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Web server management best practices and essential features

There are a lot of tools on the market for web-based server management. To find the best product, look for functions that automate workflows and add security.

Web server management software must support a fully virtualized or cloud platform, multiple websites across the platform, and it must meet business needs. But finding a tool that ticks all those boxes is no easy task.

The main components of any web server management software are file management, log file aggregation, reporting and full audit capabilities.

The software should also have an easy-to-use single view of what is happening across the environment. This includes color-coding options to show issues and tools to identify root causes.

Getting started

To ensure optimal performance, the software should provide a step-by-step setup wizard that takes key information and combines it with system-wide context.

Then, automation can install all the plug-ins to manage the overall web server platform. This part ensures that IP addresses and domain name system entries are set up correctly.

Wherever possible, the software should automate problem remediation, direct events to software that can deal with the problem or raise exceptions so you can take manual action. This requires full integration through help desk, support systems and trouble ticketing support.

The software should also have an easy-to-use single view of what is happening across the environment.

What functions does web server management software need?

When you're weighing web server management tools, some important functions and features to consider are:

Automation of basic tasks. Web server management tools should offer a simple way to add, change and delete users and associated resources, such as email, FTP accounts, and storage and throughput quotas. You should also determine how easy it is to set up new websites and subdomain sites on the web platform.

Security management tools. The software must deal with security certificate management, particularly Secure Shell certificates.

Full support for containers. Support for containers is a necessity. Docker support will be easy to come by, but you should look for programs that can support other container systems, such as rkt and LXC/LXD. Additionally, support must extend beyond pushing these containers onto the web server platform; the web server monitoring tool should track microservice-level activity.

Although it is unlikely that full management -- such as root cause analysis and container updates -- is an option in most basic web server management tools, look for software that can link effectively to full container management software.

Extensibility for new capabilities. Ensure the software can easily add functions and is compatible with version updates. Extensions should support WordPress, Drupal, web-based applications and development environments.

Database management. Most websites have at least one database associated with them, so the web management software you choose must be able to monitor and manage MySQL, PostgreSQL and other database formats.

There are plenty of open source and commercial software options available, including cPanel, Web Host Manager and Plesk. Plesk has full support for Windows and Linux as the base environment, whereas cPanel is Linux only.

Other options for Linux are DirectAdmin, CentOS Web Panel, ISPConfig and Sentora.

For those looking for a Windows web server management system, options are limited. ZPanel, H-Sphere and vDeck all offer Windows web support, but they have out-of-date support and known security issues. However, Webmin offers partial Windows support.

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