Behind The Scenes Of A Server

August 13th, 2015 by


Take a look at the basic components of a server and how they work together to host millions of websites around the world.

Despite what some may think, websites don’t actually float around space waiting to be accessed by computers. Instead, each website is physically located somewhere. We call these storage units web servers, or just servers for short.

Servers are physical machines, similar to personal computers. The biggest difference between them is that a server is much more powerful and contains significantly more storage space. A server is usually designed to host a website or other large amounts of compiled files.

Around the world web hosting providers (such as WestHost) own thousands of servers, with each server hosting hundreds of different sites. These servers reside in data centers, which are are basically large buildings designed to house thousands of different servers.

So when I type into a web browser, I am really sending a request to the server that hosts WestHost, which will then return the correct website files to my browser. This process is how websites are accessed around the internet.

Each server is made up of both hardware and software. To put it simply, hardware is any physical component of the machine, whereas software consists of the applications and programs that are stored on the server to make it run.

Let’s take a look at the physical hardware that makes up your web server:


A server’s motherboard (sometimes referred to as a main board or multiprocessor board) is its backbone. This vital piece of the server is the base connection of all other hardware on the machine. It connects critical pieces of the server such as the processor, memory and expansion capabilities.

A motherboard contains ports that facilitate control over external output devices that a server might use. The motherboard will typically have extra ports for expansion.

Central Processing Unit (CPU)

If the motherboard is the backbone of a server, then the CPU is the brain. The CPU directs and processes each request made throughout the server. Each component is controlled by the CPU, making it a primary source of power for the server. When looking to upgrade performance on a server, you usually look first to upgrading the CPU’s power.

Basic Input/Output System (BIOS)

The BIOS of a server is a physical chip which ‘lays the ground rules’ on the server. Although it does contain software that sorts through code, it is still considered a main piece of hardware on a server. Its primary function is to sift through code and determine what a computing device can do at a base level.

Random Access Memory (RAM)

RAM is the physical short-term memory of the server. It processes and temporarily stores the requests being made on the machine. By increasing the amount of RAM you have, you will increase the speed of the server.

Hard Disk Drives (HDD)

The HDD is the long-term memory unit on a server. The data that is stored on the HDD is written magnetically by small arms that move back and forth. This is where the HTML, Flash and database files that make up a website are stored. The server’s operating system and other software are also stored on the hard drive.

Solid State Drives (SSD)

SSDs are a new technology that are proving to be a powerful alternative to disk storage, such as HDDs. Instead of utilizing moving arms like the traditional HDD, SSDs contain nonvolatile flash memory which in turn leads to much faster memory. In fact, they can be up to 56% faster than the traditional HDD.

The small flash chips that SSDs use retain data even when there is no power present, making them a very reliable option.

There is of course more that goes into a server, but these are five (six if you count HDD and SSD) major components that could be found on your server. Add in the power supply, a cooling system an operating system and a couple of other minor pieces, and your server is ready to go!

Now that you understand more how a server works, find the perfect solution for you at!


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