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Many business owners know they need a dedicated server for their business, but few understand what a server is, how it works or why it’s important. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be answering all these questions to help you fully understand the role a server takes in any successful business.

What Is A Server?

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that the term “server” is often used to define two different things. A server is a software platform used to provide database services like storing, processing and securing data or manage network connections. This is run on computer hardware that is oftentimes ALSO referred to as a server. It’s confusing and we hate it, but that’s just the way it is.

The main thing you should understand, is that the only reason the computer hardware is considered a server, is BECAUSE it’s running a server software program. Most people conflate the two, and for the purposes of this article that’s fine, but it’s something you should know.

Now when you think of a server, you likely picture a tall black rectangular piece of computer hardware. These are called tower servers, computers built specifically to be used as dedicated servers (aka computers solely dedicated to being servers and nothing else). Tower servers are the most appropriate hardware choice for businesses, however, any type of computer can become a server. With a simple server OS installation, even a regular desktop computer can be converted into a server.

Servers are connected to a computer network, a group of computers and other devices linked together to facilitate communication and resource-sharing between them. These connections are made either by hard wiring, as is the case with a Local Area Network (LAN) or through a wireless internet connection, called a Wide Area Network (WAN).

Different Kinds of Servers

Essentially, all servers act as storage for files that need to be accessed by multiple outside computers. The type of files stored defines the type of server you’re using. Below are three types of servers commonly found in businesses:

  • Mail servers are like virtual mailmen. They are a central location for all emails processed through a network. All mail sent and received from users passes through the server on its way to the recipient.
  • Web servers run websites. More precisely, they contain all the files necessary to display a website and deliver content to users over the internet via a web browser.
  • Data servers store, process and secure data. In other words, they contain files that people want to share and keep on a network.

What Does A Server Do?

A server provides services to a client, hence the name. Clients are the computers and devices on the network that are requesting services (the storage, retrieval and sending of data) from the server.

In this case, the clients are your employees’ desktop computers. Each workstation is a client and your employee saving files, requesting a web page or sending an email is that client making a request for services from the server.

This network structure, which delineates between service requestors (the clients) and service providers (the server), is called the client-server model.