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The Anatomy of a Server

Category: Getting Started &nbsp

A server shares a lot of physical similarities with the computer on your desk and even the laptop you carry around.  A few components are different in design to what you may find in a home PC, though. If you are unfamiliar with what makes up a computer then read on and we shall explain these components…

Firstly the Central Processing Unit (CPU). This is the “brain” of the computer, it is where all the work is done.  The harder the CPU works, the hotter it gets, so it needs to be well cooled. If the CPU gets too hot the server may crash or shut down. Modern CPUs consist of multiple cores on one chip. Each core is the entire processing section of the CPU so compared to old single core CPUs, a modern quad core CPU is the equivalent of having the processing power of four CPUs in your server.

Next we have the motherboard, this is the main circuit board in the computer that links the CPU to all the other components. In servers the motherboard usually integrates all the other usually-required components such as network cards, graphics cards, USB hub, SATA or SAS interfaces for storage, and some form of external management interface such as the IPMI standard.

Random Access Memory, or RAM, is where the computer stores data required for running applications or processes.  RAM problems generally manifest themselves as spontaneous crashes, so if you have multiple unexplainable crashes it’s well worth having your memory tested.

Storage, usually SATA or SAS hard drives, is where the computer stores all the data it uses as well as applications and the operating system itself. As mechanical items, these tend to be the least reliable component in the server, which is why, if you require a long up-time from your server, we recommend having your disks configured in a RAID array. We also recommend keeping backups of your important data, should anything happen to the integrity of the file system on your main drives.

Power Supply Units, or PSUs, these convert the mains voltage power from the rack and converts it to the lower voltages required by the computer’s components. These are probably the second least reliable components, albeit a long way behind hard drives in the failure stakes.  Most server manufacturers produce systems with multiple hot-swapable PSUs onboard meaning that should one fail it can be replaced without the server suffering any downtime.  If being always on is a requirement for your server, it’s well worth requesting a server with multiple PSUs when ordering.

Finally there’s the case or chassis.  These are generally designed to pack the components in tightly and efficiently cool them with powerful fans. This leads to the servers being much louder in operation to a desktop or laptop computer. Server cases also mostly follow a common form factor designed to fit into industry standard racks meaning that a server from any manufacturer should fit into any rack. The downside to the way components are put into these cases is that they can be much more difficult to replace parts in than a desktop case leading to hardware replacements taking longer than an equivalent task on a desktop.

Hopefully this should give you a bit of understanding as to what a server consists of and aid with understanding of what support teams will talk to you about when dealing with hardware problems with your server.

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