Businesses often have the need to centralize their data, to consolidate their infrastructure, and to have a common distribution service. This can be hard when running ad-hoc systems (separate computer systems communicating with each other without a central communication base), which are all independently configured with each having their own set of files shared amongst the network. Keeping track of updated files becomes messy, and inventory as a whole becomes a real chore. There is a simple solution to this: implement a file server.
A file server can resolve this issue effectively and quickly; it is exactly what the name means, a server that distributes files. This can remedy the problems of not being able to track which file is where amongst multiple computers. A file server is a hardware configuration of hard disks that stores files and gives centralized access of the files to the network’s computers. The usefulness of such a system is that all the files are maintained in one location and can be accessed by multiple computers running a variety of OS’s, such as Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. The job of backing up data becomes easier as well. No longer does the need exist for backing up each computer as the file server has a central repository of files that can be backed up easily. Some file servers come with the additional ability to act as a regular backup utility.
Implementing a file server is not an expensive investment. Any computer with enough hard drive space can act as a file server. The only disadvantage to this setup is that only computers with similar OS capabilities can access and share files. For example, if your server is running the Windows Server OS, then only client machines with the ability to use the SMB or CIFS (Microsoft Windows network file transfer protocols) protocol can exchange files; although Unix and Linux servers are not constrained by this limitation and can serve files to a number of different OS’s. If you decide to invest in a separate file serving device, such as the Seagate BlackArmor NAS 400 series, you will get all the capabilities of serving to multiple OS’s, plus access to the server via the web. Most standalone file servers include FTP (A file transfer protocol used for simple uploads and downloads of files from a server) serving capabilities, these are useful when you need to access the files remotely through the Internet. Storage is usually flexible in standalone file servers as hard drives can be added for extra storage.
Two of the file servers I’ve worked with are the Western Digital My Book World Edition II and the Seagate BlackArmor NAS 400 series, mentioned above. Both of these devices work well, but the latter is of a heavier duty architecture and can withstand hours of continuous use, whereas my experience with the WD My Book World Edition II has been that it has failed in under a year of continuous use.