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What's a Server & What Do They Do?

What’s a server? What do they do? Why would anybody need one? Today we’d like to give a brief rundown of what a server is in its simplest sense.

When one thinks of a computer server, the first picture that comes to many minds is that of a sprawling data center floor with racks upon racks of equipment. This isn’t necessarily the case as far as households and small businesses go. Often times a single network-connected system is all that’s needed to effectively manage your organization’s data and other resources. But what exactly would such a system do?

Servers often utilized specialized operating systems that prioritize performance and scalability. On top of that operating system runs the key services that you’ll provide to your network. The list of possible services a computer server can offer are numerous, however we’ve listed a few for example: printer sharing, file sharing, automated network backups, a mail server, an HTTP server for hosting websites, distributed rendering of graphically intensive projects, and much more! Many of these programs can be run on an average desktop if your hardware needs are rather basic, however, a large organization will require a strong backbone of hardware that’s ready to take on a load that a handful of desktop PCs simply cannot. Pictured below is a simple client-server network with a single computer server directing traffic between the network’s clients (the workstations) and the network’s shared resources (the printer, scanner, and potentially shared storage on the server itself).

As your business grows and its network becomes more complex, a single run of the mill desktop can quickly become overwhelmed. That is where specialized server solutions come into play. Dedicated server systems often feature dual power supplies, dual gigabit LAN adapters, multiple hard drive bays with some form of RAID configuration, as well as massively threaded server-grade processors for extreme multitasking. All these features are intended to make accessing data or processing a request as fast as possible with little down time should a hardware failure occur.

Now that we’ve more or less described what a server is and what one’s purpose would be in an organization. Let’s take a look at a couple of our own Altex server products and their capabilities and possible uses as a server for a growing business.

The first product we’ll look at the AES-P-3240 i3-based Pedestal server. This system looks much like a standard desktop, however, it’s built on top of Intel’s S1200BTL server board in order to provide Dual 1GB integrated LAN, additional RAID support, and ECC memory support. A step up from using a standard off-the-shelf home desktop, the AES-P-3240 is the optimal solution for small business that need basic server capabilities in a durable form-factor with stable operation. Our i3-based server also comes in a rack-mountable variety so that the server can be stored in a variety of server racks along with other networking equipment.

The next step up the server performance ladder would be something akin to our AES-1U-1245V2 Rack Mount Server. Powered by an Intel Xeon E3 1245v2 processor, the AES-1U-1245V2 is ready for intense multi-tasking. Intel Xeon processors will generally have more threads available for processing tasks as well as support for special enterprise features when compared to Intel’s Core line of processors which are generally meant for single user desktops. As you go further up the food chain in server technology, you’ll notice the same trend in redundancy and multi-tasking capability in order to handle greater network demands and limit the amount of downtime during maintenance.

Servers can be configured with a plethora of high-end components, ranging from 16 core, hyper-threaded processors, dual-processor capability, high capacity DDR4 RAM, optical networking solutions, and vast arrays of hard drives depending on the needs and budget of a particular organization, so oftentimes an organization will build their own custom server to fit their needs. At Altex, our own servers are built in-house by our skilled team of system builders. If you have any questions about building your own server or networking in general, feel free to stop by any of our 9 retail locations or contact us.