A File server is a server attached to the LAN or any other network type. Its primary purpose is providing a shared file access such as documents, images or other files that can be accessed by everybody.
This type of server is designed based on the popular client-server scheme like explained in the Database server nugget.
This type of server is not intended to perform any computing tasks nor execute programs on behalf of the clients. It is simply a type of shared lower level storage device.
The file server can be accessed via a number of different methods. It can be through the FTP (File Transfer Protocol), HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol but is different from a web server that provides dynamic among a static content), SMB (Server Message Block) /CIFC (Common Internal File System – which is usually for UNIX but is also supported by Windows) or NFS (Network File System – mainly UNIX). This might be a bit confusing as the database server or shared storage might be considered to be a file server as well but the difference is the security and connectivity. The database server will require record locking (security feature) and will be much more powerful as it will contain a huge database that is constantly processing as it pushes queries from and to the users connected to it. Usually the shared storage uses different connectivity; while the file server will probably will not require anything faster than the common 1GbE RJ-45 connectivity, the shared storage is usually equipped with 10GbE RJ-45, 10GbE SFP or 8GbE – 16GbE Fibre Channel and therefore much more expensive as well.
As mentioned above, the file server is used to store documents and files that are shared between all the devices connected to the same network, where the security doesn’t have to be top notch and the fastest connectivity is not required. Anything more than whatever the server is designed for would be simply an over-kill – something we are always trying to avoid in the IT infrastructure.
An enterprise level type of file server would be the NAS (Network Attached Storage). This is a file level data storage connected to a host and provides data access to the client(s). The difference between a NAS and a standard file server is that the NAS was built and designed to be a file server while a generic server is just a multipurpose server that was assigned that role. The NAS systems are networked (they have a management port that allows an IP address to be assigned and join them to a running network) storage devices that contain hard drives set up in a RAID for redundancy and data protection and they are using network file sharing protocols such as NFS, SMB/CIFS or AFP.
Since the NAS is a storage device and not a multipurpose server, this prevents from unauthorized personnel accessing it directly (it has to go through a host that the NAS is directly attached to) and downloading information, thus preventing any internet access directly to the NAS. This is the main security benefactor of such a device. The cost of this compared to a generic file server is priced accordingly, of course.
But the main question is – do I need a File Server? Preferably yes. Back in the day, NAS or file servers used to be very expensive, pushing a lot of smaller businesses to just storing all the info on their desktop computer and accessing it from all the workstations. This wasn’t such a good idea as you store a lot of critical files that are kept on someone’s desktop or workstation. This “someone” could also be surfing the web and getting infected with email worms and viruses. Instead you can lock the files with the server in the server room and prevent any access to it, isolating it from the commotion of daily operations.
But before you jump on this type of server, you need to ask yourself few questions? Do you need redundancy in that data? Some need it, some do not need it. Next, ask yourself, how much storage do I need? Usually File server systems are equipped with more drive bays, supporting larger capacities, even after configuring a RAID. Do you plan on expanding? And eventually, how much are you willing to spend on the unit? More redundancy and performance increase the price.
In conclusion, a file server has proven to be a very effective addition to any infrastructure. Unlike other servers roles I reviewed, this server is not a MUST in every infrastructure and you can get away with using other money-savings means to share your files and consolidate storage but eventually, when the business grows, performance becomes important and redundancy matters, there is no avoiding this and you should look into different NAS systems as possible options.
I hope you have a better understanding of what a File Server is, what a NAS is and whether you need one in your infrastructure or not.
Thank you for reading and be sure to check back for more information on other components and system setups.