What is a server?
In the computer world a server is a high powered computer with enterprise grade hardware. They also have much more processing power as well as a much higher RAM capacity and multiple hard drives.
Servers have many different uses in a network environment. They are often used for application hosting such as QuickBooks multi-user or Sage accounting for example. Many line of business applications require a server to host the application so it is available to the other computers on the network.
Servers are also often used to manage the rest of the computers on the network via Group Policy so that the administrator can easily make changes that are pushed out to all computers rather than going to each computer individually and making the changes such as password policy, auditing, screen saver timeouts, power settings, etc. Another feature of having a server is caching, which is used as a central download location for Windows and 3rd party updates as well as Anti-virus updates. This allows all of the updates to be downloaded one time to the server then distributed across the local network which saves on network bandwidth which is very handy if your connection speed is on the slow side. Otherwise what happens is each individual computer has to go out to the internet and download updates and if you have multiple computers doing this at once it can easily bring a network to a crawl in terms of internet speed. This saves time and makes sure each computer is configured the same, which makes it much easier to troubleshoot and thus reduces downtime.
Servers can also be used to store backups. The reason this is better than using an external hard drive is because servers have built-in redundancy such as dual power supplies, one or more processors and multiple hard drives meaning that it takes quite a lot to cause a server to go down. It’s also almost impossible to lose a server whereas it’s relatively easy to misplace a flash drive or external hard drive.
Often times small offices will share resources from another standard computer on the network. For example, running QuickBooks from one of the standard computers or sharing files from one of the user’s computers. The reason this isn’t a very good idea is that most standard computers aren’t up to the task of multiple people using its resources. They also do not have hardware redundancy built-in. If there are 2-3 people using QuickBooks connected to one standard computer that computer quickly becomes bogged down which reduces productivity across the board. They also typically only have one hard drive so if it fails you are unable to access the data on that machine until the hard drive is replaced, which could be days or a week depending on parts availability and the data is restored from backup, that is if you have a backup and it’s working, when was the last time you checked your backup? Whereas with a server if a hard drive fails the server continues to run on its other hard drives while you source a replacement for the defective drive, resulting in zero downtime and zero lost data.