What is a Server Computer? Know Everything Here 

The following guide will help you understand the definition of a computer server, server computer meaning,uses and its examples. Whether you’re a tech enthusiast or just curious about how digital networks function, this guide will provide a comprehensive understanding of servers and their vital role in our connected world.

Server Computer Definition

A server is a special type of computer or system that shares its resources, data, services, or programs with other computers, called clients, over a network. Basically, if a computer shares stuff with other computers, it’s acting as a server. 

There are different kinds of servers, like ones for hosting websites (web servers), managing emails (mail servers), and even virtual servers, which are more like software. Interestingly, a computer can be both a giver and a receiver – it can share resources as a server and use resources from another server at the same time.

The early servers were big computers called mainframes or smaller ones named minicomputers. Despite being ‘mini,’ they were actually bigger than the desktop computers we know today. These servers were connected to simple devices known as terminals. These terminals couldn’t do any computing themselves; they were just there to take commands and show the results, while the server did all the hard work.

As time went on, the setup evolved. Servers became powerful individual computers connected to a bunch of less powerful client computers. This setup is known as the client-server model, where both the clients and the server have computing power, but the server does the more demanding tasks. This was different from the earlier model, where all the computing was done by the mainframe.

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How a Server Computer Works

To act as a server, a device must be set up to listen for requests from client machines over a network. This capability can be part of the operating system, an installed application, a specific role, or a mix of these elements.

Take, for example, Microsoft’s Windows Server operating system. It’s designed to listen and respond to client requests. You can add more functions (like roles or services) to handle different types of client requests. Similarly, an Apache web server, which responds to requests from internet browsers, works by having the Apache application installed on top of an operating system.

Here’s how it works: when a client needs data or a particular function, it sends a request across the network to the server. The server gets this request and sends back the needed information. This process is known as the request and response model of client-server networking, or sometimes called the call and response model.

A server doesn’t just send back what’s asked for; it does a lot more. It might check who’s asking for the information (verifying the requestor’s identity), make sure the client is allowed to access what it’s asking for, and then respond in a way that the client expects. 

Types of Servers

Numerous varieties of servers exist, each serving distinct roles. Most networks incorporate one or several of these familiar server types:

File Servers

File servers are dedicated to storing and managing files. They allow multiple clients or users to access shared files, offering a centralized solution for file security and integrity, which is more efficient than securing files on each device in an organization. These servers are often optimized for fast read and write operations to enhance performance.

Print servers manage and distribute the task of printing. Instead of connecting a printer to every computer, one print server can handle print requests from many clients. Modern high-end printers often come with built-in print servers, eliminating the need for a separate computer to manage printing. These internal servers process print requests from clients.

Application Servers

Application servers host and run applications, saving client computers from running these applications locally. They are ideal for resource-intensive applications used by many users, reducing the need for powerful hardware and software installation on each client machine.

DNS Servers

Domain Name System (DNS) servers, a type of application server, translate human-friendly domain names into machine-readable IP addresses. The DNS system is an extensive network of servers. When a client requests the address of a website, the DNS server looks up its database and responds with the corresponding IP address.

Mail Servers

Mail servers, common application servers, handle and store emails for users. They allow a single machine to be constantly connected to the network for sending and receiving messages, rather than having each client run its own email system.

Web Servers

Web servers are prevalent and host web content and services for users on the Internet or an intranet. They respond to requests from clients’ browsers for web pages and other web services. Popular web servers include Apache, Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS), and Nginx servers.

Database Servers

With the vast amounts of data generated by companies, users, and services, databases have become crucial. Databases, which need to be accessible to multiple clients simultaneously and often require significant disk space, are ideally situated on servers. 

Database servers host database applications and handle numerous client requests. Popular database server applications include Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, DB2, and Informix.

Virtual Servers

Virtual servers represent a significant trend in server technology. Unlike traditional servers that operate directly on physical hardware, virtual servers exist within specialized software called a hypervisor. This hypervisor can host hundreds or thousands of virtual servers simultaneously. 

It simulates virtual hardware for each server, while the actual computing and storage needs are handled by the underlying physical hardware, shared among all virtual servers.

Proxy Servers

A proxy server serves as a go-between for a client and another server. Often used for security, the proxy server receives requests from clients and forwards them to another server. It then relays the response back to the client, acting as though it generated the response itself. This setup allows both the client and the server to avoid direct interaction, enhancing security.

Monitoring and Management Servers

Some servers are dedicated to monitoring or managing other systems and clients. Monitoring servers come in various types; some track all network traffic, including client requests and server responses, without actively participating in data exchanges. 

These servers help network administrators monitor network health and activity, responding only to queries from monitoring clients.

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Structures of a Server

The idea of servers has been around almost as long as networking. Essentially, networks were created to enable communication and resource or work sharing between one computer and another. Over time, computing has developed, leading to various kinds of server architectures and hardware.

Mainframe or Minicomputer (AS/400)

Initially, the first servers were mainframe computers, and later, minicomputers. These systems handled almost all computing tasks, except user interactions through a screen and keyboard, which were managed by the client system.

Computer Hardware Server

Following the mainframes, the next evolution in servers was computer-based. These servers were essentially larger, more powerful versions of desktop computers, equipped with significantly more memory and storage. Each server was a complete unit with its own components, housed in air-conditioned server rooms and later organized in racks for better storage and access.

Blade Servers

As technology advanced, server hardware, which was originally large and rack-stored, became more compact. Thanks to faster connections and miniaturization, components like hard drives and cooling systems were externalized. This evolution led to the creation of blade servers – slim, rack-mounted servers that are more space-efficient and easily replaceable.

Combining Servers

Before virtualization became popular, servers began deviating from the model of a single operating system on one hardware machine. Technologies like network-attached storage eliminated the need for servers to have built-in storage. Concepts like mirroring and clustering allowed for combining hardware into larger, more robust servers. 

These could include multiple blades, storage devices, and external power supplies, with each component being replaceable without shutting down the server.

Virtual Servers

Virtual servers still rely on hardware, but this hardware runs a process known as a hypervisor. In some cases, like Microsoft’s Hyper-V, a full operating system operates on the hardware. In others, bare-metal hypervisors install directly onto the hardware. Typically, the hardware is distributed across blade servers, networked storage, and power supplies, creating an environment where the boundaries between individual servers blur.

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Examples of Server Operating Systems

Following are the different types of operating systems of a server. Read to know the details of all:

Microsoft Windows Servers

Windows for Workgroups could be considered Microsoft’s first foray into server operating systems, as it allowed certain computers to share resources and handle client requests, thus functioning as servers. However, Microsoft’s first dedicated server OS was Windows NT, with its notable versions 3.5 and 3.51 used in many business networks. 

This evolved into the Windows Server series still in use today, with the latest version being Windows Server 2016. This version supports a range of applications and databases and includes a hypervisor for running virtual servers.

Linux / Unix Servers

Another key player in the server OS market is Linux/Unix. This includes various versions like Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Debian, and CentOS. As an open-source operating system, Linux is particularly popular for web servers, often running the Apache web application server.

Cloud Servers

Cloud servers are virtual servers hosted on third-party infrastructure via an open network like the Internet. Key players in this space include Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure, and IBM Cloud. Amazon’s AWS was a trailblazer in corporate cloud computing, initially leveraging Amazon’s spare server capacity. AWS now offers customers the ability to create virtual servers on-demand and adjust resources as needed.

In today’s world, a server might just be data within physical hardware comprising multiple processors, disk drives, memory, and network connections. Yet, at its core, a server remains a system that processes requests from clients.