What is a server and what do servers do?


The servers are high power computers designed to store, process and manage network data, devices and systems. From a bird’s-eye perspective, servers are the engines that power organizations by providing network devices and systems with adequate resources. For businesses, servers provide essential scalability, efficiency, and business continuity capabilities to businesses.

Whether it’s hosting a data-rich website, setting up a shared drive for a service, or handling thousands of requests every minute, servers are the vehicles of intensive hosting and processing workloads that exceed the capabilities of a traditional computer.

This article examines what servers do, the types of servers, the different server structures, and the operating systems (OS) used by the servers.

What does a server do?

Servers can do everything a standard desktop computer can do and more. Vice versa, computers can run server processes, but do so much less productively. Typically, servers provide the following functionality to the networks they serve:

  • Scalability to serve an increasing or fluctuating number of devices, users and workloads
  • High processing power with increasing CPU and RAM specifications to handle network workloads
  • Reliability to ensure critical systems stay online and available
  • Collaboration between staff with access to shared network resources
  • Cost savings over time, as servers can reduce stress on network devices

The client-server model

Servers that provide power to other devices on the network are called host servers. Network devices receiving resources from the host server are called clients. The following graphic provides a quick overview of how servers and clients operate within a network.

Designed by Sam Ingalls. © ServerWatch 2021.

Types of servers

File server

Used to store files and folders, file servers back up company data and make it accessible to networks. Examples include XMB, NFS, and NAS.

Domain controller

Founder of networks, domain controllers store the Active Directory and AD tools to manage users, permissions, devices, and group policies.

Dns server

Adjacent to the domain controller, Domain name service Servers (DNS) resolve the conversion of names to IP addresses for network systems.

Check out our Best server management software and tools for 2021.

DHCP server

A Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol The (DHCP) server automatically assigns the router, gateway address, DNS address, and IP address data to network devices.

Web server

Imperative to web development, a Web server hosts websites on the internet. It acts as an intermediary between users and the main database of the website.

Application server

Similar to a web server but designed to store application data, application servers host third-party applications and applications developed in-house for corporate use.

Read more: Web servers vs application servers.

Database server

Serve as a data repository, database servers Host the website and application information accessible through front-end user queries. (for example, SQL, Oracle, MySQL)

Server backup

Servers capable of receiving, holding, and restoring large amounts of network storage are referred to as server backups. They help organizations prepare for the worst-case scenario.

Patch server

The larger your network, the more likely you are to need a update server (or patch server) dedicated to deploying updates. Patches resolve bugs and vulnerabilities and provide new functionality for applications.

Proxy server

Software or hardware proxy servers are responsible for filtering communications between web clients and service providers.

Virtual server

Innovation in virtualization enables the creation of multiple Virtual servers, also known as virtual machines (VM), on a single physical host machine via a hypervisor.

Phone server

Connection to a private branch exchange (PDX), a phone server (or VoIP server) activates telephone switching devices for the management of Internet telephony networks.

Printer server

For organizations with multiple sites or high printing needs, print servers manage the queue, resources and logistics of network printers.

Mail server

Less frequent due to cloud solutions, mail servers host the messaging data. Examples of mail servers include SMTP relay or Microsoft Exchange Server.

Ftp server

A File transfer protocol (FTP) – and its encrypted brother Secure Shell (SSH), a Secure FTP (SFTP) server – is used to store files accessible to an external company.

Monitoring server

A monitoring server manages the work of analyzing the network and monitoring the health of the equipment, as well as specifications such as processor, RAM and hardware space.

CCTV server

Closed circuit television (CCTV) servers or building security the servers store audio, video and sensor data related to the physical security of the organization’s premises.

Main server

A Main server or remote desktop server allows remote users to access network resources for business continuity.

Load balancing server

For websites, applications and software with variable and intensive workloads, load balancing servers can reassign requests between other servers.

Check out our top picks for Best load balancers of 2021.

Types of server form factors

Servers come in all shapes, sizes, and designs. However, the structure or form factor of servers generally fall into three types.

Rack servers

A rack server is a versatile, mountable, rectangular machine that stacks neatly in metal rack frames, optimizing the use of space.

To see the Best rack servers of 2021.

Blade servers

A blade server houses several modular circuit boards called blades that do not need processors, network controllers, and memory while also fitting into a rack frame.

To see the Best blade servers for 2021.

Tower servers

A tower server is a lightweight, stand-alone chassis most used by home and small businesses due to its powerful configuration and customization features.

For a full breakdown of how servers differ by structure, read our Guide to. Blade servers vs rack servers vs tower servers.

Server operating systems

Server Operating systems (OS) are the basic programs that activate all the functionality of the server. Server operating systems must be able to handle:

  • Provide command level interface (CLI) and / or GUI display
  • Comprehensive user, security and process management
  • Advanced hardware, software and network configuration
  • Management and monitoring of client computers, software and activity
  • Installation and deployment of applications and patches on clients

Types of OS server

Learn more about the most popular operating system for servers in our Best Linux Server Distributions for 2021.

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