Server Operating System Basics

A server operating system (OS) is a specialized type of computer operating system, so it will be useful to start with a basic definition. A computer operating system is a set of software instructions that performs the following basic tasks:

  • Controls the interaction of the computer's central processing unit (CPU), random access memory (RAM), hard drive and other hardware components so that these components work together in an orderly and efficient way.1
  • Controls the User Interface (U.I.), which enables users to interact with the computer to perform desired tasks.2 Using your mouse to select an option from a menu displayed on your computer monitor is a simple example of how the U.I. works.
  • Controls and manages access to shared files and printers across a network
  • Controls the interaction between the computer and software applications, such as Microsoft  Word, used to perform specific tasks
  • Controls the interaction between the computer and another hardware device, such as a printer, through standardized instructions called drivers3
A server operating system is an OS that controls these functions on a server. Rather than primarily managing a one-to-one relationship between computer and user, a server OS can manage a one-to-many relationship between the server and multiple users and user devices. In addition to the core tasks of the operating system, the server operating system also:

  • Controls security and enables you to decide which users and user devices may access the server resources and how they may use them. Resources may include shared data and other devices, such as network printers or other servers
  • Serves as a platform on which the server applications run

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