"In computing, a server is a computer program or device that provides functionality for other programs or devices, called clients." [Wikipedia]
In a business setting, servers are often required in order to run specific computer programs or applications. Essentially a server is the base environment, in which other programs and devices can be installed, hosted and run, allowing multiple users to share data or resources. This allows multiple computers or workstations in a network to share the resources of an individual server. Compared with a computer, servers tend to have greater memory, contain more than one hard-drive and have multiple networks connections and CPUs. The functionalities that make a server a server are embedded in its operating system (OS), and although a computer can be a server and a server can be a computer, servers tend to be much more powerful.
What do businesses use servers for?
Servers are more powerful than desktop computers and can manage multiple tasks at the same time and more quickly. For this reason, many software applications (such as inventory and accounting ERP software) require installation on a dedicated server. Servers allow businesses to share information internally without having to worry about breaks in communication. This means that employees can update information in a database that is managed inside a server and then other employees can view and update that same data.
All computer programs have hardware requirements – examples include type of operating system (Microsoft, Mac, Linux, UNIX etc.), CPU requirements, graphic card requirements etc. Simple programs like Word and Excel do not require sophisticated hardware and can be run on most desktop computers. However, most enterprise level software solutions (including Blue Link), require more advanced hardware. This is why Blue Link customers cannot simply purchase and run the system on a disk or personal computer. Instead, the software requires installation on a server either at the customer’s location (on-premises) or on a server at the vendor’s location which the customer then accesses via the internet (cloud-based). In general, ERP systems share a single database meaning all information is maintained in one location (on a dedicated server). This allows multiple users to access and edit the data.
Different Types of Servers
Although there are several different types of servers, below we have outlined a couple examples.
- Database Servers - used to organize collections of data (databases) over a network, typical for inventory and accounting software where the data is not public and can only be accessed through an application.
- Application Servers - hosts computer programs that run inside a web browser (web apps) which users can then run and use over a network, as opposed to having to install a copy on their own computer.
- File Servers - used for storage of information in files and folders and gives the user the ability to associate permissions to specific documents. File servers are commonly found in schools or offices.
Most software vendors will give you access to resources with information on specific hardware requirements prior to you purchasing their software applications. For on-premises solutions, this allows you to prepare in advance for implementing new software. If your existing hardware or servers are outdated and need to be replaced, it is important to consider this cost compared with having the software vendor maintain the hardware and servers (essentially the difference between implementing a cloud-based solution or on-premises solution). To learn more about these options, download our guide: SaaS vs. On-Premises Deployment Methods