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Introduction to Server Hardware

written by: Jesma•edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 6/11/2009

What sets a server apart from an ordinary desktop PC? There's a lot to it, and most of it is software related. However, there are a lot of hardware technologies and devices that are predominantly used only in servers, like SCSI, advanced RAID, and multi-processing.

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    What Sets Servers Apart

    You can be a master of all things PC hardware and still be a bit dumbstruck when peering into the guts of a real Server for the first time. I know that I used to be, despite being able to build a PC for any budget, need, or desire. Servers, quite simply, have things in them that you just aren't going to see anywhere else. How many PC builders have ever used SCSI, or know how to terminate it correctly? How many PC technicians have installed up to 64GB RAM on a motherboard which also is home to four individual processors?

    Clearly, servers are a completely different monster entirely. But they're not so different that we can't come to a much better understanding of them with the help of a little research and mental exploration.

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    Back to Basics

    The basic components of servers and regular personal computers are, of course, the same. They all begin with a motherboard, which is much like the nervous system of the human body, in that it is connected to, and relays messages between, all the other components of the machine. If the motherboard is the nervous system, then the Central Processing Unit (CPU or Processor) is the brain. Translating electronic signals from all parts of the "body" into usable information, instructions, and rules, then issuing them back out to the other components as deemed necessary. Of course, no brain can function without being able to store, or remember, important or commonly used bits of information. That is why servers, PCs, and bodies alike are all outfitted with memory. The final major component is static, or "permanent" storage. In a computer this storage is in the form of Hard Drives, or similar disk storage. Using the human analogy, it can be compared to a notebook that a person would hold in their hand and reference information from as they needed it.

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    Servers vs PCs vs Humans

    I used the above analogy because it makes it easy for us to remember the different roles various components in computers serve. Its easy to throw out a bunch of numbers and compare them based on speed, or capacity, but in context we really come to understand the technology better. For now though, let's just summarize the points that we will be discussing over the next three articles.

    What Sets Servers Apart from PCs?

    • Intended Usage
    • Workload
    • Location and Storage
    • Number of CPUs
    • Amount of Memory
    • Specialized Storage
    • Maintenance

    In the next part of our discussion on specialized hardware servers we explain the various roles that servers fill, and the workload that they are commonly tasked with.

Comprehensive Guide to Server Hardware and Technology

Servers are very different from your average computer, and contain technology that is only rarely found in other systems. This guide explains the roles servers play and how their unique hardware and technologies helps them fill those roles. We also look at how to maintain and house servers.
  1. Introduction to Server Hardware
  2. A Servers Various Roles and the Hardware it Takes
  3. Server Hardware and Technology - SCSI/SAS, RAID & Multiprocessing
  4. Maintaining and Housing Servers