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Network Basics: Servers

Server computers are the lifeblood of any network. Servers provide the shared resources that network users crave, such as file storage, databases, e-mail, Web services, and so on. Choosing the equipment you use for your network’s servers is one of the key decisions you’ll make when you set up a network.

Here are some general things to keep in mind when picking a server computer for your network:

  • Scalability: Scalability refers to the ability to increase the size and capacity of the server computer without unreasonable hassle. It's a major mistake to purchase a server computer that just meets your current needs because, you can rest assured, your needs will double within a year. If at all possible, equip your servers with far more disk space, RAM, and processor power than you currently need.

  • Reliability: The old adage “you get what you pay for” applies especially well to server computers. Why spend $10,000 on a server computer when you can buy one with seemingly similar specifications at a discount electronics store for $2,000?

    One reason is reliability. When a client computer fails, only the person who uses that computer is affected. When a server fails, however, everyone on the network is affected. The less-expensive computer is probably made of inferior components that are more likely to fail.

  • Availability: This concept of availability is closely related to reliability. When a server computer fails, how long does it take to correct the problem and get the server up and running again?

    Server computers are designed so their components can be easily diagnosed and replaced, which minimizes the downtime that results when a component fails. In some servers, components are hot swappable, which means that certain components can be replaced without shutting down the server. Some servers are designed to be fault-tolerant so that they can continue to operate even if a major component fails.

  • Service and support: Service and support are factors often overlooked when picking computers. If a component in a server computer fails, do you have someone on site qualified to repair the broken computer? If not, you should get an on-site maintenance contract for the computer.

    Don’t settle for a maintenance contract that requires you to take the computer in to a repair shop or, worse, mail it to a repair facility. You can’t afford to be without your server that long.

Only the smallest networks can do without at least one dedicated server computer. For a home network or a small office network with only a few computers, you can get away with true peer-to-peer networking. That’s where each client computer shares its resources such as file storage or printers, and a dedicated server computer isn't needed

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