Servers provide computing power to facilitate transfer of data across a network to enable applications, operating systems, file transfer, email, printing and communications among client computers. Each particular type of server is generally defined by its configuration and software which enables it to communicate with intermediate client machines.
Whether you are powering business communications, web site access or distributing computing power across a variety of machines, servers provide the computing power at the core of any network. Each unique type of server is managed by a platform, which pairs specified hardware and software to power data transfer according to incoming requests. As bandwidth rates have increased, modern servers can handle a larger number of requests, distributing data transfer across a series of servers through a cloud or cluster.
Modern IT departments can work with a variety of computing configurations to get the very most out of their servers. According to the architecture of a server, defined communications roles improve the ability to secure data and ensure it’s only delivered to its intended recipients. The ability to reliably scale computing power across client requests has been at the core of IT growth in recent years, and understanding server capabilities can provide insights into these trends for professionals, business owners and developers.
Types of Server Hosting
While the core technology that powers many modern servers is based upon similar processors, the configuration and distribution of that computing power varies widely. When hosting your server in a data center, you’re able to harness resources to optimize the efficiency of data transfer. For both enterprise level companies as well as startups, selecting the right server configuration can mean substantial savings in terms of economic and computing efficiency.
As the single most economical form of hosting, server resources are shared across a wide variety of users. While users have the ability to access their own partition (even on a dedicated IP address), memory and transfer resources are shared across other sites. Many entry level developers opt for a shared server for its low costs – the ability to easily migrate or upgrade from common shared operating systems such as cPanel has made it easier to scale up to dedicated or distributed servers based upon future needs.
In recent years, virtual private servers (VPS) have become increasingly popular for users seeking an intermediate choice between shared and dedicated servers. With a virtual configuration, servers are portioned into sub-dedicated areas which provide users with root access and full computing power for their given segment of the server. Moderately priced, these configurations allow for creation of development environments without a full investment in dedicated hardware.
Offering more computing power as well as technical support resources, managed dedicated servers provide full computing power from a given machine (or set of machines) as well as monitoring and support from a team of engineers. A common choice for small and medium sized businesses, as well as those seeking to outsource IT resources, dedicated servers are commonly leased in tandem with a service level agreement (SLA) from a data center.
Clustered hosting provides an intermediate distributed environment where multiple hardware machines are dedicated to distributing content or inbound requests. With a combination of multiple servers acting in unison, a grid extends the cluster even further by typing multiple nodes to create a network of servers. This configuration is ideal for those with multiple mission critical applications, such as business data transfer and transaction processing.
Recently, distributed computing has increased in popularity with load balancing and scalable servers that share resources across a network. A cloud includes multiple servers providing specific roles, including data storage, data transfer and database management, making the most efficient possible use of each dedicated piece of hardware on the network. Distributed hosting services such as Google’s Engine and Amazon S3 utilize a cloud of servers to offer low cost, high power service.
Server Application Types
The application of server computing power to specific data needs has enabled hardware specialization to improve uptimes, efficiency and reliability of networks. While a given hardware setup can often power multiple applications, many times data centers are organized around hardware for a specific purpose to make more efficiency use of the network.
To power data transfer of hypertext protocol (http), web servers deliver images, text, rich media and data over the Internet. Modern web servers are optimized to deliver a variety of data sources including VOIP (voice over IP), streaming media as well as hosting files (FTP) and websites. Web servers are optimized for data transfer speed, as well as security with extensive firewalls and incoming request filters to protect against denial of service attempts.
A subset of traditional data servers, application servers are designed to power frameworks which are involved in extensive processes related to a specific set of software. Application servers can power web-based apps, games, output from scripts and programs as well as serving data from an API (application protocol interface.) Modern application servers are optimized for load balancing and are often located in a cloud, which enables them to distribute data more efficiently.
Specialized Servers: File, Printer and Database Servers
While modern servers often are involved in multiple tasks, specialized servers provide dedicated support for file transfer, printer communications and database queries. For specific types of uses, having a dedicated server for a specific purpose can speed up processing times and ensure sufficient resources are available during peak volumes. In the shift to cloud based servers, many data centers configure clusters of servers for specific purposes, such as streaming media, storage and SQL query processing. Specialized file servers can store a variety of media for distribution, including movies, audio and animation, rendering media at high speeds to client machines for games, movies and other forms of applications.
With the growth of streaming audio and video, media servers provide an efficient way to transfer high bandwidth files online. For dedicated media firms, businesses and producers alike, investing in efficient hardware can lower operational costs from operating a server over time. With the growth of high definition video and real-time gaming platforms, media servers are under increasing stress to meet growing consumer demands for quality. The hardware configurations often feature impressive quantities of RAM as well as quad-core CPUs to maximize the data transfer rates. To prevent data transfer bit loss, the servers are often hosting in a cloud or cluster of related servers. When end users receive rich media, they receive streams from multiple sources based upon the most efficient way to route traffic. Specialized companies such as Akamai and Amazon have innovated more efficient routing mechanisms to manage the growth demands on media servers. As a result, you can watch high definition video in FPS (frames per second) refresh rates approaching broadcast television over a broadband connection today.
Mail (Exchange) Servers
Mail servers serve as an outbound client and inbound retrieval server for electronic messages, commonly via the STMP (simple mail transfer) protocol. Serving as a transfer agent (TA), mail servers communicate with each other according to their set rules, including filters, checks and blacklists to determine whether a message is successfully delivered. All accepted messages can be traced by a mail header to its root receipt. Microsoft Exchange servers are the most common form of mail servers, as they power business communications through MS Exchange, routing desktop and mobile mail, as well as managing attachments and real time calendar synchronization.
Trends in Server Type Configuration and Performance
For dedicated IT departments, independent development professionals and businesses, proper server deployment can lower costs, improve performance and help to reliably scale operations. While it can be challenging to anticipate future computing needs, a flexible server setup can help to make your cost structure more stable as you adapt. While x86 servers have been around for over two decades now, the new decade brings technical challenges and opportunities for deploying new types of server technology.
While many businesses previously utilized independent networks for their client computing, data storage and networking needs, today cloud or cluster hosting can offer a single environment to meet a firm’s complete needs. In fact, the recent move to virtual desktops has made client virtualization even more important, helping to improve local security, file storage and protocols across an organization. With the shift to global operations, IT managers can properly keep track of their assets and resources on a broad scale while also reducing the startup and upgrade costs for new technology.
Green and Energy Efficient Servers
Power management goes beyond efficient use of the utility grid and can actually improve the speed, longevity and responsiveness of hardware over time. Modern data centers are built in energy efficient buildings which are equipped with high technology climate control systems to provide an ideal operating environment. Many data centers have moved to offer green servers which are net zero carbon emitters based upon their baseline efficiency as well as offsets invested in other areas.
Leading supplies of green servers include Dell and HP, which have innovated new hardware to more than double server energy efficiency over the past few years in traditional x86 servers. At the core of this technology is a network of servers which instantly adjust to the settings to deploy fans, slow down processors and distribute power more effectively throughout. Working with world class data centers, these servers now offer a more reliable way to optimize server efficiency while also improving upon performance.
Driven by cost and flexibility needs, modern servers are more energy efficient, secure and adaptable. Rather than having to upgrade every new technology cycle, modern “thin” servers can easily be upgraded with new components and are designed with sensors for improved power management. Whether you host in your own data center, collocate or work with a managed provider, efficient servers can deliver more value for your computing needs.
An important trend in computing, blade servers have a much more modular configuration to allow for ease of upgrades. Operating on the basis of minimal components, these servers are capable of impressive benchmarks while fitting in a smaller space than traditional “full” servers. At their base, a blade server has a processor, memory, I/O jacks and a basic operating system. Rather than running a full OS, such as Apache or IIS, these servers are designed as intermediate “computing” servers that deliver data rapidly and efficiently. With their modular configuration, IT departments are able to save substantial resources which can be focused on emerging areas of need.
Mobile Rack Servers
Another important trend in server technology is the growth of rack mounted, mobile servers. To make more efficient use of finite space, rack mounted servers are built on cabinets that allow them to be upgraded with relative ease, allowing you to upgrade an individual server or cluster of servers. For IT providers on a limited budget, investing in a rack server can give you a flexible structure so you can continue to invest as your data needs grow. Built on containers rather than finite hardware configurations, the so-called “pod” servers are lightweight, efficient and flexible servers that adjust to meet your needs.
Efficient Cloud Servers
For developers and IT departments, having the flexibility to deploy new computing resources on demand is invaluable. Having the right type of servers and hosting configuration can allow your firm or startup to take on an agile structure to quickly implement new ideas, features or services to the market. Rather than relying upon a maximum capacity network of servers, hosting servers in a cloud is also an effective way to get more use out of your investment. Even at peak capacity, most dedicated servers use much less than their actual processing power – distributed computing, by contrast, allocates processing power and data transfer in a much more effective way. The recent shift toward efficient cloud hosting is based upon economic as well as efficiency factors. A combination of improved hardware, operating software and monitoring has greatly improved performance-adjusted hardware use in recent years.