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The Server's Various Roles
Servers do, essentially, what their name implies: They provide services. These services come in lots of shapes and colors, but typically involve mass file storage or large amounts of processing. A server can also act as a sort of PC but for multiple people at a time. You see, servers and their software are configured so that multiple users can be logged into them at any given time, and the server handles all of the requests for information or processing, simultaneously. So you can see why your average PC system probably wouldn't be up to the task of being a real server.
That isn't to say though that all servers have to be really high end expensive pieces of machinery designed to keep the world running, or anything like that. You can, technically, run a "server" on very outdated equipment, perhaps an old PC that you don't use anymore, that you have configured to, for example, store files that can be accessed via FTP over the web. So long as not very many people are trying to use it at the same time, that old equipment will be plenty sufficient for that meager usage.
Most true servers though, have a lot more than just that on their plate. In addition to storing massive amounts of information, while they're doing that they could be hosting websites with 1,000 users browsing them, as well as acting as a firewall and router for an internal network and processing commands for 3 different administrators logged in via workstations. The life of a server is tough - far tougher than a PC could ever handle. That is why servers have to use special hardware and technologies to keep everything going.
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Server "Specific" Technologies
Most of the technology you find in servers is just like that of any normal PC, but there are often a few variations that can throw someone off, if they're not expecting it. One of the biggest roles of servers is data storage and access control. That means that a server will have multiple drives, perhaps 10 or more, housed inside of it that are filled with data. The server also controls who can access the data, based on permission levels that it has to maintain. It may even have to verify a person is allowed to access a particular bit of data by communicating with other servers on the network. That is why servers take advantage of technology that helps make their jobs faster and easier. SCSI/SAS, a method for connecting multiple devices like hard drives and tape drives, is often found inside servers, which is the technology that allows the server to use so many different drives at once. RAID is storage and redundancy technology that helps to ensure that any disk failures the server might experience, do not cause severe problems.
Servers also occasionally need to take advantage of multiple "brains" in order to complete all of their tasks in a timely and efficient manner. By brain, of course, I mean CPU. 2 or even 4 CPUs on one motherboard isn't an uncommon feature of many servers. We will discuss these "server-specific" technologies in more detail in part three of this series.
A Servers Various Roles and the Hardware it Takes
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.