What is a server?

At the most basic level, a server is a high-performance computer. As the name suggests, a computing server is designed specifically to ‘serve’ multiple users simultaneously.

There are several different types of servers that are used for a wide variety of applications. In this article we will explain what they do and why you might need one.

What is a server for?

Servers act as a central, shared computing resource that other computers can use to access data, applications and services. Servers are often used as a company file store, or to host specific applications, like email, CRM or games. 

Servers sit at the heart of most modern computing operations. Almost every company has at least one in some shape or form – and they are essential for powering cloud-based services too.

How is a computing server different from a regular computer?

Because there are larger demands on resources, server hardware tends to be of a higher specification than a desktop PC. It is not unusual for server hardware to have large amounts of RAM and storage, along with multiple server-class CPUs and high-bandwidth network adapters.

Server software and operating systems also tend to be different, specifically designed to support many concurrent users and to apply advanced sharing and security controls to protect operations. Server software applications are optimized to take advantage of the superior compute capabilities, allowing them to access and process more information more quickly.

Computing server hardware is also designed to offer superior uptime and reliability when compared to consumer-grade components. Often parts can be ‘hot-swapped’, replacing failed server components without powering the computer off or seriously affecting operations. However, computing servers also require additional skills and expertise to operate correctly. And they may well need specialist environmental controls, such as server room cooling, to protect the server hardware and server components from overheating.

Are all computing servers the same?

Server contents need to be carefully chosen to ensure optimal operation for the specified task. For example, a file server will have several large storage drives for storing and serving information; a gaming server will have ultra-fast network connectivity to reduce latency and ensure a superior playing experience; and a public cloud server will exist as part of a larger pool of resources that are shared between subscribers. As a result, some machines are better suited to certain tasks than others.

Server hardware also comes in various form factors according to your needs. Smaller, entry-level units often come in a standalone tower case that looks very similar to a standard PC; rack-mounted systems often contain very similar server components, but they are designed to be installed in space-optimized racks that allow you to fit more computing power into the physical constraints of your data center; and a blade server is the ultimate space saver, with a very small form factor - these systems slot into a rack-mounted chassis, allowing many more computing servers to be deployed per square foot of data center space.

What is a server?

What about virtual servers?

Historically, businesses would dedicate a server (or cluster of servers) to a specific task. Although optimized for their intended task, these computing servers rarely run at full capacity, meaning that much of the potential of the system, such as CPU cycles, is wasted. 

Virtualization offers a way to install multiple server ‘images’ on the same physical server hardware, maximizing the use of resources. Virtual server images run on a server virtualization layer, called a hypervisor, which segregates RAM and CPU cycles from the shared components inside the chassis. As an added benefit, virtual server images are fully portable, allowing you to move machines between physical hardware as and when required, creating additional resilience against failure of server components.

Cloud servers take the concept of virtualization to the next level, using thousands of physical computing servers to create a shared pool of computing resources. Subscribers can then build their own applications or server images on that virtualized layer.

What sort of server do I need?

As we’ve already discussed, the best computing servers are optimized for a specific application. This makes it impossible to simply name one as ‘the best’ because requirements vary from business to business. 

However, here are a few things to think about when deciding on what kind of computing server you need:

  • What role will this server play?

  • Are there specific server hardware requirements for that application?

  • Are there any specific server software or operating system considerations?

  • Where will the server be installed? Do we need to choose a specific form factor?

  • Do we need to over-specify server components to ensure the system continues to meet our computing needs into the future? 

  • How will this affect our budgets and costs moving forwards?

It’s also worth spending some time deciding whether purchasing an on-premise server is the smartest strategic choice. Do you have sufficient skills and manpower to maintain the system in-house? Or would you realize more benefits by choosing a hosted computing server that is maintained in a remote data center by a server specialist? 

If your business is moving towards an OpEx IT model, migrating to a hosted system is probably a more logical choice. And by partnering with a computing server specialist, you can ensure you get the ideal machine for your application.

Speak to our experts!

We can provision and deploy a dedicated bare metal server in any of our global data centers in 40-minutes or less. You choose the model and configuration of a computing server and we’ll do the rest. Speak to the team.


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