The Problem With Ghost Servers

Ghost servers are a growing problem for enterprise infrastructures. The term, which denotes unused or underutilized servers, has grown recently as companies perform cost, security or performance plans for their big networks. Back in 2013, a BizTech article entitled The IT Monster in the Closet: Ghost Servers cited an industry estimate that ghost servers may make up to 15 percent of the enterprise marketplace. With the growth of global enterprise networks over the last two years, 15 percent might be a conservative estimate in 2015.

In terms of cost, ghost servers consume power and require cooling. Typically the use of these systems have either have been deprecated but not removed from the network because they might still run one or a few VMs or other applications. Time and power equals money and while ghost servers might not break the bank, finding, removing or optimizing them can make IT teams gain visibility when companies are looking to lower IT costs.

Having any unmonitored systems attached to a secure network always increases risk. Ghost servers might not directly contribute to a significant rise in security breaches but they could, at least in theory without monitoring, supply hackers with a potential backdoor into your secure network. Back in 2006, Computer World reported that such a server was used to hack into Ohio University’s alumni database and obtain 170,000 social security numbers and personal information. How’d it happen? The IT team thought the server was offline.

Now for the good news. Ghost servers might also provide a vital and inexpensive way to increase infrastructure performance for teams looking for more processing power on-premises. Applications that might consume significant CPU or memory resources on a multi-VM servers might be moved to a ghost server or teams can increase performance by adding such servers to their load balancing activities.

So where do you start? First, teams need to find the servers and use a monitoring solution such at Sightline’s EDM to look at all the servers on a network to see which servers are on, operational and what applications are running. For systems that are powered on but idle, teams can use EDM to create groups of potential ghost servers to watch.

Next, teams need to discover when and how those servers have been used and resolve ownership of them. This might be the hardest part since teams might not have access to that data. Yet, it’s a vital way to ensure IT tranquility by avoiding the potential for shutting down a seldom used but vital server or VM.

Once identified, teams will need to figure out of the server is needed for another task or should be removed from your network. Regardless of the decision, optimization or offline, identifying ghost servers should be a priority for any company looking to increase performance or ensure additional security for their infrastructure.