Types of Computer Servers and How They Function

Updated July 31, 2023

Servers act as data processors for professional and private use. Whether you work in an IT position or manage social media for a marketing firm, it's important to understand how servers function so you can access data through network applications. Once you know the basic workings of a server, you can utilize its processing capabilities through a local network or a virtual cloud computing platform.

In this article, we discuss the different types of servers and how they function.

What are servers?

Servers are large data storage and processing devices that exist either as hardware or as virtual storehouses located on the internet. Computers or software systems act as servers that connect to a network.

A server can be any type of device that shares and saves information. Servers can both store and process information within their own system or request it from another.

Servers began as small devices that simply transferred data to a more functional computer then grew in size and ability to perform more complex functions. Now, virtual servers exist within cloud computing platforms that are housed on the internet.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Computer Networking

Types of servers

The following is a list of all the main types of servers:

1. Web server

An open-source web server is used for accessing the world wide web through public domain software. These servers connect stored information from an internet website to your own computer. Web servers store information for the internet that is retrieved via "HTTP" code and sent to your web browser. This is one of the most widely used types of servers.

Related: HTTP vs. HTTPS: Learning the Differences Between Them

2. Proxy server

Proxy servers act as a bridge between a host server and a client server. A proxy sends data from a website to your computer IP address after it passes through the proxy's server. This practice adds a layer of security since the information is requested then transferred from the source to the proxy server and never directly from a client to another user. A proxy server can filter out various harmful internet entities.

3. Virtual machine (VM)

As their name suggests, virtual machines store and connect data strictly through virtual space. To create a virtual machine, IT teams use a hypervisor, also known as a virtual machine monitor (VMM), which is software that can run thousands of virtual machines through only one piece of physical hardware. This method of server virtualization is widely used for data transfer and storage because they are the most cost-effective type of server to run.

4. File transfer protocol (FTP) server

FTP servers are used to relocate files from one computer to another. Uploaded files move from your computer to the server while downloaded files are extracted from the server onto your device. File transfer protocol also refers to the method of using a server to connect one computer to another in order to share data safely.

5. Application server

These servers connect clients to software applications through virtual server connections. This allows users to bypass downloading data to their own hardware in order to access applications. Application servers can effectively host large amounts of application data to many users at once, making them ideal for businesses.

Related: What Is a Web Application? How It Works, Benefits and Examples

6. File server

A file server stores data files for multiple users. They allow for faster data retrieval and saving or writing files to a computer. This is a basic type of server used commonly by organizations where lots of users need access to files that are more conveniently and safely stored on a server than a personal computer.

7. Database server

Database servers function as large storage spaces that organizations use and access to run multiple programs to meet their needs. A database server can run independently of any database architecture.

8. Mail server

A mail server stores and delivers mail for clients through email service platforms. Because mail servers are set up to continually connect to a network, individual users can access their email without running any systems through their own devices.

9. Print server

A print server connects remotely to local computers to print through a network. These servers give businesses the ability to use a single printer to serve an entire department. Some printers even come with their own built-in server ready to join a network once they're installed in an office area.

10. Domain name system (DNS) server

These servers transform readable computer domain names into computer language IP addresses. The DNS server takes search data from a user and finds the requested address to deliver to the client device.

11. Collaboration server

When work needs to be shared across multiple users, a collaboration server makes it easy to connect. These servers allow you to share and store files, applications and other large amounts of data.

12. Gaming server

Large gaming networks use servers to connect users from around the world. These servers host multi-player online games.

13. Monitoring and management server

Monitoring and management servers function in several capacities. First, they record and track digital transactions and receive user requests. Others simply monitor and don't actively participate in user operations. Monitoring servers are responsive to network administrators who survey network health to check for threats or bugs in the system.

How do servers work?

Servers work in several ways to connect users to different data functions. They house large amounts of data for organizations and make it accessible to users through internal networks or via the internet. They respond to user requests to retrieve appropriate files from stored or interconnected data sources. They also work in tandem with an operating system to better listen to and respond to user requests.

IT professionals can increase the functionality of a server by installing software that creates additional roles such as responding to website requests from an internet browser. Servers can also act as safeguards to verify the identity of users before allowing access to a network.

Server components

Physical servers are made up of the following parts:

  • Motherboard: A motherboard connects all parts of a server. A motherboard's size dictates the amount of storage and the number of hard drives that can connect to a server.

  • Central Processing Unit (CPU): The CPU controls the overall functions of a server. It's the center for all processing within a server device. CPUs are measured by processing speed.

  • Memory: This part of a server dictates the amount of storage available. Memory needs to be compatible with the motherboard.

  • Hard drives: A hard drive stores both user and software data for a computer. It uses a controller card for optimum processing functions. A server housing large amounts of data may need multiple hard drives.

  • Network connection: A server needs to connect to a network in order to function. A good network connection will ensure a server is able to receive and respond to user requests. Many motherboards already contain a network adapter however, if they don't, the server will need an external network connection installed.

  • Power supply: Servers that provide data to large numbers of clients need a bigger power supply than a typical personal computer. Most servers need a power supply of at least 300 watts.

What is server architecture?

Server architecture is the design of how a server functions. Server architecture refers to the layout of a server in its operational capacity.

A server's architecture can be defined by:

  • How it communicates with other devices

  • The types of operating systems it uses

  • Hardware and software components

  • Storage and computing capabilities

  • The security functions within its systems

Frequently asked questions

Where should you store a server?

Store servers in a cool, clean area. It's important that they have plenty of space, as small spaces like closets can cause servers to overheat. Ensure that you equip your server with an uninterrupted power supply (UPS), which allows you time to save data before your server shuts down in the event of a power outage.

What should you do to maintain your servers?

It's important to perform preventative maintenance to keep your server operating and to perform restorative maintenance to address errors and issues. Monitor your server for interruptions to service and security threats. Common maintenance duties include updates and patches.

Who is responsible for maintaining servers?

The systems administrator is usually responsible for installing, maintaining and updating servers. Some organizations may also hire server engineers, who are specialists that focus exclusively on optimizing and troubleshooting computer servers.


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