If your practice depends on servers for business-critical functions, one thing is certain - some day those servers will stop working.  There are a few warning signs that may suggest that your servers may be close to failing.

Unusual Noise

New noises are a big warning sign of impending problems. Normal computer noise is usually largely fan noise, and perhaps some noise during data access from hard drives. If you spend any time around your computer on a regular basis, you'll know what 'normal' sounds like.  If you hear an increase in fan noise or if you hear loud screeching sounds, your computer may have a fan that is failing.  If you don't address this issue quickly enough, you run the risk of your server overheating -- with one or more failing fans the temperature inside your computer may get up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot conditions inside your server can cause your CPU, your hard drives, and your graphics card to fail. A failure of any one of these components will leave you with a server that won't boot, so pay attention to what your servers tell you when they start making unusual noise.

Unusual Slowness

A number of things can cause your server to slow down, including an overloaded CPU, running low on memory, or running out of storage.  An overloaded CPU us usually resolved by rebooting the server.  Low memory can be resolved by upgrading the server’s RAM, or by running fewer applications.  Running out of storage can be resolved by upgrading your server’s memory, or by deleting files you don’t need.

In addition, a performance change on your server could also indicate that your computer has been infected or otherwise compromised by malware that is running additional software and taking up additional resources. The impact of this could range from a minor annoyance, to emails being sent out to everyone in your mail list without your knowledge, to having your businesses data stolen or destroyed or held for ransom! Make sure your servers are protected from malware and that you have working, automated backups that are stored outside of your computer. Lastly, make sure that you actually test restore procedures and have any additional hardware available to allow your business to quickly restore your backups and minimize business downtime and data loss.

Lastly, experiencing slowness when accessing data could be a sign that the hard drive is starting to die. Most hard drives will try very hard to not fail on read requests -- they will attempt many re-reads of data, and even move data if they find a bad area on the disk. While it is good that your hard drive will work extra hard to read your data, once a hard drive starts having to retry reads or writes, it's only a matter of time before your hard drive will dies or crash and become completely unreadable. There are utilities that can probe data on the disks (S.M.A.R.T.) to inform you of when your disks are starting to die. Without these special tools, you may only notice occasional slow reads and writes. Again, once your hard drive starts hitting errors, there's not really much you can do except ensure that your backups are current and replace it before it fails.

Strange Errors

If your server hangs repeatedly or applications start experiencing strange errors that are difficult to reproduce, then you might be seeing signs an intermittent hardware failure or a failing hardware device. Scan your computer for viruses and malware to establish a known good starting point.  Check that your operating system, device drivers, and applications are up to date -- many known bugs and issues may have been fixed already, and this is always a good place to start when troubleshooting computer issues. Next, consider possible hardware issues -- failing memory modules, a failing video card, a failing hard drive, or even a failing power supply can cause a wide variety of strange issues or errors. Run diagnostic software on your computer to help determine if you have failing hardware components and schedule downtime to replace them to keep your server running.

Closing Thought - Strive for Simplicity

Computers will fail. Unmaintained systems will fail.  Managing servers requires an investment in time and money, but is not the only option. Cloud-based practice management systems can free you from the worry and expense of maintaining your own servers. Our cloud software is secure, has redundant servers and databases, and all of your data is automatically backed up and protected.  With fewer server-related things to deal with, you can instead focus your time and energy on your patients and your business.  

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