What do the terms server, proxy server and cloud server mean?

Anonymous May 10, 2014
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What is a server? What is proxy server and cloud server? Please explain these in simple language…

  1. Oron J
    May 10, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    Jan's answer is quite full and accurate. I'll try to give you a more focused one which may be more applicable to your needs, but bear in mind it's not the complete story!

    • A server is a system on the network that responds to "clients" - software running on users' computers etc. There are many different kinds of servers: mail servers (send, receive and store mail), file servers (store files on the network and "serve" them much like a hard drive does when you open a file), web servers (manage web sites and send web pages in response to requests from browsers) etc. The term is used for the hardware and the software indiscriminately, so ti's possible to have several (software) servers on one physical server, and it's even possible to have several physical servers as part of a single software server (e.g. on the cloud). This makes it very difficult to define exactly what it is, but essentially, it's "that machine on the network that my computer is talking to".
    • A proxy server is a computer on the network which sits mid-way between your computer and the actual server. The most common type is s web-proxy server. It can be used either as a caching server, to reduce bandwith (as explained by Jan), or for security -- either to block certain addresses from the clients, or to protect the identity of the clients (the web server sees the proxy as if it were the client).
    • A cloud server, as you probably gathered from Jan's reply, is a rather nebulous (sorry!) entity. It's that combination of servers (hardware and software) which together form a coherent service - something that your computer sees. For example, when you use GMail (or Outlook.com or any other similar service), you type a single address, log on and you see your mail. Behind the scenes, however, there are hundreds or even thousands of machines which work together to provide you with those web pages showing you your mail and with the ability to send, receive, store and manage your mail. All that is not relevant to you, the client, because you "see" just the one thing, and to you it looks just like any other server.
  2. Jan F
    May 10, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    Server generally refers to a computer systems intended to run day in, day out and offers services (web, mail, storage, applications, ...) for either other systems or users.

    A proxy server in it's most general form is usually a server 'sitting' between a user and another resource (be it another server, service or user) with a certain function.
    The function can be different as per application for example a proxy server can be used to control, filter and/or protect web surfing (blocked sites, transparent virus scanning, ....), speed up surfing or downloading by caching data or protect their identity by hiding the end users IP address, system information etc.
    These days you will mostly find it in application as a "caching proxy" sometimes coupled with virus & malware protection for internet traffic. The way this works is that the proxy server has a large storage where data with certain criteria is cached e.g. files, movies and images above 5MB. All of this happens automatically and transparent for the user/client. Let's say user 1 watches a funny Youtube video and forwards it to his/her colleague. Now, when the colleague watches the video instead of downloading it again from Youtubes servers it is transparently played from the caching proxy on the local network.

    Cloud server usually refers to the combination of cloud (distributed) computing and services on the web. So if you rent a cloud server you don't rent a physical server or a portion of it but raw "computing power" which may be provided by several systems. The main benefit of that approach is scalability for both, the provider and the customer.
    If you need more power or more capacity, the provider doesn't have to move your data to another physical machine but you are simply allotted more from the entire cloud, no downtime, no waiting, high flexibility. Equally the provider doesn't need to deal with variable utilization. They don't have to calculate how many "small packages" can fit on this servers storage, how many intensive applications can be operated by this processor, how many customers can share this hardware? If their cloud is saturated they add new machines to it. If the saturation is too low they can just power down systems to save on electricity costs without having to "relocate" customers to other servers.