We all know what a server is, right? For the most part (given you’re reading this blog) we all understand that servers provide access to files, applications, and devices to many different users or computers on a network. Web servers, for example, hold the files that make up a web site and “serve” or give out those files. Some users, such as web site visitors, only get read-only access. While others, such as those with FTP access, get read and write access. Print servers on the other hand, provide networked computers access to a printer.
What Separates a Server from a Computer?
To be clear, servers are computers that are set up for a specific purpose. You can use any computer as a server. In information technology, a server is a computer program that provides services to other computer programs and their users in the same or other computers. Most often we call the computer that a server program runs on the “server.” For example, if you have a USB printer attached to your computer, and you configure it to be shared to other computers on your network, your computer will run a small print server program that allows other users on other computers to connect to that printer. You can similarly share files and documents.
File Servers for the Home and Home Office
The most common use of servers in the home is as a file server. If this server is particularly home-theater oriented, it may be referred to as a media server. These simple machines allow any device on your network to access centrally located media files like music, movies and photos. This way you don’t have to bother with transferring them from computer to computer and making sure the libraries are synced. You may use a DLNA-compliant UPnP media server program to share files with your other devices. The terms DLNA and UPnP are standards that allow other devices to understand how to access the files on your server. For example you may use such a program to share files from your computer to your PS4 or Xbox One. Most HTPCs are used as home media servers.
Enterprise server systems are a combination of specialized hardware and software to accomplish specific tasks. Some server computers have dozens of hard drives and just a few processors and are used for file storage, while others have dozens of individual computers with their own drives and processors that are used for distributed computing. If a company has a centralized database, that database is run by a server. Another common use for servers in enterprises is application virtualization, where a server runs an application and presents it to the client as if that application is running on their own computer. Among other benefits, this makes it easier to maintain that application. Even small businesses often have dedicated server rooms full of rackmount servers.