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Must haves for running your Colocated Server

Posted on Oct 31, 2009 by Paul White

Getting your own server is not easy, nor is it cheap.  For anyone thinking about it.  Here are some things you will need to make it functional as part of a revenue generator by hosting your client's websites.  These are what I recommend for anyone who wants to do this the right way.

1. a 1U rack server

This form factor is the cheapest to colocate in your local data center.  Make sure when you buy your server it comes in this form factor.  There are also 2U and 3U server, but since they take up 2 x and 3 x the rack space, they will typically cost 2 x to 3 x as much to colocate.

2. Redundant Disk Storage via RAID

with Backup Battery!
Anyone colocating a server should always use some form of storage that enables redundancy. 
2 drives in RAID 1
3 drives in RAID 5
4 drives in RAID 10
would all be able to tolerate 1 disk failure without interrupting your web server.  Also most decent raid cards support a backup battery that will keep the on board memory hot in the case of a major crash.  This would enable your memory to preserve any write cache data for a couple days before the server is brought back online, at which point the hard drives will pick up where they left off.  If you don't have a backup battery installed on your raid card be sure to disable write caching.  This will reduce your system's performance, but its better to run slow than to crash and end up with missing or corrupt data on your drives.

3. Plenty of Memory

Memory is relatively cheap.  If your system is any where close to maxing out its memory I recommend adding more memory.  My system has 8GB of memory, and never needs more than 3 GB.  But once my system is using 6GB of the 8GB. I would recommend upgrading the memory to 16GB.  As a general rule never allow your system resources to go above 75% utilization.  This goes for both memory and disk space. 

4. Unique IP address per domain

Many developers tend to load up hundreds of domains all under 1 IP address.  Even though research shows this has no negative impact on SEO, there are other reasons each domain should have its own IP.  An IP is an value that remote servers ( like yahoo mail servers ) will identify you.  If your IP has a reputation of spending unsolicited bulk mail, then yahoo is likely to send all emails from this IP to the bulk spam folder, rather than the inbox.  By giving each website / domain / mail server its own IP you are giving your domain a way to build a good reputation with other mail servers.  This results in higher open rates, and buffers your website from the malicious activities of other websites.

5. Stats Server

I use SmarterStats 4.x.  A good web developer will provide some sort of web logs analyzer, so your clients can see their traffic stats.  Sure Google Analytics is good for Organic traffic, but its important to track the crawlers activity on your website, plus any bots that could pose a potential threat.

6. Mail Server

I use SmarterMail 6.1 on my server.  What I like about this version is it supports different IPs and hostnames for each domain, plus it has grey listing and RBL lists to keep the spam out, plus domain keys and DKIM to validate your outgoing emails with remote mail servers.  Older mail servers don't support these features and as a result they may have  hard time getting into the inbox of free mail servers ( gmail, yahoo, hotmail, aol )

7. SQL Database backups

Daily SQL dumps are highly recommended in case your server goes down, or your client deletes something they should have.  I use MySQL Administrator to schedule daily SQL dumps to my local machine.  Its important that you store these off site,  as they are intended to server in recovery when something on site goes wrong.

9 Off site backups

Its highly recommended to perform some sort of automated daily off site backup of your important data.  You don't need full backups, just incremental is fine, but just be sure you get the important stuff, ( website data, and mail server data )

10. Full Server Backups

Some companies will provide on site backup storage via a network SAN.  Another option is to hack a spare hard drive into your server to provide an internal backup medium for Daily system backups.

11. Spare parts

Eventually you are going to have a hard drive failure.  This will cause you to run down to the data center to hot swap the drive out.  But if you don't have another drive ready to go, and have to order it, this could be very bad if the remaining drive(s) also have a failure.  Its good to have a spare drive ready to go, and maybe even an extra hot swap tray with the drive screwed in ready to go.  Besides Hard drives the next item that rarely but does sometimes go out is your power supply.  For this reason its a good idea to keep an extra power supply on hand in case of a failure.

12. Firewall

Any port that does not provide a direct purpose should be closed.  Else you will get hackers pinging all your ports to see which ones are open, allowing them to try more advanced methods to compromise your server.  In my experience the best way to protect your server is to only allow your personal IPs access to services like Remote desktop and FTP. 

I think I have covered everything.  If anything else comes to mind I will update this article.

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