What Is a Server?

By Ty Arthur

If you have a medium- or large-sized network with many attached computers that must access the same files or programs repeatedly it may be in your best interest to set up a server designed to house the files in one location. Servers have many functions depending on what they need to be achieve but always have the common element of serving only one specific role over and over.

Function

A server is a specialized computer that has all of its processing and hard drive resources dedicated to one specific function, which it completes many times. You can use a server to regulate Internet traffic between all of the computers on your network, to store all of the important files that many computers need to use in one central place, or to let multiple computers access the same printer or scanner.

Features

Large numbers of computers in the same general area that are connected either by wireless means or through network cables can access the specific function that the server has been built to provide. You can purchase lower-end and less expensive computers for your network as the connected computers do not have to use as much of their own resources when accessing the server. Servers also allow many computers to access the same file or grouping of files when they are stored on a central server.

Types

Servers come in many varieties and have many capabilities. Any computer can potentially be a server as long as it has enough hard-drive space and a fast enough processor to handle all of the requests for information from the other connected computers. There are multiple operating systems for servers available in Linux, Mac and Windows forms. Nearly every computer manufacturer sells computers designed specifically to act as servers.

Considerations

You may not need a server for your network if you are only using a few computers or if all of those computers are capable of storing the files and accessing the programs they need on their own. You could also need multiple servers for the same function if you have a large network with dozens or hundreds of computers. Consider the function that the server is meant to fill when buying a computer as many servers need larger hard drives more than they need faster processors or extra RAM.

Warning

Servers can pose serious security risks to your network as they send and receive information from all of the attached computers. Be sure to have high-quality and up-to-date anti-virus spyware blocking, and firewall software on the server and all of the computers that use it. Keep your servers in a physically safe location such as a locked room so that it cannot be tampered with by unauthorized personnel.