Server Density deploys Ubuntu to deliver server and website monitoring as a service

Ubuntu helps Server Density developers innovate services, streamline server admin and increase security

Summary

Server Density delivers server and website monitoring as a fully managed service, delivering significant infrastructure and management savings for its customers. Until recently, the company used CentOS as its server operating system, but updates were infrequent and had to be deployed manually. To reduce workloads, increase security and support PCI compliance, Server Density migrated from CentOS to Ubuntu. With frequent updates and tools for automated package and patch deployment, Ubuntu has significantly reduced administration and increased security, while ensuring compliance with PCI standards. What’s more, Server Density now has access to the latest development library releases, helping it deliver new, value-added monitoring features to customers faster.

Challenge

Most organisations need to monitor the performance of their servers and websites to ensure constant availability for critical, customer-facing services. Until recently, though, enterprise-class monitoring systems were only within reach of larger organisations, requiring costly proprietary infrastructure to support them.

To address the widespread need for cost-effective server and website monitoring, David Mytton founded Server Density in 2009. His goal was to provide server and website monitoring as a cost-effective, fully managed service.

David Mytton, Server Density’s Founder, says: “Today, Server Density helps our clients measure the performance of their servers, websites and apps, with no need for costly in-house infrastructure. If there is a performance issue, we send alerts to sys admins in real time via their PCs or mobile devices.”

Server Density’s monitoring-as-a-service concept has been hugely successful. From a small start-up in 2009, the company has grown rapidly, and now serves major global clients, including Intel, the University of Oxford, about.me and The New York Times.

To keep up with rapidly growing demand for its services, Server Density operates more than 100 physical and virtual servers at fully redundant datacentres, processing 12 terabytes of incoming customer data each month on more than 25 MongoDB database servers.

Until recently, Server Density used the CentOS server operating system to deliver monitoring services for its clients. However, this system could no longer meet the company’s requirements for constant innovation.

“Because updates to CentOS are very infrequent, we were often blocked from using the latest features of our preferred programming languages – Python and PHP,” says Mytton. “That meant our customers often had to wait for the latest monitoring features to become available, and that wasn’t good for business.”

As an additional challenge, it was difficult to keep servers secure and updated with CentOS. “We are subject to Processing Card Industry (PCI) standards, so all our servers need to be equipped with the latest security patches,” says Mytton. “With CentOS, there were no update notifications when new security patches became available, making it harder to keep servers updated and achieve compliance.”

Solution

To reduce routine administration and ensure compliance with PCI requirements, Server Density has migrated its 100-strong server estate from CentOS to Ubuntu 10.04 Long Term Release (LTS) and Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. “Ubuntu Long Term Release versions give us updates and support for a minimum of five years, which means guaranteed stability for our mission-critical systems,” says Mytton.

To ensure all servers are updated quickly and efficiently in line with PCI requirements, Server Density uses Canonical’s Landscape systems monitoring and management tool, which is available through the Ubuntu Advantage support service.

“Landscape lets us know when new packages and patches are available, so we can be sure our servers are always up to date,” says Mytton. “What’s more, we have configured Landscape to prioritise security updates over feature updates, which ensures we remain compliant with PCI requirements.”

Ubuntu has also helped Server Density replace expensive, proprietary load-balancing hardware with Ubuntu servers running load-balancing software.

“We have deployed software load balancers on two pairs of Ubuntu servers in a fully redundant configuration, allowing us to phase out two proprietary load balancing devices,” says Mytton. “This move to software-based load balancing gives us great performance, while reducing our monthly load balancing costs.”

As well as choosing Ubuntu is its server OS, Server Density’s Ops Engineers also use it on their desktops. “It’s very useful for engineers to have a single, intuitive interface for both servers and desktops,” says Mytton.

Results

End-to-end security and compliance

Frequent, automated Ubuntu updates ensure that all Server Density systems comply fully with PCI security and management requirements. “Ubuntu is updated often and Landscape lets us know when new packages and patches become available,” says Mytton. “This gives us peace of mind as we know that all our servers are equipped with the latest patches needed for PCI compliance,” he adds.

Time and cost savings

By deploying Ubuntu 10.04 and 12.04 LTS, Server Density has achieved significant cost savings.

“By automating server administration and patching, we have dramatically reduced our management workloads, which translates into big cost savings and increased focus on customer-facing activities,” says Mytton. “What’s more, we have reduced our load balancing spend from $2,000 a month to just $300 a month by replacing proprietary load-balancing devices and maintenance contracts with open-source software running on Ubuntu,” he adds.

Increased competitive advantage

To remain competitive, Server Density must continually develop and deliver new application functionality for its customers.

“Because Landscape helps us keep our Ubuntu servers updated, we get faster access to all the latest developer tools,” says Mytton. “That means we can be first to market with new, value-added monitoring features that benefit our customers and increase our competitive advantage.”

Enterprise-class support

As an Ubuntu Advantage subscriber, Server Density gets enterprise-class support for its mission-critical Ubuntu environment, as well as a wealth of support information online from the global Ubuntu community.

“Ubuntu is an extremely reliable OS, but it’s great to know that we have fast access to a wealth of information online, as well as a direct line to Canonical engineers if we ever need them,” says Mytton. “We have only raised support cases with Canonical a couple of times, and each time they’ve been dealt with very quickly and effectively by Canonical engineers.”

Scalability on demand

Ubuntu is able to scale easily to support Server Destiny as it continues to grow.

“As a small company, we need software that is inexpensive to deploy and simple to scale as our customer list grows,” says Mytton. “Ubuntu allows us to deploy additional instances on dedicated infrastructure or in the cloud with no increase in licensing costs,” he adds, “and there is theoretically no limit to the data we can process and store in our Ubuntu environment.”

Increased transactional revenues for customers

Ubuntu-based monitoring services are helping Server Density’s customers reduce their in-house infrastructure costs and maximise revenues from customer-facing services.

“Ubuntu is the ideal technology foundation for helping our customers increase service uptime and web response times,” says Mytton. “Working away faithfully in the background, Ubuntu ensures our customers can maximise their transactional revenues and deliver the best services for their own customers, day in, day out.”