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How To Set Up A Server Cluster (The Basics)

A server cluster is a group of servers that work together to provide failover and load balancing. In this article, we will show you how to set up a server cluster.

Prerequisites for setting up a Server Cluster

To set up a server cluster, there are a few things you will need: 

First, you will need at least two servers. These servers can be physical or virtual machines, but they must be able to communicate with each other. 

Second, you will need to install software on each server that allows them to share resources and failover with each other. This software is typically provided by the operating system vendor. 

Here are some examples:

  • Heartbeat by Linux-HA – This is a popular open source high availability resource manager for Linux systems. It can be used to manage various types of resources, including IP addresses, storage devices, databases, services, etc. Heartbeat provides basic monitoring and recovery capabilities for failed nodes in a cluster.
  • Pacemaker by ClusterLabs – Another popular open source high availability resource manager with similar functionality to Heartbeat (although the two projects are not compatible). Pacemaker also has an optional web interface called Hawk that can be used to monitor clusters remotely. 
  • Windows Server Failover Clustering (WSFC) – A built-in clustering feature in Windows Server that allows multiple servers to be joined together into a group known as a “cluster”. WSFC provides enhanced protection against server failures through automatic detection & recovery from failure events. 
  • VMWare vSphere High Availability (HA) – A feature of the VMWare vSphere virtualization platform that creates a “cluster” of ESXi hosts and provides automatic detection & recovery from host failures.

Next, you will need to configure the servers and software to work together. This includes configuring how resources are shared and how failover works. 

Once everything is configured, you will have a working server cluster. 

Overview of Server Clusters

When setting up a server cluster, it is important to consider the hardware requirements, the software requirements, and the networking configuration. 

The hardware requirements for a server cluster will vary depending on the number of servers in the cluster and the workloads that they will be running. 

In general, each server in a cluster should have its own CPU, memory, storage, and network interface card (NIC). 

If the workloads are not too demanding, it is possible to use lower-end hardware such as Intel Atom or AMD Opteron processors. For more demanding workloads, higher-end CPUs such as Intel Xeon or AMD EPYC may be required. 

Memory requirements will also depend on the nature of the workloads. For example, if the servers are going to be used for web serving then 4 GB of RAM per server may suffice. 

If however, you are planning to run database applications then 32 GB or more per server may be necessary. Storage needs will also vary depending on what type of data is being stored and how much space is required. 

The software requirements will also vary depending on the operating system and applications that need to be supported. The networking configuration must take into account the communication needs of the servers in the cluster as well as any load balancing or failover requirements. 

Planning a Server Cluster 

Cluster planning involves figuring out the best way to deploy and configure the servers, storage, and networking components to meet your needs.

There are several things to consider when planning a server cluster, such as what type of workloads the cluster will need to support, how much storage and compute capacity is required, and what level of redundancy is needed. 

The first step is to determine the requirements for the cluster. Next, you need to select the right hardware and software components. Finally, you need to configure the cluster and test it before putting it into production.

One of the most important aspects of planning a server cluster is determining the right level of redundancy. This means having enough spare capacity so that if one component fails, there is still enough capacity remaining to keep the system running. 

There are several factors to consider when planning for redundancy: 

  • Component reliability: Some components, such as hard drives, are more likely to fail than others. When selecting components for a cluster, it is important to choose ones with a high degree of reliability. 
  • Capacity utilization: If the system is running at or near capacity, then there is less room for error and any component failure will have a greater impact. It is important to leave some headroom in the system so that if one component fails, the other components can still handle the load. 
  • Workload characteristics: Some workloads are more tolerant of failures than others. For example, database applications often have built-in mechanisms for replicating data across multiple servers so that if one server goes down, the others can pick up the slack. Other workloads, such as web servers, may not be able to tolerate even a brief outage. 

After you have considered the factors above, you need to decide how much capacity is required for the cluster. This will depend on the type of workloads that are running on the cluster and the acceptable level of downtime. 

Once you have determined the capacity requirements, you can select the hardware and software components needed to build the cluster. 

Now that you have selected all of the necessary components, it is time to configure them. 

The configuration will vary depending on what type of clustering technology you are using (e.,g., Microsoft Cluster Server or Veritas Cluster Server). 

After configuring everything, it is crucial to test your work by simulating various failure scenarios before puttingthe server into production.

Summary and Conclusions

As server clusters become more popular, it is important to know how to set them up properly. 

And clusters are often used to provide failover in the event of a server failure, as well as to improve performance by spreading the load across multiple servers.

There are two main types of server clusters: active-active and active-passive. In an active-active cluster, all servers are used simultaneously and share the workload equally. In an active-passive cluster, one server is designated as the primary server, while the other servers stand by in case of failure.

When setting up a server cluster, it is important to consider factors such as network configuration, storage configuration, and application compatibility. 

Learn more about our server cluster here.


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