicking a link, their “client” sends a request to the server. The server processes that request, and sends back the information corresponding with the file requested.
Most Common Server Problems
These are some of the biggest and most common problems webmasters face:
- The server is down. Sometimes, the server crashes entirely. Anyone making a request to view your website will instead get an error message, because there’s no system to provide the files or information they need.
- The server is processing slowly. In less extreme cases, you may find the server operating slowly, resulting in lag throughout the website and slow loading times.
- Certain applications are unresponsive. In some cases, the problem is localized, making some applications unresponsive while others work seamlessly.
Detecting these problems as soon as they arise is vital if you want to respond in a timely manner, before the problem grows worse. Server monitoring software can help you keep an eye on your server’s performance at all times, and alert you if and when it’s time to take action.
Tracing Root Causes
Once you’ve noted an issue, you’ll need to trace it back to some root problem, which may prove difficult. These are just some of the root causes that can affect server performance:
- Hardware issues. You may have problems with the physical layer, which you can check by looking at components individually. Try swapping out network cards and various cables, one by one, to see if there’s an identifiable culprit. If not, the computer itself or its peripherals may be the cause.
- TCP/IP settings. Occasionally, your server’s TCP/IP settings may change mysteriously, such as when installing a new application or making a major change. Your machine may default to its original settings, which can wreak havoc on your traffic flow. Fortunately, this change is easy to note and revert back to normal.
- Memory and usage spikes. Your server may be functioning normally, but responding to heavy or volatile changes in usage and traffic. For example, if there’s a sudden burst of 100,000 people trying to access your site at the same time, the server will be forced to process requests one at a time, and may not be able to keep up with demand (which is the foundation for DDoS attacks). If this is the case, you can fix the problem by limiting those requests (such as with a funneling system), or by investing in bigger, more capable server equipment.
- Application-specific problems. If the server is malfunctioning only with a specific application, the app could be the root cause of the problem. Check the app for any bugs that may prevent it from working properly. If you’re new to server management and can’t afford to hire someone in-house to take care of it, your best shot is working with a remote hosting services provider. As long as you’re working with someone reliable, who will respond when you encounter problems, you’ll defer much of the responsibility and end up with a much more consistent system.