Most of us have heard of servers. Not the kind that bring food to your table in a restaurant but the kind that, well…do whatever it is they do! You aren’t alone if you are still wondering what servers are or what they do. For me, it is interesting how many business owners have a server and still don’t know what it does. Keep reading and I am going to explain what a server is, what it does, and when you should consider getting one.
You should be familiar with the computer, which is sometimes called a personal computer or PC. This is the everyday computer you use. At one point in time, servers were different because they were much faster, larger, and complex than your computer. Generally, this is still somewhat true, but these are no longer the key differentiators. Today’s computers, even laptops, are very powerful and have the ability to perform just as fast as some servers. And while servers used to fill entire rooms, now they can be found in a box the size of a personal pan pizza. However, servers still tend to be faster and somewhat larger than your standard computer. You will see most servers are built into larger cases, and typically have a much higher quality component, built to withstand more heat and run constantly. While your computer may have a single or at most two hard drives, the typical server is configured with an average of 5 hard drives and often as many as 8 or more. Your computer may have 4 GB of RAM, or memory, while today’s standard server is starting at 16 GB of RAM.
Aside from the hardware differences, it does different things. In the same way a waiter provides service to you, the client, a server provides services to the client. The client being your computer or the computers in your office. Servers are typically dedicated to providing one or more services to a group of clients/computers. For example: if you needed to share several files between all the computers in your office, you could use a file server. The same thing with a printer, you can use a print server to share a printer between multiple users or computers. If you are thinking that your computer already does this, you are right. So what are the differences? You can share files, printers, and more from your computer but when someone opens a file that is shared on your computer and you are trying to work on something else, it causes the computer to have to do two things at once. Of course your computer can do many things at once, but each thing it does needs a portion of your computers processing ability. You may notice it slow down or hang up at times if you are sharing things. With your computer, you can share things like files and printers, but you must also share your computers resources with others while they use your shared items. You also have limits on how many computers can access your computer at a time. For example, with Windows 7 Professional, the limit is 20 connections. With Windows XP Professional, this was 10. A server is different because it can host an unlimited number of connections and its resources are often dedicated to only a few tasks like sharing files and printers. Your computer has to show you web pages, run your financial software, allow you to type documents, prepare marketing materials, and then try to share files and printers too! The server takes a lot of the work load off your computers. They also give you the ability to add higher levels of security to your files and computers, and can provide services like email, company databases, and specialized software for your business.
Now, when do you need a server? Some businesses like mine can start out needing a server, however, for most, here are some key indicators:
- 5 or more computers
- Specialized software such as practice management or scheduling software
- Need to share large files or many files
- Your business requires a level of security
- You have more than 1 location or need the ability to work from home or on the road
- You need the ability to better handle employees access to files or the Internet