What is a Server?

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What is a Server?

You interact with a server each time you browse the web, but have you ever wondered exactly, what is a server?

The definition of a server is a computer or system that manages and distributes network resources. It is designed to process requests and deliver data to other computers, known as clients, over a local network or the internet.

Servers facilitate connections between multiple computers, granting them access to necessary resources such as business files. The relationship between servers and clients can be flexible, with a single server managing multiple clients or a single client utilizing multiple servers, depending on the network configuration.

How does a Server Work?

A server is a dedicated computer system that responds to requests across a network to provide, or "serve," data. It's a powerhouse of processing capability and storage, designed to deliver network services.

A server’s definition extends beyond just hardware. It also refers to the software that makes the process of serving information possible. This software allows the server to host websites, manage emails, store databases, and so much more.

Servers for Small Business

Servers are an integral part of the tech stack for any small business. These high-powered computers are designed to help your company process and manage devices, network data, and other information systems.

Physical servers are kept at your business location, and they can be upgraded or customized to meet your specific needs. So, what exactly can these machines do?

For starters, they can help you host a website that requires a large amount of data or establish a shared drive for your employees. A server hosts and processes intensive workloads that a traditional computer would not be able to handle.

Think of them as the framework that powers your organization and its network. Without the resources that servers provide, it would be nearly impossible to maximize scalability and efficiency. They are a critical component of a solid business continuity plan.

The boosted RAM and CPU power allow small businesses to manage growing network workloads while ensuring that systems are online and available when needed the most. Small businesses can also save money in the long run by investing in servers since they reduce the stress placed on network devices.

Key Components of a Server

Now that we've understand the basic concept and importance of servers, let's examine the key components that make a server.

Processor

The processor, also known as the CPU (Central Processing Unit), serves as the engine of a server. The speed of data processing, and in turn, both the speed and functionality of applications running on the server, hinge on the processor's capabilities and performance.

If you’re running resource-intensive applications or managing large volumes of data, a server with a high processing speed is essential. It keeps operations running smoothly, ensures real-time data processing and supports scalable growth.

RAM

RAM, or random access memory, is a type of computer memory that is used to store data that is currently being used or processed by a computer's CPU. Once the power is off, the data stored in RAM is lost. This is why it's used for temporary storage of data that's actively being used or processed.

The importance of RAM in a server lies in its ability to provide quick read and write access to a device's processor. For instance, when a server is handling multiple requests from different users, it needs to be able to quickly process and deliver the requested data. Having a large amount of RAM allows the server to store more data in a "ready-to-be-accessed" state, making the server more efficient and responsive.

Storage

Storage determines how much data a server can hold, process, and manage. It is the component of the server where all the data is stored and retrieved from. Types of storage used include traditional HDDs (hard dick drives) faster SSDs, (solid state drives) and the latest NVMe ( Non-Volatile Memory Express) technology.

HDDs are the conventional choice, being budget-friendly but slower. SSDs offer quicker data access and higher reliability but at a higher cost. NVMe provides extreme speed by connecting directly to the system’s motherboard, reducing latency.

In a server environment, the storage system often consists of multiple drives working together in what is known as a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) setup. RAID not only increases storage capacity and performance but also provides data redundancy, protecting against data loss in case of a drive failure.

Bandwidth

Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be transferred between the server and the client within a set timeframe. Higher bandwidth leads to faster data handling, which in turn results in faster load times. This is a crucial factor in determining server performance and ultimately contributes to an improved user experience.

Generally, bandwidth is shared among clients, meaning simultaneous access can reduce individual bandwidth and slow down data transfer speeds.

Types of Servers

Just like there are different tools for different tasks in a toolbox, there are a variety of server types, each specifically designed to perform certain functions.  Let's take a closer look and understand their unique roles.

Web Server

Web servers host websites and make them accessible over the internet.

Mail Server

A mail server manages and transfers emails over the internet. For example, when you send an email, it's routed through a mail server before reaching the recipient.

Application Server

Application servers provide a network-accessible environment for hosting software programs. For instance, you might use an application server to provide employees with access to a shared calendar program.

Database Server

A database server stores, retrieves, and manages data in a database. For example, an e-commerce site would use a database server to store product information and customer orders.

DNS Server

A DNS server translates domain names into IP addresses. For instance, when you type a website URL into your browser, a DNS server converts that URL into an IP address to locate the website.

Proxy Server

Acting as an intermediary, a proxy server filters requests between a client and another server. For example, it can provide an extra layer of security and privacy when browsing the web.

DHCP Server

A DHCP server is the gatekeeper of IP addresses, assigning them to devices on a network. For instance, it ensures your laptop has an IP address when you connect to your office WiFi.

File Server

It's the central storage unit for files, allowing users to store and access files remotely. For example, you might use a file server to store shared documents.

Gaming Server

Gaming servers host the virtual playgrounds for multiplayer online games. Without it, accessing your favorite online games and connecting with your gaming buddies wouldn’t be possible.

Print Server

A print server manages one or more printers in a network, allowing multiple users to share them without needing a direct connection. For instance, in an office setting, a print server can connect multiple computers to a single printer, streamlining the printing process and reducing hardware costs.

Key Features of Servers

Servers come packed with several key features that make them indispensable in the tech world. Let's understand these features:

Scalability

This refers to a server's ability to handle increasing workloads by adding resources. For instance, as your business grows, you can add more storage or processing power to your server without disrupting its operations.

High Processing Power

Servers are equipped with powerful processors that can handle complex computations and manage large amounts of data, ensuring smooth and efficient operations.

Reliability

Designed to run continuously without failure, servers often come with redundancy features, like backup power supplies and hard drives. This will ensure they stay up and running, even in the event of a hardware failure.

Better Collaboration

Providing a centralized platform where users can pool resources and collaborate efficiently, servers make teamwork easier, irrespective of geographical locations.

Cost Efficiency

While servers might seem expensive initially, they can save money in the long run by centralizing resources. This reduces the need for multiple devices and systems, leading to lower maintenance and hardware costs.

Security from Cyberattacks

Equipped with advanced security features, secure servers provide protection against cyber threats. These include firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and encryption tools that ensure the safety of your data.

Three Types of Servers

There are three different types of servers - rack, tower, and blade. The best server for your business will depend on your needs. Here is a quick rundown of each server type, including how they work and what makes them unique:

Rack Server

A rack mount server is a general-purpose option that can be neatly stacked into a metal frame. These mountable and rectangular machines can provide computing power for your business and support your network - while still optimizing space usage.

Rack servers are just what they sound like, hardware that is mounted inside a rack. They are some of the top solutions for server reliability, as they can support a broad range of computing infrastructure and applications.

Each rack server is stacked vertically in a metal frame to help your business save floor space in your data center. Think about it this way – the more equipment you can stack, the more you can house on-site.

Rack servers are standardized and measured in units. That means you can choose heights that range from 1U to 10U or higher. These racks can also hold other devices, so you never have to worry about wasted space.

What are the benefits of rack servers?

Each rack server is self-contained, so it has everything you need to run as a networked or stand-alone system. They have their own memory, CPU, and power source, so they are perfect for running intensive computing operations.

This server solution is also very efficient and can be expanded to add additional processors, storage, or memory. If you need to hot-swap rack servers for redundancy and backups, it's very simple to manage as well.

Tower Server

Tower servers are the most common choice for small businesses and individuals. They have a stand-alone chassis design and are incredibly lightweight. Similarly, they are easy to configure and are designed for customization and to accomplish specific tasks, so they only include minimal components. making them ideal for use as a small office server.

You won’t get high RAM or graphics cards with a standard tower server, but you can choose to update these peripherals later. That means if you want to use your tower servers for general-purpose needs first, then upgrade them to serve as communication, web, or network servers.

These systems look like desktop towers so you can store them in a similar matter. Each will require its own monitor, keyboard, and mouse since they do not share input devices. Unlike rack servers, they do not stack in a metal frame. You must open each enclosure to work on these servers, and they will take up more space in your data center.

What are the benefits of tower servers?

There are many benefits to tower servers, including efficient scalability and lowered cooling costs. Since tower servers are minimally equipped when you buy them, you can choose how to upgrade them moving forward. That also means they are less expensive than a fully loaded server.

Rack servers are densely packed and require more effort to eliminate heat so tower servers can save you money in the long run.

Blade Server

Another type of server is a blade server. These unique devices house multiple modular circuit boards, and each one is called a blade. They are often considered the best servers for small businesses since they don’t require memory, CPUs, or network controllers. Blade servers can also fit within a rack frame.

Blade servers refer to enclosures that hold multiple modular circuit boards. Each of these circuit boards is called a server blade, and most of them are just memory, CPUs, and network controllers.

You can find some options with internal storage drives, but all other components like switches and ports are shared through the chassis. They generally fit rack unit measurements so you can store them in a manner very similar to rack servers.

What are the benefits of blade servers?

These systems have impressive processing power but do not take up a lot of space. This sets it apart from rack and tower servers, which can eat up the real estate in your data center rather quickly. Additionally, the chassis can supply power to multiple blade servers which can reduce your energy spend.

In other words, when you compare blade servers to other options, you get more processing power for less space and energy consumption.

With blade servers, maintenance and centralized monitoring are simplified. You can leverage hot swapping to boost system availability, so your business can keep operating.

How a Server Helps a Small Business

Servers are key to the success of small businesses. While you may get away with running your company on one or two computers at the start, it is not feasible to grow and scale your operations without servers.

Once you start hiring more employees or move into a larger facility, you will need a way to manage your data safely and efficiently. Transferring files via email or USB drive not only increases your security risks but also slows down your processes. You don't want files to be accidentally lost or fall into the wrong hands!

With a server, you can seamlessly store and share files. Likewise, you can use them to host your email, E-commerce store, SaaS software, accounting systems, and more. They work like a data center that ensures you always have a secure connection to the files you need to run your business.

Servers are also important for small businesses because they allow them to back up important information. Storing your data on a server ensures that you won’t lose valuable details if there is a hardware failure elsewhere.

You may be wondering - why should you invest in the best server for small businesses instead of placing your detain the cloud or another company’s machine?

One of the main reasons that your company should consider investing in a rack mount server or similar solution is that it increases your security. These devices have built-in protection like firewalls that prevent unauthorized users from accessing your data.

Additionally, since you have control over the server at your physical location, you can also implement your own security standards. For example, you can determine which employees will have administrative access and don’t have to worry about other companies sharing that space on a cloud platform.

Plus, even if your internet service goes down, you can still use your servers and access critical files.

Remember that it's always best to have data on your machines – it allows you to keep that data secured and eliminate your reliance on the internet.

At Lenovo, we have small office server systems that can help your business scale and grow. Our server deals mean that you don’t have to go over budget to implement the tech stack you need. Whether you need a rack, blade, or tower server, we have you covered.  Get more of your server questions answered when you check our small business server buying guide.  And for even more support for your small business needs, sign up for a free membership to Lenovo Pro.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a network and a server?

A network refers to the interconnected system of devices such as computers, printers, and routers that are linked to communicate and share resources. On the other hand, a server is a specific device or computer within that network that provides services, like data storage or resource sharing, to other computers in the network, known as clients.

What are three functions of a server?

While servers might seem complex, fundamentally, a server performs three primary functions.

Storing Data

A server acts as a central repository where data is stored securely and efficiently. This allows for easy access and retrieval of data when needed. 

Sending Data

Servers are also responsible for sending data to connected clients or systems. This could be in the form of serving up a website to a user's browser or sending files to another computer on the network. 

Receiving Data

Lastly, servers receive data from various sources. This could be data input from users, data from other servers, or data from applications. The server processes this received data for storage or to be used in various operations.

What are the four important components of a server?

Processor
The processor, or CPU, is the server's engine. It determines data processing speed, impacting the speed and functionality of applications. A high-speed processor is vital for businesses running resource-intensive applications or managing large data volumes.

RAM (random access memory)
RAM is a type of computer memory used for temporary storage of actively used data. It provides quick read and write access to a device's processor. Large RAM allows the server to store more data in a ready-to-access state, enhancing efficiency and responsiveness.

Storage
Storage is where a server's data is held, processed, and managed. It can range from traditional HDDs to faster SSDs and cutting-edge NVMe technology. Servers often use a RAID setup for increased storage capacity, performance, and data redundancy in case of failures.

Bandwidth
Bandwidth is the data transfer capacity between the server and client. Higher bandwidth results in faster data handling and quicker load times, improving server performance and user experience.

What is a server in networking?

In networking, a server is a computer or system that manages network resources and services. It is designed to process requests and deliver data to other computers, known as clients, over a local network or the internet.

They play a crucial role in managing network resources, including file and data storage, device and user access control, network traffic management, and the running of applications and services.

What is the use of a server?

A server is primarily used to manage network resources. It is often used as a central server that hosts files and applications in an office network, but can also function as a dedicated server carrying out tasks like hosting websites, managing emails, storing centralized data, and running enterprise applications. It also holds key roles in enhancing data security, improving collaboration and productivity, and ensuring seamless connectivity in a network ecosystem.

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