Networking can refer to a variety of systems in today's computing world. Some networks have grown very large, such as those which encompass the Internet, while others remain small, such as a home network. Networks also possess variations that determine how a network runs, who runs it, who can access it and what its users can do with it.
A server represents the backbone of a network, managing tasks and resources so all devices connected to the network can benefit from the network's offerings. Some servers, known as dedicated servers, perform server-related functions only, while other servers remain much more lightweight. Even a personal computer can host a server. Servers can control aspects of a running network in various ways, such as limiting the number of users or limiting the kinds of data that a user may access. Some servers just serve as the hubs for network activity and possess no restrictions at all.
A centralized network will contain a single method of control for the entire network. A centralized network will typically have only one server. However, some centralized networks may use two or more servers but each submits to one central point of control. Centralized networks possess many benefits, such as the elimination of duplicate processes across many servers. However, if poorly maintained, a centralized server may run slowly or perform poorly.
In contrast, a decentralized network has no single point of control. Many servers each possess a certain amount of control and will usually work together to the benefit of the entire network. Engineers must maintain each server separately, keeping its software up-to-date and maintaining the hardware, if necessary. Engineers must ensure each server's system can function alongside the other servers in the network. Administrators must also set all network controls for each server separately.
Centralization Pros and Cons
While a centralized network possesses many benefits over its decentralized cousins, it doesn't necessarily reign supreme. Centralized networks offer an individual or a small group of individuals complete control over a network. It also ensures the entire network conforms to specific software standards and certain operating rules. If the main server doesn't receive regular maintenance, however, it can spell disaster for the entire network. Decentralization can defeat this problem by breaking the main server into smaller parts, allowing for individuals to maintain each server on its own.