Network servers are high-powered computers used as a central repository for data and various programs shared by users within a network.
Users have a universe of programs and files they retain on their PCs, laptops, and devices. When enough users share the same resources, a network server is a general-purpose system that can enable sharing, storing, and management of network resources.
Though “network server” was a common term twenty years ago, the trend in the new millennium has been designing servers for specific purposes and workloads. Though this trend continues, the network server still has plenty of use for smaller networks that need a central manager.
This article looks at what network server means today, their role in network management, how to deploy a network server and security considerations.
What Is a Network Server?
In their prime, network servers were powerful enough to host multiple programs and plenty of user files. In today’s age of virtualization and potent processors, though, the “network” part of the name is often dropped, leaving just the idea of the general-purpose server.
As computing technology shrinks devices over time, some consumer computers today are just as capable as the network server of decades ago. While it might be a lower priority for enterprise networks today, its role remains a vital one to most organizations.
Because both types of servers play similar roles facilitating shared data resources, the network server is most often confused with file servers today.
How Do Network Servers Work?
When working with sensitive applications or files, saving progress on your local device is a start, but what if you lose access to your device? Network servers address this problem by hosting the files and programs most pertinent to the network and enabling access for consistent, real-time use.
As a result, personnel or network clients can instantly access important data or tools while also facilitating collaboration between users. Multiple users can make changes to the same program or document for continued development over the course of a project. Via a secure login, remote users can connect to the home network.
In the above graphic, the circle represents an organization network where a network server facilitates collaboration and file sharing between network clients (devices).
Network and File Servers: Two Peas in a Pod
Network and file servers are rightfully confused because they play similar roles and were foundational to early networking. Both network and file servers work as an intermediary and host for network clients and resources.
How Network Servers Are Changing
Network servers – as the closest to being a general-purpose server – continue to evolve in their availability and appearance. Today’s network servers are frequently seen in the following forms:
- Physical on-premises appliance
- Virtualized network server
- Network-attached storage (NAS)
- Cloud-based hosting
Speaking of on-premises servers, check out our picks for Top Rack Servers of 2021.
Network Server Features
As businesses grow, a point comes where relying on email or local hard drives for data storage isn’t feasible. The logical step is having a central location to store files and share access to devices like printers or applications like a CRM.
The role of a network server, then, is to provide users with a set of services and access to resources on the network. These features include:
- Permissioned access and log-ins for network users
- Gateway access to the Internet for an organization
- Centralized location for network resources
- Shared access to devices on the network like a printer or a scanner
- Hosts multi-user apps like email servers, web applications, or CRM
“Data usage and content is exploding, and the need for a file server to host shared files is still a key consideration for those buying a server,” said Jonathan Seckler, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Dell EMC.
How to Create a Network Server
Creating a network server for a group of peers and devices to access isn’t difficult. The above graphic shows how an administrator or small business owner can conveniently purchase and configure a physical or virtual machine to play the role of a network server. In the server marketplace, buyers can find a range of options for different levels of IT experience.
Creating Virtual Network Servers
Solutions like Microsoft Hyper-V or VMware offer organizations the ability to create virtual server environments. Users can leverage the management tools and capabilities built into enterprise hardware for businesses that grow beyond a single server. Top-tier server manufacturers now offer integrated management capabilities. These systems provide an easy-to-use management console for monitoring and managing the servers on a network.
Improving Network Server Security
Like any other server, PC, laptop, or device, network server security is critical. Any system on a network, after all, can be targeted by hackers or online criminals. Therefore, standard safeguards should be in place, including:
Network Server Security Tips
- Ensure all software is up to date with patches and fixes
- Minimize potential attack vectors by disabling unnecessary functions
- Consider and consult vendor recommendations on configurations
- Establish redundancy and improve the availability of data with server backups
- Enable backups, snapshots, point-in-time copies for local, remote, and cloud storage
- Apply zero trust thinking to access control to reduce the risk of insider breaches
For the last tip, note that most users should be able to store, review, and edit files on the network server. Permissions to add, change, remove users, add devices, or configure the server must be limited to primary administrators.
Read more about the premier vendors and solutions for network security with picks for Best Enterprise Cybersecurity Tools & Solutions for 2021.