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Slaying Zombie Servers - 2010-04-20

About 4.7 million servers are not doing useful work. Here's how to keep them from sucking the life out of your clients' budgets.

By James E. Gaskin -

Zombie servers won't eat your brain, but they will hide among useful servers and suck the life from your budget. It is estimated that 4.7 million servers are not doing useful work. This leads to $24.7 billion dollars wasted each year by powering and supporting those zombie servers.

How do you find these servers? Bob Gill, managing director of server research at The Info Pro research firm, says, "Take inventory. Find all your servers and check their configuration to see if they're being used." Some vendors have modified network management applications to find servers with little or no active load. NightWatchman from 1E, Foundation from Tideway (now part of BMC Software), and NimBUS from Nimsoft will find all servers and provide details about their CPU load, disk activity, and event logs. No CPU load or disk activity? Zombie.

Virtualization will certainly reduce the cost of zombie servers, and through its research 1E found that 65 percent of server managers have virtualized a server that was not being used. While it's still a waste of time and money, this issue highlights a problem mentioned by Gill: "The number one problem for server admins moving to virtualization is the lack of capacity planning tools, and management tools after servers have been moved to a virtual environment."

Gill recommends checking out the tools available from VKernel. "Their free tools for capacity planning and monitoring will help you find zombie servers," he says.

In larger shops, some servers may be reserved for occasional use and appear to be zombies when they're really just sleepwalking. If you're wary of disconnecting servers to see if users complain (almost 10 percent of data center admins use this method), move the occasional-use physical server to a virtual server. If the applications wake up and need more resources, you'll be glad you didn't unplug it.

Some storage management tools will track the applications using storage pools. If a supported application on a server never addresses the storage system, you have a zombie. Analyze that application and take appropriate action.

Don't feel embarrassed if you're not sure if zombies live among your clients' servers, because 1E discovered 83 percent of IT pros admit they need a better grasp on overall server utilization. Take inventory, use management tools to gauge suspect servers' activity levels, and deal with zombies quickly and forcefully, just like in the movies.

Suspect your servers can be doing more, or need a better grasp on your virtualization? Give us a call at 1-877-247-1664.