In computing, a file server is a computer attached to a network that has the primary purpose of providing a location for shared disk access, i.e. shared storage of computer files (such as documents, sound files, photographs, movies, images, databases, etc.) that can be accessed by the workstations that are attached to the computer network. The term server highlights the role of the machine in the client–server scheme, where the clients are the workstations using the storage. A file server is usually not performing any calculations, and does not run any programs on behalf of the clients. It is designed primarily to enable the rapid storage and retrieval of data where the heavy computation is provided by the workstations.
File servers are commonly found in schools and offices and rarely seen in local internet service providers using LAN to connect their client computers.
History of file servers
Novell proposed an approach using software to connect each workstation to a network file server that would manage both the network and access to network resources. Novell grew upon the strength of its Netware operating system, used for file serving, and by the late 1980s had a 50% market share of local area networks.
Types of file servers
A file server may be dedicated or non-dedicated. A dedicated server is generally designed specifically for use as a file server, with workstations attached for reading and writing files and databases. File servers may also be categorized by the method of access: Internet file servers are frequently accessed by File Transfer Protocol (FTP) or by HTTP (but are different from web servers, that often provide dynamic web content in addition to static files). Servers on a LAN are usually accessed by SMB/CIFS protocol (Windows and Unix-like) or NFS protocol (Unix-like systems). Database servers, that provide access to a shared database via a database device driver, are not regarded as file servers. Most file servers are simultaneously print servers too, as they provide access to printers via network. A single file serving computer may be accessible by multiple means: it may run an FTP server, an SMB server, etc., serving the same files.
Design of file servers
In modern businesses the design of file servers is complicated by competing demands for storage space, access speed, recoverability, ease of administration, security, and budget. This is further complicated by a constantly changing environment, where new hardware and technology rapidly obsoletes old equipment, and yet must seamlessly come online in a fashion compatible with the older machinery. To manage throughput, peak loads, and response time, vendors may utilize queuing theory to model how the combination of hardware and software will respond over various levels of demand. Servers may also employ dynamic load balancing scheme to distribute requests across various pieces of hardware.
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