When Zombie Servers Attack! (And What to Do About Them)

Posted by Instor on Jul 5, 2017 6:30:00 AM

Zombie servers sound like the stuff of fiction, but they're quite real. And, like their undead counterparts, they can quickly take their toll on your valuable resources. Learn how to identify and eliminate zombie servers from your data center floor. 


Image: Dreamstime

Zombie Servers Are Lurking in Your Data Center. Can You Spot Them? 

Many systems continue to move off-premise and are being managed in the cloud. For the data center manager, optimizing operations has become more significant and complex than in past years as the appetite for data and services increasingly grows.  

There seems to be no sign of global cloud services demand slowing. A recent Forrester Research report has shown that global cloud services revenues grew by 30 percent for the past two years to $114 billion (2016) and predicts that by 2020, the public cloud services market exceed $236 billion. The spending includes a focus on more compute power, security, and “serverless” cloud computing – the continued insatiable demand for infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS). The recent Gartner Worldwide IT Spending Forecast confirms this with projections indicating a 1.4% increase over 2016 to $3.5 trillion in 2017 given the dollar-value IT spending growth.

It’s a challenge to build out while trying to optimize and typically, many organizations overlook inefficiencies for the sake of expansion. One of the most prominent challenges is that of zombie servers – just as the media and entertainment industries have portrayed – we have developed a deep-rooted fear. We are constantly reminded to remain vigilant and sometimes warned through the use of construction road signs indicating, “Caution! Zombies Ahead” - They may be silent and deadly but they are not necessarily “The Walking Dead.”

Zombies lurk around every hot and cold aisle and may take any form. Many industry reports have been published concerning zombie servers, accounts, smartphones, wired and wireless zombie devices, and apps. Gartner’s Top 10 Technology Trends Impacting Infrastructure & Operations list in December 2016 has identified that 28 percent of the physical servers located in the data center are “ghost, comatose, or zombie” servers. The report indicates servers leave as much as 40 percent of their loads sitting idle with some estimates that up to 30 percent of the country’s 12 million servers are actually “comatose.” Server racks are under-provisioned, wasted space is due to underutilized racks, most servers operating at only 32 percent capacity, and poor management.  

The 2016 The Government Accountability Office (GAO), “Federal Agencies Need to Address Aging Legacy Systems” report identified more than 75 percent of federal funding was budgeted for operations and maintenance (O&M) of IT investments for fiscal year FY2015. Not surprisingly, O&M spending has increased for more than seven years and, at a cost of $7.3 billion, has negatively impacted expenditures for development, modernization, and enhancement. The report focuses on antiquated O&M processes which includes PowerBuilder use, 50-year old COBOL code, 8-inch floppies and the cost of zombie IT systems.

In addition to concerns about budgets and expenditures is energy consumption. An estimate of total U.S. data center electricity use (servers, storage, network equipment, and infrastructure) from 2000-2020 was published in a 2016 report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) with support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) Federal Energy Management Program. The U.S. Data Center Energy Usage Report included servers, storage, and network equipment with 70 billion kWh being consumed in 2014 representing 1.8% of the total U.S. electrical consumption – energy consumption is expected to continue to increase by 4% at the same rate to 2020.

Beware Zombie Servers

Zombie servers are characteristically known to be:

  • Energy vampires
  • Space consumers
  • Heat wasters

Unfortunately, the truth is zombies can kill. Servers may get very hot, overheat and catch on fire. One of the most effective tools to use against zombies is to periodically perform assessments of all devices, systems, platforms and consolidate all of the data points into a holistic view of current operations – a data center profile or baseline.  

Declaring War on Zombie Servers

To stop zombies from sucking the lifeblood out of your data center operations, decommissioning will kill zombies fast. Continual monitoring of electrical power, server utilization, and ambient in-door air temperature will help in identifying abnormalities such as zombies.

To some zombie may seem harmless other than absorbing limited budgets; however, the zombie can come back to life under the control of hacktivists. Left unchecked, they become slaves in the on-going cyber war. They’ve been used to conduct distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks and in conducting ransomware assaults as well the zombie apocalypse is here today.

Don't find yourself trapped in a remote corner of your data center surrounded by zombies. Let Instor's pros help you with everything from planning to design and buildout today. 



Topics: Servers, Data Center Power