Network Planning: Server Types

Assuming that your network will require one or more dedicated servers, you should next consider what types of servers the network will need. In some cases, a single server computer can fill one or more of these roles. Whenever possible, it’s best to limit each server computer to a single server function.

File servers

File servers provide centralized disk storage that can be conveniently shared by client computers on the network. The most common task of a file server is to store shared files and programs. For example, the members of a small workgroup can use disk space on a file server to store their Microsoft Office documents.

File servers must ensure that two users don’t try to update the same file at the same time. The file servers do this by locking a file while a user updates the file so that other users can’t access the file until the first user finishes.

For document files (for example, word processing or spreadsheet files), the whole file is locked. For database files, the lock can be applied just to the portion of the file that contains the record or records being updated.

Print servers

Sharing printers is one of the main reasons that many small networks exist. Although it isn’t necessary, a server computer can be dedicated for use as a print server, whose sole purpose is to collect information being sent to a shared printer by client computers and print it in an orderly fashion.

  • A single computer may double as both a file server and a print server, but performance is better if you use separate print and file server computers.

  • With inexpensive inkjet printers running about $100 each, just giving each user his or her own printer is tempting. However, you get what you pay for. Instead of buying $100 printers for 15 users, you may be better off buying one $1,500 laser printer and sharing it. The $1,500 laser printer will be much faster, will probably produce better-looking output, and will be cheaper to operate.

Web servers

A web server is a server computer that runs software that enables the computer to host an Internet website. The two most popular web server programs are Microsoft’s IIS (Internet Information Services) and Apache, an open-source web server managed by the Apache Software Foundation.

Mail servers

A mail server is a server that handles the network’s e-mail needs. It is configured with e-mail server software, such as Microsoft Exchange Server. Exchange Server is designed to work with Microsoft Outlook, the e-mail client software that comes with Microsoft Office.

Most mail servers actually do much more than just send and receive electronic mail. For example, here are some of the features that Exchange Server offers beyond simple e-mail:

  • Collaboration features that simplify the management of collaborative projects.

  • Audio and video conferencing.

  • Chat rooms and instant messaging (IM) services.

  • Microsoft Exchange Forms Designer, which lets you develop customized forms for applications, such as vacation requests or purchase orders.

Database servers

A database server is a server computer that runs database software, such as Microsoft’s SQL Server 2000. Database servers are usually used along with customized business applications, such as accounting or marketing systems.