What is a server?

Servers

How many times have you heard the term "the server is down" or "the server failed"? Most likely many! In today's technologically savvy world, we have all become familiar with the term "server" but few people outside the Information Technology world truly know what it means or can describe accurately describe it. Servers are everywhere today from the grocery store, to our workplace to our schools, it's time to be in the know!  

What is a Server?

A computer server is a Central Processing Unit (CPU) on a network that manages the resources available to the computers attached to that same network. There are different types of servers; some can multitask between different sets of data and others can be dedicated to a single type of task, such as printing or file storage. Servers can be both on-site or off-site.

A computer server takes the task you are trying to accomplish and sends up the request to be processed. Computer servers have to put tasks into order of importance and many times, this is a first-come-first-serve basis. However, tasks can also be ordered by type of job, company department or individual positions within a company.

When a computer related job (task) is required, the server is the first line of contact. A job may be document printing, copying, faxing, file storage, data processing and more. It is the server that assigns each job to the most appropriate resource, gives it a priority ranking and places it in queue. This queue is designed to order computers into a tiered level of importance. If there were no organization, the server would get overloaded trying to process all of the requests at the same time and the result would be an inefficient, slow or broken system.

How does the server know what which jobs to process first? The server assigns the jobs based on a set of rules that the administrator of the server has set up. For instance, in many companies, priority may be given to particular staff or departments. Any jobs coming from the CEO's office could be assigned top priority and be processed before any others. Servers also assign jobs based on available resources. For instance, it will send the color print jobs to the color printer, a fax to a fax machine and copies to a copier.

Finally, servers also organize tasks based on efficiency. A server can recognize when one resource is being utilized and send a job to another resource to increase overall efficiency. A good example of this is a large print job. If one printer has been assigned a large (100 pages or more) print job and a small 2 page job comes through, rather than assigning it to the printer printing the large job and make the requestor wait, the server will assign it to a free printer.

How Does This All Fit Together?

Let's put this all together. Here is an example of how a server works and helps organize the jobs sent to it from a network experience.

For instance, in an office of 100 people, there may be multiple printers that have different printing capabilities, various file storage options, different levels of staff and different roles of varying importance. Let's say that 15 people send a job or task to the server within a few minutes of each other. The server analyzes each job based on information such as IP address, proximity to the server and order of importance in processes. The server determines first, who has priority ranking - is the job coming from the CEO, the accounting department or sales? Then the server determines what resources the job requires - color printing or black and white? The server then can choose to send the CEO's print job to high quality printer; the accounting department's spreadsheet to the regular black and white printer; and, the sales department's presentation to the copier.

Think about all the steps that are involved in any business small or large. The server organizes all the computer related tasks for the most efficient use of resources and speed. Depending on the size of the business, there may be many servers both on and off site. When a server goes down, all the technology related tasks become disorganized and things slow down or don't function at all. The next time you are at the store or call your bank and they say "Sorry, we can't help you, the server is down" you will now know that it is more than a convenient, technology based excuse to not do what you want them to.

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