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An Introduction to a File Server

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 3/3/2010

What is a file server? This is a very basic concept in computer infrastructure technology, yet one that many people get confused about. This article explains what a file server is and what one is used for.

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    What is a Server?

    It is important to understand what a server is before anything else. A server is essentially any combination of hardware and software that provides some sort of service to a given client. Sound a bit vague? Well, it is a very broad concept, encompassing a vast array of potential services, hardware/software combination, and clients.

    On a micro level, a single personal computer may be thought of a series of server-client operations acting in parallel, with all the various software applications and hardware devices operating hierarchically in tandem. On a macro level, the Internet itself may be thought of as yet another series of server-client relationships within the vast array of computers that make the Internet the... well, interconnected network that it is today.

    However, the term server in this sense isn't all that useful. So, it tends to have a more precise connotation denoted by the type of server you're talking about. This article discusses one of them, the file server.

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    File Server Definition

    File servers function primarily to provide a location to store shared files to a given client within a network. These files could be virtually anything, multimedia from text documents to sound files to photographs, as long as it is stored in a file. The clients typically consist of individual workstations, often as employees in a business or students at a school. That's it!

    File servers will often double as other types of servers as well, such as print servers or other types of peripheral servers. File servers are also a type of server computer, that is, where the entire computer is dedicated to the operation of a server, as opposed to the server-client relation being relatively “macro" or “micro" in nature.

    File servers tend to have large hard drives to store all of these files, especially in large file server systems as may be encountered in a business.

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    Types of File Servers

    A file server may be either dedicated or non-dedicated.

    A dedicated file server means that there may be a specific computer server that fulfills this function, typically for a larger network, and has specialized hardware and software to handle the greater workload. This may include more hard drive memory storage, better cooling systems, better security such as limited physical access, and specialized software contained within special server operating systems.

    A non-dedicated file server just means that the computer functioning as a file server isn't used exclusively as such, and may also be used for other purposes, such as a workstation. This is more typical of small-scale systems, such as at home or in a small business.

    Beyond that distinction, the varieties of file servers are characterized by the method of filesharing used within the network. These include use of FTP (File Transfer Protocol), SMB/CIFS protocol, HTTP, or NFS, just to name a few. The protocol used depends on the operating systems in use and the individual requirements of the network in question.



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