The Nathans Episode 1: So what is a Server and why should I care?

HelixBlog PIcture Episode 1

By: Nathan Frey, Helixstorm Service Technician 
Featuring: Nathan Shannon, Service Technician

I recently worked on an issue for a client; their employees couldn’t access a set of shared folders they use for accounting.   As I began looking into the issue one of the employees—a friendly lady whom I have regularly spoken with– contacted me to get an update on the situation.  During our conversation, I mentioned their server had stopped some critical Windows services preventing the device from communicating within the network.  As I rambled on about the exact technical causes I could almost hear the befuddled look on her poor face through the phone.  It was then I realized that she, like many other people out there, didn’t grasp the concept of what the server actually did—she was only aware of the fact the files she had been looking for on her computer weren’t there.  This was slightly alarming as I remember the other Nathan having a similar conversation with this employee some months ago for a different issue.  I paused for a moment and slowly realized It was a classic case of “Technoholism”.   Never heard of Technoholism?  No problem! Here is a fictional reference from Helixstorm IT Dictionary.



  1. a chronic disorder inherited by IT Administrators and professionals within the field of technology. Sometimes confusing as the words and descriptions used in the language are developed by years of using thousands of acronyms and computer related jargon.
  2. See also; Sanskrit or Latin

To his credit, the other Nathan here at Helixstorm is somewhat of a technical savant and his technical skills at times rival that our of lead DevOps Engineer (debatable if you ask our DevOps guy…).  For all his talents, there are rare occasions when he describes things using Technoholism.  So, I decided to share a simple explanation of what a server is and why they are important.

  • Servers are really just computers. Like your PC, it operates using operating systems and applications. They are called “servers” because, well, they serve.
  • Servers come in different shapes and sizes. Some servers are stored in datacenters, some are in the company broom closet,  and some are even virtual.
  • Servers are generally used to provide important functions to the business from storing files, providing secure access to the network, or even storing databases for information.
  • Here is a brief list and description of servers that most companies have:
    • File Server – where files that everyone in the company has access to are stored.
    • Domain Controller –manages & controls security policies for your organization. What gives you access to your workstation everyday.
    • LOB Server – where important software and LOB (line-of-business) programs are installed and operated on.  Quickbooks, contracting software, and real-estate software.
    • Web Server – Also called an “IIS” (Internet Information Server) is used to run web applications and sites.

As you can see, servers provide a variety of business critical functions, and I do mean critical. servers allow these day to day operations with ease, and typically run non-stop. If something goes wrong with them, you’re likely see a direct impact to your business. Imagine being unable to access your workstation or visit your company website.

As for our client the kind lady, I was able to explain this while working on her issue.  After resolving the problem with her server—which, if your curious, happened to be a file permissions issue—I felt pretty happy about the whole process in general since the more I can educate our customers, the more likely I am able to communicate and resolve their problems “Technoholism” or not.   Hopefully this information will help you better understand servers in general.  At the very least, the next time you hear the word “server”, it won’t be a mystical machine that performs unknown tasks like some sort of robot Wizard of Oz.