What is a Server?

October 2015 · 4 minute read

What is a Server? This article is going to describe a broad overview of the term ‘server’. There is a range of server types, which do things slightly different to one another but before looking into specialist types, it is vital to understand what a server essentially is and does in the first place.

The term server is used quite broadly in information technology. In theory, any computerised process that shares a resource to one or more client processes is a server.

A server essentially serves up data. What that means is that data (individual pieces of information) is measured, collected and analysed in order for it to be visualised using graphs or images. An example of this is a web server, which serves up scripted HTML, CSS, and Javascript into the web browser in a visual format so that people can view and read it.

There are many other types of server including database server, file server, mail server, print server, game server and application server.

A server can refer to a single mechanism which connects to multiple clients over a network. A small scale example of this is a restaurant who uses a POS or till operating system over a secure network. An individual restaurant might have its own server housing all the information for that particular restaurants transactions. The restaurant might then have 2 or 3 tills (clients) which staff use to run transactions throughout service. The reason that the server and client wouldn’t be run on the same machine is that if a server crashes, everything is lost but if a client crashes, it can be easily replaced and the information remains available on the server.

Generally speaking, a computer primarily designed as a server is specialised in some way for its task and would not be used as a desktop computer. Also, as servers are generally accessed over a network, they often don’t have a monitor, mouse or keyboard anyway.

Massive companies like Google have their own infrastructure and maintain their own servers. Google’s server infrastructure is actually divided into several types. One example is Google’s web server, which runs Google Search Engine, the biggest search engine in the world. When running searches, your personal (client) computer connects to Google (server) via www.google.com (Network). You can see how multiple clients have the ability to connect to the these servers at the same time, each being served only the information they have searched. This particular web servers job is to execute the clients search query and then format the results into an HTML page. This complex example involves querying index servers (a different type of server), merging the result, applying google’s search ranking algorithms, spell checking searches and a range of other processes to complete its task and give each client their individual search results.

Google is a linux based web server. Linux is an open-source operating system modelled on the UNIX system which was originally developed as a free os for personal computers, based on the intel x86 architecture. The Linux Kernel was first released on 5 October 1991 by Linus Torvalds. Linux has since become useable in more hardware platforms than any other operating system out there.

Now days we have a thing called the cloud. The cloud is a network of servers and are not physical machines, they are virtual space. Some cloud servers allow you to store and access data, examples of this can be found in social media applications which make the data you upload available from any device with the correct credentials. While other cloud servers provide an online service, such as Rackspace, Oracle, AWS where you pay a subscription fee for the use of their services. The benefits of cloud storage are predominantly cost driven as you no longer have to pay for hardware, hardware maintenance and upgrades, and you only pay for the space that you actually use.