Basic Guide to Server Performance Monitoring

Server Performance Monitoring can be a daunting task for even the most seasoned IT professionals. There are so many different elements that it’s difficult to know where to start with monitoring your server’s performance. This article is designed to provide an overview of the steps needed for monitoring your server, with specific examples of metrics you should be looking at, as well as how they relate to business needs.

In our experience, the most important metrics you should be measuring are “load” and “response time“. In fact, if you look at almost any reputable monitoring tool today, these two metrics account for over 95% of the data it provides. You need to measure these two metrics on a regular basis in order to understand what is going on within your server and how to optimize your applications.

So in this guide, we’ll talk about them and a few other methods for server performance monitoring. Let’s begin;

What is Server Performance Monitoring?

Server performance monitoring is a group of specific activities undertaken to monitor various data feeds. Fluctuations in the monitored data serve as indicators of server health and performance. If data readings fall within specified parameters, then everything is fine.

Despite a reference to “servers,” web performance monitoring applies to all web hosting plans. For website owners, their hosting plan can be taken as the “server.” However, depending on the plan you’re using, not all performance data may be available.

Why is Server Performance Monitoring Important?

For many website owners, their website plays a vital role. For example, an eCommerce site brings direct revenue, while business websites reflect brand presence online. Servers that are slow, sugar frequent outages, or have security lapses can seriously disrupt operations, workflows, and more.

Server performance monitoring is the specific area that helps prevent such calamities from occurring. It’s a preventative action and allows website owners time to take measures that can prevent foreseeable problems.

Before subscribing to any plans, it’s recommended you check out a few web hosting reviews to look beyond what web host offers on the surface. Web hosting is much more than just buying a storage space for your website. Many systems are in play, and these need to co-exist and work cohesively together to meet website owners’ expectations.

As such, web hosting providers must monitor their servers at all times as this is an effective way to ensure things are running like clockwork; prevention is better than cure.

Server performance monitoring;

  • Provides an “early warning system.” It allows you to know earlier, respond and rectify issues fast before things escalate.
  • Helps you make well-informed decisions based on valuable data that help you troubleshoot and understand better any loopholes in your system.
  • Provides a more precise overview of your servers and infrastructure. This clarity is beneficial for those with several websites running on multiple servers in different locations.
  • Indicates possible cybersecurity threats – very significant for web hosting or the operation of any digitally connected system.

What and How to Measure?

To successfully monitor your servers’ performance, you must identify where to focus and then craft an accurate performance threshold baseline. You can use this as your reference point to help interpret your servers’ performance for alerting purposes so that you can obtain value-added information.

There is a combination of key metrics that you need to measure and analyze. Successfully building a conclusion out of such data will help you conclude overall server health in various areas.

Uptime

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Caption: Monitor your server’s uptime via SolarWinds tool (Source: Pingdom)

Uptime refers to the time a server is up and running. It is perhaps one of the most crucial areas that need constant monitoring. Servers that aren’t “up” will not be accessible by your website visitors – nor search engine robots.

The consequences of down servers could be anything from reputational and brand damage to lost revenue or search engine ranking drops. Visitors expect your website to be available 24/7, and the ideal server uptime is 100%.

Unfortunately, this is seldom possible. Various things can impact server uptime, for example;

  • Network outages
  • Equipment failure
  • Software glitches
  • Cybersecurity problems

You can measure server uptime by dividing the actual measured time that the server is running by the expected time that the server should run, multiplied by 100.

If there is a difference between the measured uptime and the expected baseline, the server has failed, maybe more than once. That is why you need to monitor your server’s uptime consistently. You can do so via many comprehensive server monitoring tools available in the market. Analyzing the data can furnish you with the necessary information to tell you when your server has failed.

Pingdom’s SolarWinds is one of these tools that can help you identify the times when your server experienced downtime. Locate such instances, identify incomplete tasks, and ensure they run correctly to completion.

Number of Concurrent Users and Requests Per Second

The number of concurrent users is typically the number that a server can handle simultaneously. This metric is also essential as it can help you determine when a server becomes overloaded to the extent that it can shut down completely.

Bear in mind that while the number of concurrent users does not directly impact the load on the server, a higher number still has an indirect impact on server performance.

Another crucial metric is the number of Requests Per Second (RPS) that a user makes to the server. This metric reflects user interaction with the website. Each click that a user makes creates requests that need to be acted on by the server.

RPS is also called the server’s throughput. Very high throughput can affect the server’s performance and may even cause it to crash. You have to figure out the maximum server throughput and ensure that the server does not approach this value.

You measure these metrics via a series of stress tests where you load the server with tons of simultaneous sessions at once to get a rough estimation of the maximum number of visitors the server can handle.

You can check out Loader, a basic stress test tool. There is a free plan that supports load testing up to 10,000 users with two links per test. This should be sufficient for most websites that expect moderate traffic. Just input the site and parameters; you’ll get the graphs and statistics to help you understand better the load your server can handle at any one time.

Failure Rates

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Caption: Monitor your server’s error rate via SolarWinds tool (Source: Pingdom)

There will be times when the server is not able to complete a user request. Things are usually still under control if this doesn’t happen often. That said, such errors are still best closely monitored.

The failure rate is typically the number of requests the server failed to complete processing over the total number of requests multiplied by 100. A high failure rate is serious as this indicates a serious underlying problem that must be attended to promptly.

Using Pingdom’s SolarWinds tool, you can monitor the error rate on your server by date. A sudden spike in the error rate tells you that your server could not function at its optimum level at that time (most received requests were not processed and discarded). As such, you need to look into the applications/processes that have failed on those dates and investigate further.

Resources Usage

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Caption: Monitor the utilization of your resources via Wise System Monitor tool (Source: Wise System Monitor)

Your server relies on many resources to operate at its optimum level, mainly CPU and memory usage. To calculate your server resources usage, you need to calculate the % of resources that the server uses to process and complete all requests. So, if your server registers an unusually high value, this means that your server is under duress.

This isn’t good as it not only wears your server down faster but also slows down your server performance. Tracking your CPU and memory usage and knowing the server processes that usually consume lots of resources are essential. This helps heaps when it comes to rectifying any resource issues fast.

You can use the Wise System Monitor tool to understand which processes may be taking up too much CPU and memory usage. As such, you get to narrow down the culprits and rectify them accordingly.

Page Speeds

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Caption: You can find out the page load time to help you understand your server’s performance better via Pingdom’s free tool (Source: Pingdom)

When it comes to your web hosting solution, it is crucial to know how long it takes for your site to respond to a user, especially when this impacts your Search Optimization Engine (SEO) ratings. Page load time is the average time taken for a page to be presented to the user.

It is computed as the time taken from the link being clicked by the user until the server delivers the page. Remember, a click on a link sends tons of data (texts, images, etc.) to the server, after which the server has to process them. Finally, a decipherable web page is presented to the user.

In short, this metric helps you know how fast your server works and the speed at which your server can respond visibly to your users. Pingdom has a free website speed test tool which you can input a link to investigate the load time.

Time to Interact

Caption: Capturing time to interact can help you understand more about your site’s performance. Tools like GTmetrix can assist with this. (Source: GTmetrix)
Caption: Capturing time to interact can help you understand more about your site’s performance. Tools like GTmetrix can assist with this. (Source: GTmetrix)

Time to Interact measures the amount taken for your web page to load before the user can start clicking on anything or interact with your website. This is important as a higher value simply means that the user has to wait long before doing anything; they won’t wait and will leave for elsewhere.

Don’t push your user’s patience, so make sure you give a quicker time to interact value. You’d want your web pages to load at lightning speeds so that the users can interact fast with your site.

There are many free and paid tools available in the market that can help to furnish you with many useful parameters, including time to interact. They’ll highlight and inform you if such values are too high and unfavorable so you can take the necessary measures to optimize your server.

Time to First Byte (TTFB)

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Caption: WebPageTest tool can help measure the TTFB (Source: WebPageTest)

TTFB is the amount of time taken from the first time a user puts in a request to the server until the browser receives its first byte of data from the server. A higher TTFB would mean that the user has to wait a long time for anything to display on the browser. TTFB is more of measuring the site’s responsiveness rather than a direct measurement of speed.

You can use WebPageTest or GTmetrix tools to help you measure TTFB. Such tools will usually alert you to anything amiss in your parameters.

Time Synchronization

This is especially crucial for systems on the same network consisting of multiple time-bound processes with intensive file-sharing and communication methods. If their clocks are not synchronized, data could be overwritten, resulting in inaccurate information presented to the user.

Also, these time-bound programs won’t be able to function correctly, affecting the server’s performance. You need to have a base clock to refer to. If there is a huge difference, something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

Most would utilize the Network Time Protocol (NTP) mechanism for synchronizing the system time. You have first to identify a machine that can retrieve the accurate time from a server that has a reliable time source; this will then be your base clock for other devices in the network.

Bear in mind that the objective here is to always maintain the absolute time and synchronize with all other machines within the network; steps to do so would be different for different platforms.

Types of Website Performance Monitoring

In general, there are two ways to monitor your website performance:

Real User Monitoring

Real user monitoring occurs when there are real users involved in the monitoring process. You typically gather information about your site performance when actual users interact with it. Results gathered through this way are accurate as this is based on real-time actual scenarios.

As such, you’ll know precisely where the pain points in your website are so you can look into fixing those that have the most impact on your users.

Synthetic Monitoring

Synthetic monitoring, on the other hand, doesn’t involve actual users. Instead, you create programs to simulate them. Aka simulators, these programs will interact with your website and performance metrics results are gathered. The good thing about synthetic monitoring is that this can be carried out anytime you want, as you don’t need to wait for a convenient time for all to come together.

That said, since this is not done in the real-world environment and is only a simulation, you need to be aware that the data obtained may not be accurate; you’re making many assumptions on what you think your users want and might do. That said, it is still an excellent point to start when wanting to gauge the performance.

Is Consistent Monitoring Alone Enough?

We have been emphasizing the importance of monitoring relevant key metrics to ensure servers’ performance is top-notch. However, bear in mind that monitoring alone is not enough. This is because even though you do an excellent job of gathering all the necessary data, they’re useless as long as you cannot make sense of them.

Therefore, you need to have the right expertise to assess and analyze the collated data so that the right actions can be taken to resolve the problem at hand effectively. This is to make sure that your server performance does not run into any glitches at all times.

Conclusion

Setting up a server is one thing, but ensuring a wholesome and stable web hosting environment is a whole new story altogether. To ensure the latter, monitoring the key metrics as listed above is crucial as they equip you with the relevant information to promptly identify the said issues to rectify them easily and fast.

Prevention is better than cure – you have to stay on top of the game to ensure your server performance is always tip top. Technology changes rapidly, and the same applies to customers’ expectations. As such, you need to stay ahead to succeed.

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