Computer Basics: What Are Servers and How Do They Work?

In the modern era, you’re forced to work with remarkably advanced technology every day. It’s easy to take that technology for granted without truly understanding how it works. That is never truer than in the case of using servers. You may have discussed the potential of a home or office server, but do you really know how they work? They aren’t as complicated or mystical as they may appear, and a basic grasp can help you make informed decisions.

Examples of Servers

Servers are already a part of your daily life. Before you look at how they can affect a home or office, you can learn how they work through some very common examples.

Email

Email was probably your introduction to interacting with servers. The premise is pretty simple. Someone can send you a message that you access with an internet connection. But, have you ever stopped to wonder exactly how that works? When you send an email, you communicate with a server that is run by your email provider. That message is physically stored on those servers until the recipient accesses it from their own device via the internet. They can then choose to download the message, save it, delete it or leave it alone. In any case, they are sending commands to a computer in the email server cluster that is actually carrying out these actions.

Websites

In case that isn’t entirely clear, another easy example of servers is with websites. Just like with email, when you interact with a website, you’re really just looking at information stored on a server (often called web hosts in this case). If you fill out a form or otherwise interact with the site, the changes aren’t really saved on your computer. Think of Facebook. Once you post a message, you can see it from any computer as long as you can sign in. This is because your message is ultimately stored on a device outside of your physical control. This is also how the cloud works. You are simply using the communication power of the internet to access and control data servers that are professionally maintained somewhere else in the world.

Personal Servers

This brings us to home and office servers. They work on the same principles that we have discussed so far, but there is one major change. A personal server would be under your physical control. In an office setting, a central login server can be used so any employee can access their profile and data from any of the computers in the office. This standardizes many functions and makes it easy to complete jobs in a fluid environment. The central server is a computer that will actually be on the premises, but employees will only ever interact with it through the network — much the same way you interact with websites.

The advantage of personal servers is that they centralize your technology. Personal computers in the office don’t need to be nearly as powerful and expensive because the server can do the heavy lifting. The server can also manage security for the whole office which makes network security easier, cheaper and more reliable. Servers can also save money on software. With the right license, one copy of professional software can be accessed by every employee. The server is actually running the software; the personal computers are just access points.

Ultimately, a server is just a computer. It is typically built for specialized functions and is often more powerful than your average PC, but it’s still just a computer. Its utility comes from network access that enables lesser devices to borrow the server’s power and stored data.

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