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Server Memory and Disk Space

Get a better understanding of two of your servers most important hardware considerations: memory (RAM) and storage (hard drive space).

Server Role

Servers are designed to efficiently provide shared applications and resources to individual computers over a network.  Specifically, a server can be responsible for providing access to:

- Databases
- Websites
- Email
- Files and applications
- Video and other multimedia-based content
- Terminal services for remote access
- Collaboration and chatting
- Any combination of the above

Each type of role creates different data processing and information storage needs, which directly impacts the amount of memory and hard drive space a server needs for optimal performance. A file server, for example, is likely to need less memory and more storage space than other types of servers as a result of its primary function involving a greater emphasis on data transfer than data processing.

In theory, your server can never have too much memory or storage space, but in reality cost and space limitations make it a necessity to determine an amount that will best fit what your server will be used for while balancing these needs with your organizational or departmental budgetary constraints.

The good news is that in most cases both RAM and storage space can be increased fairly easily, allowing you to increase your server's performance as its role expands over time, or as the number of users it needs to support increases.


Number of Users

The correlation between the number of users a server will be supporting and the amount of memory needed is very high.  A server whose number of users consistently exceeds the amount of memory available will see performance suffer as the server has to tap into utilizing hard disk drive storage space for virtual memory, which is considerably slower than physical memory.

As a result, the amount of memory in a server directly impacts the number of concurrent users that it can support, as well as the number of applications the users can concurrently use to interact with the server. 

An important consideration, though, is the maximum amount of RAM the server's operating system can utilize.  As an example, the standard editions of Windows Server, including Windows Server 2008, can only support a maximum of 4 GB of RAM, whereas the enterprise and datacenter editions can scale from 32 GB up to 2 TB, depending on the specific version of Windows Server used.

When it comes to storage space, many organizations initially gauge their server's amount of storage based on the number of users the server is expected to accommodate, but the correlation between storage space and users isn't as high as the memory side of the equation.  A more important gauge of how much storage is needed involves the types of demands users are expected to place on the server.

Server Demands

The types of demands users are expected to place on the server are directly related in most cases to the role (or roles) the server is expected to be responsible for, which we covered in the previous slide.  What your users will be accessing on the server and working with will determine how much memory and storage you can expect each user to need.

In terms of storage, disk quotas can be applied to track and control each individual user's disk space, helping to prevent the server from filling to capacity without warning.  Quotas can also be applied on a per-user basis if some users have needs that necessitate additional storage space.  As an example, if a file server has a limit of 250 MB per user but you find that some users need to exceed that limit, these users can be provided with higher limits (500 MB or 1 GB, for example).

The key is to set quotas that will allow you to accommodate your initial number of users and their needs while retaining enough unused storage space to accommodate user growth or evolving data storage needs.  And as mentioned earlier, additional storage space and memory can be added to a server fairly easily and inexpensively in most cases without needing to replace the server.

On the memory side of the equation, additional memory will allow users to retrieve information from the server more quickly as well as run more server-based applications concurrently without seeing any performance degradation.

Wrapping It Up

Servers have many roles and support all types of users, which unfortunately means there are no universal "one size fits all" guidelines when it comes to determining how much memory and storage a given server will need in order to operate efficiently.

However, by planning out what your server will be used for as well as the number of users it will support and the types of demands your users will place on the server, you can start to get a much clearer picture of the RAM and hard drive space you'll need in order to implement a server that optimally performs both now and well into the future.

Servers are the unsung heroes of the corporate computing environment, working behind the scenes to help get the  maximum benefit from the personal computers that people use every day. Before investing in server hardware, you need to consider applications, storage, processor, form factor, and more. 

Congratulations!  You now have a better understanding of the memory and storage needs of a server!

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