What is a Server? Everything You Need to Know

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is a Server? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

What is a Server?

Did you know that servers are the backbone of the digital world? From hosting websites to managing databases, servers play a crucial role in our everyday lives.

In this guide, we’ll explore the fascinating world of servers, diving into their functions, different types, and how they can benefit businesses of all sizes. So, let’s embark on this exciting journey and discover the power of servers.


  • A server is a computer or software program that provides services to other devices connected to the same network. 
  • An example is a web hosting server, that allows a website owner to make his or her website accessible by the public via the internet.
  • Another example are Google’s servers, that show you search results with links to other websites, when you Google something.

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Understanding Servers

At the heart of every network lies the client-server model, a powerful system that enables servers to provide a variety of services to clients through a computer program. These services can include hosting websites, storing files, managing databases, sending emails, and even printing documents.

But what exactly is a server, and how does it accomplish these tasks? Let’s dive into the basics and demystify the world of servers.

Client-Server Model

Imagine a spider web, with the server sitting at the center, radiating data and services outwards to multiple clients. This is the essence of the client-server model, a network architecture where servers provide data or services to clients. Clients can be anything from personal computers and smartphones to other servers. The client-server model boosts processing power by allowing servers to share their resources with clients, making it an incredibly efficient system.

One common example of a server is a file server. File servers store and manage files, making them available to clients on the network. By centralizing file storage, file servers enable users to easily access and share files, fostering collaboration and streamlining workflows.

Server Functions

Servers perform a wide range of functions that make our digital lives possible. They enable users to access network resources, store and manage applications, scan networks for potential threats, deploy updates, assign IP addresses, and even resolve domain names into IP addresses through a DNS server. Each server type is designed to fulfill specific functions, and they often work together as part of a larger network infrastructure. Knowing a server’s IP address is essential for connecting to it and utilizing its services.

For instance, a database server stores and manages databases, while an application server acts as a bridge between users and backend business applications. Monitoring servers keep an eye on network health and performance, while patch servers push out updates for applications and operating systems. The versatility and power of servers make them indispensable in today’s interconnected world.

Types of Servers

Servers can be categorized by their primary purpose, such as web servers, file servers, database servers, mail servers, and print servers. Each type of server plays a distinct role in managing and delivering the services we rely on daily. Among these, dedicated servers offer enhanced performance and security for businesses with specific needs.

Let’s take a closer look at each type of server and the vital functions they perform.

Web Servers

Web servers are the backbone of the internet, hosting websites and serving web content to users. They store and process web content, delivering it to client programs like web browsers (e.g., Chrome, Firefox, Safari) through protocols such as Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). Two of the most popular web servers are Apache HTTP Server and Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS). Sun Microsystems also has a popular choice with their Sun Java System Web Server.

When a client requests a web page from a server, it locates and displays the requested content. If the client enters an incorrect URL, the server returns an error message, such as “Web page not found”. In some cases, a proxy server may act as an intermediary between the client and the web server, providing additional security and load balancing features.

File Servers

File servers are responsible for storing and managing files, making them accessible to clients on a network. These servers can store various types of files, such as text documents, images, audio files, and video files. File servers often utilize protocols such as SMB or NFS for accessing files on a local area network (LAN).

Tower servers are a popular choice for small businesses, as they are lightweight and offer strong configuration and customization capabilities. By centralizing file storage, file servers enable users to easily access and share files, fostering collaboration and streamlining workflows.

Database Servers

Database servers are specialized servers that store and manage databases, providing database services to clients. These servers handle data access and retrieval, processing client requests and ensuring that users can access, modify, store, and retrieve data from a database. Database servers are commonly used in many applications. Examples of these servers include Microsoft SQL, MySQL, MongoDB, and SQLite.

Database servers play a crucial role in managing and securing sensitive corporate data for businesses. By providing a centralized location for data storage and access, companies can better organize their data and ensure its security.

Mail Servers

Mail servers handle the sending and receiving of emails, providing essential communication services for individuals and organizations. A mail server utilizes protocols such as Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) for sending emails and Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3) for storing and receiving emails.

By managing and organizing email communications, mail servers play a vital role in ensuring smooth and efficient communication for businesses and individuals alike. Their ability to process and deliver messages quickly and securely makes them an indispensable part of modern communication infrastructure.

Print Servers

Print servers connect printing devices to users on a network, enabling them to send print jobs and manage print queues. These servers act as intermediaries between users and printers, ensuring that the printers can handle the number of print requests they receive. Print servers often employ networking protocols such as Internet Printing Protocol (IPP), Line Printer Daemon (LPD) protocol, or JetDirect. These enable printers to communicate with the server and transfer data over a network.

By streamlining the printing process and allowing multiple users to access shared printers, print servers help improve productivity and efficiency in both home and office environments. IOGEAR and HP are popular print server brands. Both companies are reliable choices for this technology.

Server Hardware and Software Components

Server hardware and software components are the building blocks of a server’s functionality. Hardware components such as processors, RAM, storage, and network interface cards provide the physical foundation for server performance, while server operating systems enable applications to run on the server.

Let’s take a closer look at these essential components.

Server Hardware

Servers consist of various hardware components designed to optimize performance and reliability. These components include a rack mount chassis, power supply, system board, one or more CPUs, memory, storage, network interface, and additional power supplies for redundancy. The combination of these components determines the server’s overall performance and capabilities.

For example, a server’s processor, or CPU, acts as its brain, determining its processing power and speed. The server’s RAM stores working data and machine code, allowing the processor to read and write data quickly. The hard drive stores the server’s information, while the motherboard connects all the components and ensures they work harmoniously.

Server Operating Systems

Server operating systems, also known as server software, are the software platforms that allow applications to run on servers. These operating systems provide access to hardware resources, deliver the necessary services for applications, and enable clients to communicate with the server application. Popular server operating systems include Windows Server and Linux.

Server operating systems play a vital role in managing and maintaining server functionality. They provide the platform for server applications, control access to hardware resources, establish network connectivity, and ensure the smooth operation of the server. Choosing the right server operating system is crucial for optimizing performance and meeting the specific needs of your business.

Virtual Servers and Data Centers

Virtualization technology has revolutionized the way servers are used and managed, allowing multiple virtual machines to run on a single physical server. This technology, combined with the secure and reliable infrastructure provided by data centers, offers businesses a powerful solution for managing their data and IT services.

Let’s explore the benefits and challenges of virtual servers and data centers.

Virtualization Technology

Virtualization technology is a software solution that enables the creation of virtual versions of physical servers, storage devices, or network resources. This technology allows multiple operating systems and applications to run on the same physical server, reducing hardware costs and improving efficiency. Virtualization technology also enables quick scaling when needed, allowing businesses to adapt to changing demands.

A hypervisor is a lightweight software installed on a physical server that enables it to act as a virtualization host, sharing its hardware resources with multiple virtual machines. While virtualization technology offers numerous benefits, such as cost savings and increased efficiency, it can also introduce potential performance issues due to resource sharing and increased complexity.

Data Center Infrastructure

Data centers are secure, reliable infrastructure facilities that provide businesses with the resources they need to store, process, and manage their data. These facilities are typically located in secure locations and feature the latest technologies to ensure the safety and reliability of the data stored within them. Data centers house servers of various types, including blade and rack servers.

The benefits of data centers for businesses include centralized data processing and IT services, as well as a secure environment for data storage and access. However, managing and maintaining a data center requires specialized expertise, and potential drawbacks include increased complexity and the need for ongoing maintenance.

Choosing the Right Server for Your Needs

Selecting the right server for your needs is crucial for optimizing performance, minimizing costs, and ensuring the smooth operation of your business. This process involves assessing server requirements and comparing server solutions to find the best fit for your specific needs.

Let’s look at the factors to consider when choosing the right server for your business.

Assessing Server Requirements

When selecting a server, it’s important to consider a variety of factors, such as performance requirements, potential downtime, security features, technology, customizations, data backups, customer support, internet bandwidth, budget, scalability, server location, and server size. Each of these factors can significantly influence your server selection and determine the level of performance, reliability, and security that your server provides.

Understanding your specific needs and requirements will help you make an informed decision when choosing a server. For example, if your business requires high-performance computing, you may need a server with a powerful processor and ample RAM. On the other hand, if data security is a top priority, you may want to consider a server with advanced security features and robust data backup capabilities.

Comparing Server Solutions

When comparing server solutions, it’s essential to consider factors such as performance, scalability, reliability, security, control and flexibility, maintenance costs, and operating system compatibility. Each server solution will have its unique strengths and weaknesses, and finding the best fit for your needs requires careful analysis and consideration.

For example, a high-performance server may be ideal for businesses with demanding workloads, while a more scalable solution may be better suited for companies with fluctuating resource needs. Additionally, the level of control and flexibility provided by a server solution can impact your ability to customize and manage the server to meet your specific requirements.

By carefully evaluating these factors, you can select the server solution that best aligns with your business needs and goals.


Throughout this comprehensive guide, we’ve explored the world of servers, delving into their functions, types, hardware and software components, virtualization technology, and data center infrastructure. We’ve also discussed the importance of choosing the right server for your needs, taking into account various factors such as performance, security, and scalability. Armed with this knowledge, you’re now better equipped to make an informed decision when selecting the perfect server for your business. Remember, the right server can empower your business and drive its success, so choose wisely!

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Happy surfing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What exactly does a server do?

A server is a computer that provides services, such as data storage and access to applications, to other computers on a network. Servers allow users to share and access data from the same sources in an efficient manner. They play an essential role in today’s computing environment.

What is a server (with example)?

A server is a computer or software program that provides services to other devices connected to the same network. For example, web servers deliver webpages, while mail servers send and receive emails.

What is the client-server model?

The client-server model is an architecture where servers provide data or services to a variety of clients, such as computers, applications, and other servers. It works by having the server act as a powerful central hub for sharing resources and boosting processing power among clients.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor has tested 39 antivirus programs and 30 VPN services, and holds a Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate from Stanford University.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.