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In Plain English: What is a server?

If you don’t know your IP from your URL or your DNS, this column is for you!  Welcome to In Plain English, where you will learn some techie stuff from a non-tech person who just so happens to have worked with a bunch of computer geeks for the last 25 years.

Today’s Topic – What is a server?

If you are a client of EZ Micro and have had the occasion to speak with any of our engineers, you have probably heard about servers.  But what exactly is a server?  What does it do?  Why do we need them?  What kinds of servers are there?  Let’s find out.

A computer server does not bring food or drinks to your table.  We wish!  But it does bring important information to your desktop.  I have always thought of a server as a digital filing cabinet.  Back in the day, steel filing cabinets with hanging files and manila folders were how we organized important business documents.  Maybe those cabinet drawers were organized by categories such as financial and banking records, client records, vendor invoices, contracts, and so on.  When a worker needed to see or use a file, they had to walk to the cabinet to get it.

In today’s digital age, we don’t have to leave our desk to find and use important documents.  We just ask our servers to show it to us.  A server is a software or hardware device that accepts and responds to requests made over a network.  Point your mouse and click on an icon, and voila—your document appears!  A server can provide resources, data, services, or programs to other computers, known as clients.  Your PC at work is a client.  Your PC at home can be a client, too, if it is remotely accessing your workplace or the Internet.

There are many types of servers out there.  Most of our clients have a “physical server.”  Which is a large, fancy, overgrown computer.  It contains multiple hard drives, lots of memory modules, and often multiple processors.  Some even contain redundant power supplies just in case one fails.  A failed power supply is like a waiter with a broken ankle—not very useful!

Even more amazing is that physical servers often host “virtual servers.”  What is that you say?   Here’s where things get more complicated.  A physical server requires operating system software just like your PC does.  Your PC uses Microsoft Windows 10 (hopefully).  A physical server might be using Microsoft Windows Server 2019.  A virtual server is software-based, and it shares hardware and software resources with your fancy physical server.  Virtual servers are cost-effective versus purchasing a second physical server.  For example, virtual server capability allowed us to create “servers” for our line-of-business software, our security camera system, and more.   A virtual server is a software server running on a hardware server!  Have I confused you yet?

Your fancy physical server at work is also known as a dedicated server.  It is dedicated entirely to your organization’s tasks and performance.  As “cloud” computing grows in popularity, many organizations are moving away from having a dedicated physical server at their location.  They are literally moving all their resources and data to cloud servers, accessing everything through their Internet connection.  Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, IBM Cloud, and Google Cloud are the most common today.

How in the world does the “cloud” hold all that data?  The computer geniuses of the world built and maintain server farms or server clusters, commonly called data centers.  They are a collection of massive physical servers that can supply server functionality far beyond the capability of a single machine.  Server farms often consist of thousands of computers that require large amounts of power to run and keep cool.

While all this technology is powerful and fascinating, here at EZ Micro we try to keep in mind that there are still real people behind the screen.  We call ourselves “dedicated servers!”  The play on words emphasizes that we love our technology but also dedicate ourselves to serving the needs of our clients and our community.

If you are happy with your server’s performance, don’t forget to “tip” your server with proactive maintenance, security enhancements, reliable backups, and maybe even a thank-you!

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