Sometimes, the beautiful thing about words is the way that they can be reinvented and reapplied through the advent and application of new technology. Today’s word, for example, predates the Chancery Standard of written English but is also comfortable in modern messages that include emojis. From (server) farm to dinner table, let’s examine today’s word – server.
Coming to English from the Old French verb servir, meaning ‘to do duty toward or be in the service of’, our word is simply the agent noun – meaning the thing doing the serving. Initially, the word was used to mean something along the lines of a general servant, as can be seen in John Wyclif Select Works (c.1380) where he states that: “But Christ is among him as a good server.” By the next century, our word had become specified as an attendant serving a meal at a table: the a1475 English poem, The Book of Curtasye (Courtesy), mentions, “The server is next of all kind men, makes way and stands beside.” Though it has always retained its definition of “serving”, our word entered a different field when it was first used in the 1972 Proceedings of AFIPS (American Federation of Information Processing Societies) Spring Joint Computing Conference, writing that: “This theory considers systems in which messages place demands for transmission (service) upon a single communication channel (the single server).”
As mentioned before, in a way, it all makes sense: like a manual server (or servant), a modern computer, program, or device provides services to other programs/users. To carry the analogy further, just as a restaurant or department store has different servers based on department and expertise, so to do computerised version, such as a file server (for data), an e-mail server, or a proxy server. Funny enough, as with dedicated shoppers and personal butlers on the human side, dedicated computer servers always cost more too.
Though we can’t all have servants to meet all of our daily needs, we can have servers, and the amount that we need for our online activities is staggering. Current data storage capacity in server data centres is estimated to be close to 1,500 exabytes, or 1.5 billion gigabytes. With 2,600 data centres in the top 20 global cities, it’s no surprise that London and New York both have 300+ each, but, for raw size, China has a data centre in Langfang that matches the size of the Pentagon – 6.4 million square feet. Finally, while data centres are thought to consume 3% of all global electricity, a good portion is being wasted: sustainability consultancy The Antithesis Group speculates that 30% of servers in the U.S. have not performed valuable computing work or delivered data in the past six months- worldwide, the total comes to 10 million servers and close to USD 30 million in idle capital.