Windows Server is a line of operating systems that Microsoft specifically creates for use on a server. This means in almost all cases, Windows Server is used in business settings. Microsoft has published Windows Server under that name since Windows Server 2003 launched in April 2003. However, even before this, server versions of Windows were available. For instance, Windows NT 4.0 was available in both workstation (for general use) and server flavors. In almost all cases, normal users don’t need to worry about Windows Server. You won’t find it on the shelf in stores or accidentally download it from Microsoft when you mean to get the standard version. With just a quick glance, you might have trouble telling the difference between Windows Server and normal versions of Windows. The desktop looks the same, including the Taskbar, desktop icons, and Start button. As it turns out, every Windows Server release corresponds to a consumer version of Windows. Windows Server 2003, for instance, is the server version of Windows XP. Current versions include Windows Server 2016, which is based on the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, and Windows Server 2019. Because Windows Server and Windows share a code base, you can perform many of the same functions on both. You can download and install programs like browsers and photo editors on Windows Server, and many Windows basics like Notepad are included in Windows Server.
Windows Server Has Enterprise Management Software
Because Windows Server is intended for businesses, it includes plenty of enterprise software. Below are a few roles that a server can perform thanks to these tools:
• Active Directory: Active Directory is a user management service that allows a server to act as a domain controller. Instead of logging into a local computer, the domain controller handles all user account authentication. See our explanation of Windows domains for more on this.
• DHCP: DHCP, or Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, is a protocol that lets a server automatically assign IP address to all devices on the network. At home, your router probably handles this. But in a business setting, IT staff can take advantage of the greater DHCP functionality in Windows Server.
• File and Storage: Having a file server for your company is another common use. This allows you to keep important data in a central location and set permissions to control who can access what.
• Print Services: If a business has dozens of printers across the building, it’s a waste of time for IT staff to configure them individually for each new workstation. Setting up a print server allows you to easily map printers to computers and reduce redundant work.
• Windows Update Services: Often, businesses don’t want all Windows Updates to come through right away. By setting up a server as a Windows Update controller, you can route all workstation updates through that server and configure specific rules for how they should work.
These are only a few of the server roles Windows Server can handle. Often, a company will have more than one server and split the above roles across multiple devices. Standard copies of Windows don’t include these capabilities out of the box. You can install some third-party tools to replicate some of this functionality, but it won’t be as robust. Development for Windows Server started in the early 1980s when Microsoft produced two operating system lines: MS-DOS and Windows NT. Microsoft engineer David Cutler developed the kernel of Windows NT with the intent to provide speed, security and reliability that large organizations require in a server operating system.
Prior to the release of Windows NT, many companies relied on the Unix operating system that required expensive RISC-based hardware to run file and printing services. Windows NT had the ability to run on less costly x86 machines.
A key feature in the NT architecture is symmetric multiprocessing, which makes applications run faster on machines with several processors. Later iterations of Windows Server can be deployed either on hardware in an organization's data center or on a cloud platform, such as Microsoft Azure.
Key features in later versions of Windows Server include Active Directory, which automates the management of user data, security and distributed resources, and enables interoperation with other directories; and Server Manager, which is a utility to administer server roles and make configuration changes to local or remote machines.