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What is a Network Server?

Servers generally have more RAM than workstations.
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  • Written By: J. Stanley
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 17 March 2014
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A network server is a computer that provides various shared resources to workstations and other servers on a computer network. The shared resources can include disk space, hardware access, and email services. Any computer can be a “network server.” What separates a server from a workstation is not the hardware, but rather the function performed by the computer. In general, a workstation is any computer used by an individual person to perform his or her job duties, while a network server is any computer that provides users with access to shared software or hardware resources.

That said, servers are usually built with more powerful components than individual workstations. For example, a server will usually have more random access memory (RAM) installed than a workstation, or use a more robust operating system (OS). While this may increase the price of the server relative to a single workstation, the overall cost can be significantly lower to an organization.

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In addition to the shared services these computers provide, network servers also help simplify the management tasks for network and systems administrators. By centrally locating these services on a single computer rather than on each workstation, configuration changes and security updates need only be applied to the network server rather than to hundreds of individual workstations. For example, one common function of network servers is to provide access to printers across the network. Workstations accessing these printers obtain the necessary software from the network server. If an updated version of that software becomes available, network administrators only need to apply the update to the server.

One network server may also serve different roles. The print server mentioned above may also be a file server and a domain name service (DNS) server. Other typical roles include mail server and authentication server.

File servers provide a centrally-located pool of disk space for network users to store and share various documents. These servers help organizations maintain single versions of files across departments and simplify administration. Because all the data is stored in one location, administrators need only backup files from one computer.

Print servers allow organizations to share a single printer, preventing the need for each individual workstation to have its own printer. A mail server provides email services to computers on the network. Authentication servers give networks a centrally located database for storing account and password information, thereby allowing users to logon at any computer on the network.

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Discuss this Article

summertime
Post 4

I think the single most misunderstood and under appreciated computer network server is that of the domain network server. These domain name servers are what allow us to use a simple domain name in our browsers to find a website. If we did not have these kinds of domain servers then we would be stuck in the problem of entering massive ip address numbers to connect to the server we are trying to get information from.

These domain name servers are basically big indexing services that provide a number based ip address in exchange for a domain name. Most people use these everyday without even realizing it. Even if you are not a fan of using computers and don't know how to surf the internet, you use domain servers in your everyday functions. If you go to the store and use a type of credit or debit card to make a transaction then the electronic terminal that is used will often connect to your bank's servers to verify that you have the means to make the transaction. Often these server connections to your bank will use a domain name in addition to specific IP addresses.

youbiKan
Post 3

As a computer technician I have been responsible for the network server configuration in a variety of circumstances and situations. I can tell you that it is vital to the proper function of a network to have the server that is providing services operate properly. When there is a server failure, it often can mean that the entire network is not able to operate properly. This is a major issue if the functions of the network mean your business is not able to continue making money.

Many people disregard the importance of network servers because they never actually understand how the operation of the server helps them complete the task they are charged with.

May I make the suggestion that you always appreciate the hard work that your local computer tech provides for you.

MrPolitic99
Post 2

@fitness234 is right about the use of e-mail servers and how people really don't understand the effort and incredible technology that stand behind the networks that we use everyday.

Another example of this would be the network print server. These devices are what allow a whole network group to share the services of an output printer. Only when we have that print server fail do we realize just how valuable it can be. If you are at work and the completion of a job requires the printing of physical papers, you can be left out in the rain if the network server fails to connect your computer to the printer.

Often these types of network print servers are included as software in the operating systems of servers as well as desktop computers. For instance. A Microsoft Windows XP network server has the built incapability to share a printer over a network. While it may not seem like a server, your computer running an operating system like Windows XP means that you have the capability of serving that printer to the rest of the computers connected to yours via a local or wide area network.

Some of these network print servers are not even an actual computer but rather a small device that connects via a wired ethernet connection or through a wireless access point and have a Universal Serial Bus connection port that the printer can plug into. This is a great solution for anyone seeking to hook up a printer on their network where a computer is not available or perhaps you do not want to have a computer running full time to just act as a print server.

fitness234
Post 1

There are so many network server types that help us everyday but I think one that is undervalued is the e-mail servers that help us communicate with friends and loved ones on a daily basis. When we hit that send button, I don't think that it occurs to most of us just how we are able to shoot that digital text over to our buddies. If you also include and attachment, the process becomes much more complicated but even more useful.

From the personal and professional application that e-mail has, the e-mail network server stands behind us all. These servers of course have a dark side as well if you are not careful. While many legitimate businesses operate legal and helpful e-mail servers, there are also malicious organizations and individuals out there that will use e-mail servers as a means to spread spam advertisements and harmful viruses.

It is important to always trust the sender of an e-mail that contains attachments that have the potential to carry a virus. Even if the sender is a friend, it is possible that their computer is infecting all of the files that they are sending to people without them noticing. This is one of the most dangerous ways that malicious viruses and other spyware applications are spread around the internet.

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