Workstations are high end computer systems (microcomputers) designed for official work especially the work of technical or scientific nature. It is meant to be used by one person at a time and this is why the login access details are typically secured by a strong password. Workstations in offices and research centers are usually linked to a local area network and have multi user operating systems. Often, a mainframe computer terminal or PC connected to a mainframe is also referred to as a workstation.
The term server is used very broadly in information technology (IT). Servers are computers that serve the purpose of hosting network resources. These provide one or more services over a network of computers, usually via a request-response routine.
Whereas workstations are individually used, servers are used through networks by numerous users simultaneously. Servers therefore have a very high disk capacity to store data for multiple users and a great amount of memory to allocate different users process. Further, they have high redundancy which allows them to have strong fault tolerant features. For instance, there can be two supplies for power, so that in case one fails, the server can start using the other. Server's hard disk also forms a RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) and this protects user data from a single disk failure. Servers run a special operative system that gives them abilities for high performance tasks without compromising on stability or security.
Before going deeper into the attributes and functions of workstations and servers, it may be interesting to peep into their history and background:
Workstations were originally made out of lower cost versions of minicomputers such as VAX line and this is turn had been devised to offload smaller computing tasks from the high end mainframe computers of the time. Soon they adopted 32 bit single chip microprocessors Motorola 68000 series and these were less expensive than the multi-chip processors used in early minicomputers. Workstations of later generation used 32 bit and 64 bit RISC processors that delivered higher performance than the CISC processors used in personal computers.
Looking at the history of servers, it was in 1981 that BITNET (Because It’s Time Network) was among the earliest networks and it existed before the Internet was developed. The network was created in the United States to link computer systems run by The City University of New York and Yale University. A grant from IBM was used to develop the US BITNET. It was run by CREN (corporation for Research and Educational Networking) in the US. The network was run and controlled by EARN (European Academic and Research Network) in Europe in 1982. In the same year, CREN and EARN used a leased telephone circuit to connect the two networks. It was EDUCOM in Europe that created the first list server software used on BITNET network. At the time of its launch, the purpose of the server was to enable scientists in Europe to quickly share research with colleagues in other parts of the world –this was to help in improving the rate of scientific progress.
Functions of workstations and servers
A workstation is used for works that involve high end applications. These could be graphic design, video editing, preparing reports, working on software and applications installed for special purposes. On the other hand, servers store files in different formats – doc, html, xls, and image files, videos and applications for the workstations or client computers to access. The content stored on a server is available online as it is connected through local area network or LAN in an office.
Users and uses of workstations and servers
A workstation is meant to be sued by only one persona at a time even though it can be accessed remotely by another user (at any other location) whenever necessary. Servers connect different computers and computer users and the access to a server can be easily shared by a group of users.
Workstations in small and medium organizations offering IT services are devised for specific tasks such as Auto CAD, Studio MAX, work involving mathematical calculations or statistical data, computer codes, video or graphical editing. Servers on the other hand are used for networking and storing data for common access.
The most commonly used operating systems for servers are Linux, FreeBSD and Solaris while UNIX is installed as an operating system for workstations.
Graphical User Interface
The graphical user interface (GUI) for workstations is of a very superior quality. With efficient video and audio qualities, they can be effectively used for video and audio editing. However, a server does not have GUI or any other elaborate audio/video interfaces.
Kinds of workstations and servers
Servers are of many kinds – application servers, web servers, list servers are some prominent categories of servers. Workstations are used for a variety of purposes and are customized as per their intended use. A sound workstation for example is used for sound editing and it can be integrated with audio cards, synthesizers and microphones at a studio. For video and sound editing, it can also be integrated with digital video connections and hard disc arrays. Video workstations are used for non linear digital editing of video.
Both servers and workstations are a part of networking architecture but they do have their individual functions, applications, operating systems and applications.
About the Author:Frank Johnson is a regular editorial contributor on technology products and services and business operation tips that help small to mid size enterprises. To know more about servers and workstations, you may interact with him here