Once upon a time, when servers had all of the brains (mainframes) and user workstations were dumb (terminals), servers had all of the glory. Then, along came the PC revolution and the whole client-server paradigm of distributed computing power turned the computing world on its head. Servers just weren't sexy anymore. Rather, it was pushing more computing power out to the workstation that held most people's interest.
But now the pendulum has swung back in the other direction. While workstations continue to advance in terms of power and capability, the rise of the Web and the browser-based thin-client interface has put renewed focus on having powerful, reliable, centralized servers to do most of the heavy lifting. There's even been a resurgence of interest in modern versions of centralized mainframe-like systems, for reasons of capability, scalability, and perhaps most of all, ease of system administration and management. It's much easier to upgrade, apply security patches, or control software licensing and distribution when you can do it all from a single place.
If you're like most school districts, you probably have a mix of server technology from many different periods of time, and may be confused by all of the current choices. Unix or Windows? What about Linux? How do the new OS X Macs fit in? At Fairfax County Public Schools, we tried to find answers to these questions in a quest to replace our aging Web infrastructure with new hardware capable of serving several millions of hits per day. In the end, we purchased a number of Sun 280 R dual-processor servers " but only after doing a lot of homework (for a detailed account, visit www.techlearning.com/db_area/archives/TL/200109/weaving.html). Here, we help you do yours by providing a brief overview of the world of servers, as well as buying tips and tools.