A network SERVER that holds a central store of data files, so that they can be accessed by many different network users. Keeping all files on a server avoids having multiple copies of the files spread around on individual computers, minimizes the total disk space required to store them, and simplifies the process of making BACKUPS or distributing updates. File serving is the most popular role for network servers, and the major network operating systems Unix, Windows NT and Novell Netware all support such file sharing.
Modern file servers are usually specially designed machines with large power supplies, multiple bays to allow the installation of many hard disks, and enhanced cooling facilities. They may be MULTIPROCESSOR machines, and are typically fitted with more memory (hundreds of megabytes) than are single-user PCs.
Let’s say your computer at work is on a network (connected to other computers), and you want to look up the name of a customer in the company database. The information you need will be located in database files on the file server’s hard disk. Database software running the server opens the necessary files and the information comes back to your screen over the network wires.
You can even run programs on your own computers that are stored on the file server’s hard disk. Other people on the network can use the same files and programs. There is software running on the file server that controls who gets to use which files, and how many people get to do it at the same time.
Often, the file server is dedicated, meaning all it does is dish out files to the other computers on the network, and no one sits at the computer and actually uses it. In other cases, the file server also gets used as a working computer.