Why Does a Server Crash?

A server crash is never fun to deal with. If you are a large company and your server crashes, your users can experience major disruptions that could cost you a lot of money. If you are an individual with a single website and your host’s server crashes, you're at their mercy. Pray away because down-time is not fun time.

We all know that servers can crash. We all know this is bad. The real question is, why do servers crash? We’ll outline some common causes of server crashes as well as some preventative measures you can try and take to prevent crashes.

Hardware Failure Causing a Server Crash

In a world of software, we sometimes forget the importance of hardware. Data centers, where servers are typically located, have to ensure that the systems and equipment is up to date and running properly. Without functioning hardware, the software subsequently can’t run.

In many cases, hardware issues can’t be 100% prevented. Think of your car. Sometimes the car just breaks. You didn’t do anything wrong, the parts were all inspected and working properly, but something happened that caused the car to break. Maybe a rock got into the exhaust. Maybe a belt snapped unexpectedly. Whatever it is, it sucks, plain and simple.

If you own and operate your own hardware for your server, what preventative measures can you take?

  • Make sure the equipment being used is up to date and reflects modern technology.
  • Ensure that you have backup generators in case batteries die or the power goes out.
  • Keep your data center well air-conditioned to help prevent overheating.
  • Establish a strict process and protocol for maintenance and access to the data center itself.

Software Failure

If your server isn’t running at top efficiency, then you can more than likely face some server crashes in your future. Sometimes poorly optimized server-side code can consume all your resources under normal operating conditions and cause your server to become overwhelmed and crash.

Or the frontend code itself might be the source of the crash. If there's an infinite loop or you aren't handling all edge cases, your server could go down.

So, what can we do to ensure that software issues aren’t the cause of a server crash?

  • Run tests. If you are updating your code or server, be sure to test everything before pushing live! Is it annoying and time consuming? Yes. Will it help prevent crashes? Yes.
  • Update your server software. Think about Apple’s iOS. They are always pushing new updates to their operating system. Why? Part of the reason for their frequent updates is to add new features, but another major part is because they are fixing bugs.
  • Fight the bugs head on. If there is a bug in your system, you need to squash it ASAP before it leads to further issues. Read our ebook here to learn more about how to handle bugs.
  • Run predictive analytics. Again, while expensive, it serves a purpose in that you can use cases (made up scenarios) to test the system in all types of variable settings. This will help you catch any other bugs or functional issues.

Human Error (WE WANT ROBOTS!)

Humans are great most of the time, but sometimes humans are also not so great. Human error is a major cause of downtime. Why is this the case? Well, whether it is due to negligence, ignorance, naivety, or simply accidental mistakes, humans working on the server have direct impact on its performance.

There are really two main ways we can fight human error.

  1. Be thorough in policy! Document all procedures and make as much of the process of maintenance and requirements as systematic as possible.
  2. Automate. Spend the money to enter the age of augmented reality and machine learning. The less human interaction, the less error.

Cybersecurity Breach

It’s a shame, but not everyone in this world is nice. Some people are out to get you, so you have to stay quick on your feet! If your system doesn’t have the proper cybersecurity measures, then an attack can cause great harm.

People will attack your system for all types of reasons. Maybe they want to steal your data. Maybe they want to shut down your system. Or maybe they want to disrupt your users. Whatever it is, an attack is an attack and you need to be prepared to defend.

There are many common attacks that can happen. Here are a few examples. Take note.

DoS attack - Denial of Service

This occurs when a hacker floods your network with traffic to ultimately disrupt the user and not allow them to access the content. The hacker is overloading the server with traffic, and thus, causing it to crash.

DDoS attack - Distributed Denial of Service

This is the same as a DoS attack but it comes from a vast number of machines working towards the same mission. As it is more points of attack, a DDoS attack is more sophisticated and harder to defend.

Zero-day Attack

This occurs when you have a vulnerability in your code. If your code isn’t up to date and there are holes in it that haven’t been patched, you are vulnerable.

SQL Injection

If your server uses SQL (structured query language), then you are subject to this attack if there is a vulnerability in your code. A hacker will insert a line of SQL code into the server and thus disrupt and crash the server.

You can work to fight these potential attacks by running tests and simulations to ensure your system is secure. You can also always hire cybersecurity teams to strengthen your defense.

External Variables (Natural Disasters)

Let’s not beat around the bush; this one sucks. You not only are going to be facing a natural disaster that is detrimental your community, but it will also pose risks of crashing your server if it's local to you. Lightning, floods, wildfires, tornadoes, earthquakes and hurricanes are all natural disasters that have caused servers to crash.

There are things that can be done to prevent natural disasters from creating disastrous crashes. Your data center should have strong power systems, adequate cooling systems, back-ups and more. Don’t fear, most, if not all, data centers have extensive protections in place to fight against natural disasters. However, if Mother Nature isn’t happy (let’s treat our earth well to keep her happy!!) and opens the floodgates, just hope for the best and have backups ready to go.

Server Crash: Many Reasons, Many Preventions

So yes, servers crash for many different reasons. Some of them are in our control, some of them aren’t. However, for every risk, there are preventative measures we can put in place. They aren’t bulletproof, but they can very well minimize downtime or disruptions to end users.

Still have questions? Shoot us an email at resources@aloa.co and we’ll get right back to you.

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