Workstation vs. Server: What’s the Difference and Which One Suits Your Needs?

workstation vs server
Does your business need a server or a workstation? But what’s the difference between the two? Whether you run an online business or need to make the best choice for your office, it’s important to understand how these two work. Here is everything you should know about a workstation vs server!

Your business requires a tech investment, but do you really know what you need?

Maintaining your own infrastructure can be daunting. There are a lot of decisions to make and they’re all important.

Keep reading to understand the difference between a workstation vs server.

The Mainframe Era

The first digital computers were giant machines that were about the size of a building and as powerful a modern microwave oven. They required the physical presence of a programmer to operate. Using one of these beasts meant pulling wires out and plugging in vacuum tubes.

Then along came IBM and the Seven Dwarves. These companies pioneered the concept of the mainframe. A mainframe was a very large computer of immense power. Mainframes still exist today, but only for specialty, usually institutional use.

One of the great innovations of the mainframe was the concept of the terminal. A terminal, or as it’s known today a dumb terminal or shell, was a connection between a mainframe and a very low powered machine that was connected remotely.

The original terminals had almost no computing power of their own. They could access the resources on the mainframe, but couldn’t do anything themselves. It was more of a remote screen than an actual server vs workstation relationship.

The Client/Server Relationship

As computers started to become more advanced, the mainframe/terminal relationship morphed into the server/client relationship. This is the basic relationship of most modern applications.

In a traditional mainframe/terminal relationship, the user of the system works on the remote terminal, but the processing is all done by the central mainframe. The innovation of the server/client relationship is to port the application processing to the client machine itself.

As personal computers became more powerful individually, the idea of all the processing and memory being in one physical place became obsolete. Instead of a central mainframe, the server began to dominate.

What is a Server?

A server, well, serves! It dishes out some kind of particular resource to the client computers. There are many different types of servers, depending on what is beings served.

Application Server – This type of machine sends out various software or parts of a software application. In 2018, pure application servers are often rare, except in cases of data-intensive or graphical workstation situations [we’ll get to that!].

File Server – This type of machine sends out files or media to remote stations. Many applications that are data intensive use file servers for central management of the data.

Web Server – A webs server is basically a file server attached to the internet, with certain pre-processor functions running locally. Web servers often use low-level scripting languages like PHP for most of the things they do. Things, like authorizing users or serving website pages, are done on these machines.

Cloud Server – This term refers to any type of server that is located “in the cloud.” A cloud is a network of machines, usually offloaded to a service provider like Amazon or Microsoft. These companies maintain large banks of machines in multiple locations around the world.

What is a Workstation Computer?

Generally, a workstation is a machine that has some sort of powerful computing apparatus within it, a sort of “high-end” machine. These machines are usually used for some sort of graphical or data intense application. Even gaming computers can be considered workstations.

As time goes by, the definition of “high-end” changes rapidly. An advanced workstation from 2001 is a piece of garbage compared to a personal computer sold today at Walmart for $200. What does remain consistent is that a workstation is a machine that requires performance for one reason or another.

Previously, workstation computers used RISC chip architecture. However, over time the difference between a workstation and a retail personal computer has been blurred. Modern workstation computers mostly use x86-64 chipsets, as they are pretty much standard and work with everything.

The modern workstation requires high-end performance for it to do its business. This is often accomplished by the addition of peripheral devices or additional components. A workstation might have a very large, high definition monitor.

Some specific features of modern workstation computers include:

  • Large screens or multiple displays
  • Intense graphics cards
  • Multiple processors
  • Large amount of memory, 100GB ram
  • High capacity, high-performance graphics
  • ECC memory support
  • Server style CPU chipsets on huge motherboards with high-end RAM [i.e. Fujitsu CELSIUS workstations or HP Z-series workstations]
  • “Blade” type systems [Sun Visualization System, IBM HC10, HP xw460c
  • Super high-end systems like SGI Virtu VS3x

Workstation vs Server

In some cases, a workstation server is appropriate for a situation where the business has the need for only one machine. In most cases though, separating the concerns is called for.

A server is to be used in a situation where a company needs to distribute information, files or any other resource, but for some reason cannot go into the cloud. An example might be a law firm who holds confidential client information, on a central server, and then dishes this data to various attorney workstations.

PCI [payment card industry] compliant machines are another example of a use case for server machines. You cannot hold credit card data on cloud servers for security and compliance reasons.

An example of a workstation use case would be any type of on premises media manipulation. A graphic artist’s station, a movie editor’s station, or a newspaper editor are all examples.

A variation on the server concept, a crypto miner is a specialty machine that uses a graphics card to perform a certain type of calculation over and over again. They take the fixed architecture concepts applied to servers and then use them in one specific type of application [i.e. mining for Bitcoins].

These aren’t servers per se, but they aren’t workstations either!

Get Your Machines Right!

It’s important to understand the difference between a workstation vs server for your business. The server dishes resources to the remote workstation, which is usually a powerful high-end machine.

Now that you know the difference, it’s time to actually get the machine your business requires. Contact us for the latest and greatest server and workstation machines available today.

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