Servers, Servers Everywhere

Curtis Franklin Jr., Executive Editor | 8/8/2013 | 10 comments

Curtis Franklin Jr.
OK, IT folks, here are two important questions: First question -- how many servers do you have? Second question -- are you sure?

We all know about the big servers that sit in the datacenter. They're relatively easy to count, even if the precise number can be somewhat ephemeral due to the nature of highly dynamic virtual infrastructures. If you're deeply into a cloud architecture, then the number of virtual machines can vary on a minute-by-minute basis. At the very least, though, you can send someone into the datacenter to count the number of boxes or blades in the racks. The problem, really, is defining the servers that aren't sitting in neat datacenter racks.

Let's look for a minute at a manufacturing assembly line. If the equipment on that line has a web interface that allows for management of its functions (or even reports its activities) through a user's browser, then it almost certainly is a web server as well as an injection molding machine, six-axis vertical milling machine, or whatever else it does as its primary function. How many of those do you have in your facilities?

How about the printers, fax machines (remember those?), and photo-copiers sitting in your offices? If they've come into service in the last decade they almost certainly include web servers as part of the basic device functionality. You start to get the picture...

The fact is that small, powerful CPUs and integrated systems have made it possible to include a full web server in a package not much bigger than the physical power and network connectors required for the system. With more and more employees working from the road and wanting to keep tabs on equipment at company locations, the number of web servers in the enterprise is skyrocketing. That's one level of the problem: The next level is the number of firewall rules and exceptions required to allow those employees to see the web pages when they're sipping their half-caf, no-foam, non-fat, soy lattes at their favorite coffee shop.

Here's the real question: You have a plan and a process in place for your "real" servers -- do you even have a process in place for figuring out whether a web server exists in every other product you buy? How about the products that your line-of-business groups buy on their own authority? Worried, yet?

OK, how about this: What are you going to do when the printer you supply to work-at-home employees violates the terms of service for their ISP (you know, the ToS that says you can't run a server from your home)? I think you're starting to see the size of the problem.

The only logical course of action at this point is to assume that pretty much everything you bring into the enterprise has a web server attached. New assembly line? Fleet of web servers. New printer? Web server. Box of paper clips? Web server.

What you need (aside from, perhaps, slightly less-connected paper clips) is a set of policies that allow secure access to the devices with a legitimate need to share their information, positively (and securely) shut down the web servers on those devices that don't, and provide guidance on how to tell the difference.

So, back to the original question: How many servers do you have? Is it even important to know the number at this point? I'd love to know how you and your organization are dealing with this issue -- meet me in the comments to let me know.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
singlemud   Servers, Servers Everywhere   8/24/2013 1:26:06 PM
Re: Servers in everything
same here, although many products can be used as a server, but few are used in that way.
eethtworkz   Servers, Servers Everywhere   8/14/2013 11:09:10 AM
Re: Servers in everything

I am not disputing the fact that Big Data has most definitely changed the way we look at more and more Data storage(its never enough).

But still one feels that not every organization needs such High-level and super-fast Servers today.

So many can make do even with One Generation old(sometimes even two Generations old) Tech.

I am constantly amazed the awesome deals I can get on Brand New Servers which are just about to be upgraded by the Vendors themselves.

Sometimes the functionality and feature-set is just what is more than sufficent for most organizations today.
MDMConsult   Servers, Servers Everywhere   8/14/2013 1:55:52 AM
Re: Servers in everything
SPARC T5-8 is the fastest single server for Oracle Database. Big Data today is about scaling with Business Intelligence, analytics and social streams. Velocity in high volumes of information in server systems that support big data analytics is the next trend. 
eethtworkz   Servers, Servers Everywhere   8/11/2013 7:25:30 AM
Re: Servers in everything
Technocrat, I dont feel very proud of saying this but our company also the same bracket as yours.but how do we solve the issue of someone accidentally turning it on and leaving it there? Also there r many remotely executable scripts which exploit these vulnerabilities in the network? These are critical issues that need to be tackled effectively.
Technocrat   Servers, Servers Everywhere   8/11/2013 1:33:57 AM
Re: Servers in everything
My company is probably like most in not dealing with the web servers that come with most of the products we buy and I really don't see that changing much as we don't have much time nor manpower (or the real interest) to deal with it.
geeky   Servers, Servers Everywhere   8/11/2013 12:03:47 AM
Re: Servers in everything
@Curtis: Yes this happens with the improvement in technology. Its like technology is trying to knockout technology itself. 
Don K   Servers, Servers Everywhere   8/10/2013 11:36:31 PM
Re: Servers in everything
@DBK: We cannot blame for having servers but the cloud has answers for it. Physical servers do consume lots of responsibility, so why not go for cloud. I think the new era of servers has already started and it's a hassle free one. Only worry is about the security aspects but that also mostly have been answered.  
DBK   Servers, Servers Everywhere   8/10/2013 8:37:48 PM
Re: Servers in everything
Interesting that this has different points of view.  One being the virtualized servers the other being servers that are enbedded in peripheral products.  Adds to the caption of servers esrvers everywhere.
CurtisFranklin   Servers, Servers Everywhere   8/9/2013 2:16:51 PM
Re: Servers in everything
@SaneIT, I think one of the important factors will be more and more people in IT becoming aware of tools like Shodan, even if they're not the ones with their hands on the console keyboard.
SaneIT   Servers, Servers Everywhere   8/9/2013 7:49:42 AM
Servers in everything
This is a great topic.  Web servers in things like printers and copiers are nothing new but they are becoming common on even the low end devices.  It pays to know what you have out there that is accessible externally or even by your users internally before trouble starts.  Shodan is a search engine built for the purpose of finding holes created by things like printers, IP phones, etc that have web servers built in and are left with default passwords, if you wonder how common it is to see devices like this accessible from the web it only takes a few minutes to re-assure you that you should be locking these devices down the second they hit your network.

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