What is Server Clustering & How Does it Work? + 3 Main Benefits

what is server clustering

High server uptime is a necessity for any business that offers online services.

That’s because downtime can wreak havoc on your business, resulting in disappointed clients, revenue loss, and a damaged reputation.

For this reason, you might want to consider investing in server clusters to improve the uptime of your hosted web services.

Want to find out what other benefits you can get by using a server cluster? Read along and learn all about server clusters!

Key Takeaways

  • A server cluster is a group of servers working simultaneously as a single hosting solution under the same IP address and host name.
  • They provide increased availability, failover protection, and scalability.
  • There are three types of server clusters:
    • Single quorum cluster
    • Majority node set cluster
    • Single node cluster

What is a Server Cluster?

A server cluster is a group of several servers that work together as a single hosting solution under the same IP address and host name.

By grouping multiple servers, server clusters minimize downtime and service outages by distributing the load of tasks across the servers.

Such architecture, also called a high availability cluster, ensures high server uptime and high-quality performance regardless of the requests load.

What’s more, server clusters support your business growth by enabling scalability for your hosted services.

Depending on the server type, scaling can be either automatic (using cloud servers) or manual (using other types of servers).

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What is Server Clustering

How Do Server Clusters Work?

Here’s how service clusters work:

Each dedicated server within a server cluster is a node with its separate properties, such as a hard drive, RAM, and CPU. As such, each server node controls its devices, while at the same time maintaining a copy of the server cluster’s operating system, services, and applications.

At any given time, only one node within a server cluster is operating, while others are on a stand-by mode. In case an active node fails to serve a request, the server cluster redistributes the workload amongst the other nodes. Thanks to this feature, users experience no downtime while using your website or app but your server is busy.

The immediate switchover between server nodes is made possible by a quorum, which is a shared storage system used by all nodes in a server cluster. Typically, the quorum holds information on the server cluster infrastructure and tracks new changes.

In short, all nodes within a server cluster are programmed to collaborate. As such, server clusters help to avoid downtime by balancing the workload amongst several nodes.

3 Main Benefits of Using Server Clusters

The three main benefits of server clusters include increased availability, failover protection, and scalability.

Let’s take a detailed look at each of them:

#1. Increased Availability

High-availability server clusters offer increased availability for your hosted services by sending user requests to different nodes if one node is already busy.

So, for example, if you’re hosting a web app on a single server and it’s busy serving another host, you’ll have to wait until the server is free to respond to your request.

However, a server cluster has multiple nodes available at once. So, if one node is busy, another node is able to serve your request.

As such, high-availability server clusters allow more people to use your website or web app at the same time.

#2. Failover Protection

Failover protection is crucial as it maximizes server reliability. As such, it prevents data loss and service outage due to hardware malfunctions, software failure, or other issues (e.g. power outages caused by natural disasters).

Simply put, failover clustering ensures that your services don’t shut down in case your server fails.

Instead, if one server node fails, another node immediately takes over the operations without causing any downtime. This feature is crucial as downtime can result in unsatisfied clients or even revenue loss.

With clustered servers, your data is protected against three main types of outages, including:

Application (Service) Failures

Application/service failures are all considered to be events in which critical errors occur in software or services that are fundamental to the operation of the data center or server. These issues can be caused by numerous factors, many of which are hard to predict and prepare for.

As server monitoring is complex, no server admin can pinpoint and resolve these potential issues before they cause an outage. 

A proactive and skilled server administrator can identify and address such an issue before it becomes a problem, but they still can’t protect the server against this type of failure.

Hardware (System) Failures

This type of outage occurs because of physical hardware failures on which the server is running. These outages can affect every type of component that’s crucial to the functionality of a server.

Hardware failures can occur for numerous reasons, but they’re mostly a result of poor optimization, overheating, or the component reaching the end of its lifespan.

Even though no hardware component is immune to failure, here are the ones most prone to issues:

  • CPUs
  • Hard drives
  • Power supplies
  • Physical memory

Site Failures

Most of the time, site failures are events that occur at the data center location, such as natural disasters that can cause widespread power outages (e.g., floods, fires, etc.).

Even though natural disasters cannot be avoided by anything other than careful selection of the site location, the complications of those caused by power outages can be mitigated with server clusters. That’s why server clusters are crucial for data centers and servers located in areas prone to natural disasters.

#3. Scalability

Whether you’re hosting a web application or a website, you might eventually outgrow your hosting solution and need more computing power.

This leads you to two options:

Server clusters give you tons of room to grow by allowing you to easily scale your hosted web services.

As such, using a server cluster enables you to have more content onto your website, upgrade your web application with more services, and more.

3 Types of Server Clusters

What is Server Clustering

Based on how nodes are connected to the device that stores configuration data, server clusters fall into one of three types:

#1. Single Quorum Cluster

Also called the standard quorum cluster, a single quorum cluster is the most popular server cluster type.

This type of server cluster has several nodes with one or multiple cluster storage arrays that utilize a single connection device such as a bus.

All cluster disks arrays are managed and owned by a single server within the server cluster and each node notifies the central bus that it’s online and uncompromised.

The system that determines if each cluster is online and functional is called the titular quorum.

As long as more than 50% of the nodes in a single quorum cluster are functional and online, the cluster keeps operating. If not, the server cluster stops working until individual nodes are fixed.

#2. Majority Node Set Cluster

Majority node set clusters are most often used for server clusters that have server nodes located in several different geographic locations.

That’s because, in this server cluster type, each node owns and manages its copy of the cluster’s configuration data. With the help of quorum resources, this data stays consistent across all nodes.

Unlike in single quorum clusters, in majority node set clusters each node stores a copy of the quorum locally, so this server cluster type doesn’t need a shared storage bus to be functional, allowing more flexibility for remote server configuration.

#3. Single Node Cluster

Single node clusters contain a single node and are typically used for testing, developing, and researching cluster applications.

Single node clusters are rarely used outside of these circumstances. They are heavily limited due to the lack of failover protection, since the failure of one node disrupts the whole cluster.

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Managed Hosting FAQ

#1. What is meant by a cluster of servers?

A cluster is a group of servers working together as a single system that enables high server availability, load balancing, and parallel processing.

#2. What is a node?

A node is an individual server in a server cluster. It operates as part of the server cluster. Nodes can either be physical or virtual instances of a server.

#3. How many servers are in a cluster?

A cluster can consist of at least two servers, also known as a two-node cluster. However, you can add as many servers as you need in a cluster.

#4. What is the purpose of failover clustering?

Failover clustering exists to maintain the high availability of web applications and services. Failover clustering is used in case one of the hosting servers, or nodes, fails, as another node in the cluster can take its workload without causing downtime.

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