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 e-mail services. It’s usually the case that almost 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 a specific job or list of personal goals, while a server is a computer that provides users with access to shared software or hardware resources. It’s often the case that this sharing happens over the Internet, but not always. So long as all of the machines are connected or “networked” with each other in some capacity the server will be able to function.
The basic idea behind any computer network is simplification: simplification of data, of communication, and of information on a broad scale. Most networks are able to accommodate a number of different devices. Computers tend to be the most common, but tablets, smart phones, and even some other devices like televisions and Internet-based radio receivers can be attached to each other with the proper hardware. The network has to originate somewhere, though, and the data that both facilitates and supports the interconnectivity has to be physically located in some specific locale. In most instances this is the network server.
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It’s often possible to buy dedicated servers, which are small machines whose entire purpose is interconnectivity and routing. Almost any device can be programmed to work this way, though. That said, it’s important to note that servers are usually built with more powerful components than individual workstations, at least in the beginning. For example, a server will usually have more random access memory (RAM) installed than a standard desktop computer will, and it will also likely 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 when efficiency gains are factored in.
In addition to the shared services servers provide, they may also help simplify the management tasks for network and systems administrators. By centrally locating these services on a single hard drive rather than on each workstation, configuration changes and security updates usually only have to be applied to the network server once — which can save a lot of energy, particularly in organizations with hundreds of employees running numerous linked devices. Network administrators can save themselves a lot of trouble by installing updates for things like printer software and virus security patches just once, then letting the server automatically impart those changes to all connected machines.
Role in Information Simplification
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 can simplify administration. When all the data is stored in one location, administrators need only backup files from one computer, which can often save both time and headaches should things fail to load properly or update inconsistently across employee platforms.
Other Services Performed
Single servers are usually programmed to play various roles depending on the needs of the organization. Linked print and e-mail functions are some of the most common, and also some of the most valuable. Print servers allow organizations to share a single printer, preventing the need for each individual workstation to have its own printer. Mail servers provides e-mail services to computers on the network, and also usually provide for storage and tracking of messages that have been both sent and received.
File servers frequently also act as domain name service (DNS) servers, which relates to web hosting and the establishment of a unique Internet domain. Authentication servers are also somewhat common. These give networks a centrally located database for storing account and password information, thereby allowing users to logon at any computer, tablet, or linked phone on the network.