In the computer industry, a thin server is a PC that contains just enough hardware and software to support a particular function that users can share in a network, such as access to files on a storage device, access to CD-ROM drives, printing, or Internet access. According to the first companies who have used the term, a thin server can be quickly added to a network and costs less than providing the same service through a more general-purpose computer server. Usually, a thin server contains an abbreviated version of one or more operating systems, such as Windows 95, Macintosh, or UNIX, and necessary network protocols, such as TCP/IP and NetBEUI. Typically, it also includes Hypertext Transfer Protocol so that it can be configured, administered, and used through a Web browser user interface. The hardware processor sometimes uses reduced instruction set computer processing.
Some thin servers are designed and marketed for use on local area networks in businesses. A newer development is a thin server intended for home use. Data General makes a thin server for the home or small office that performs the single function of providing access to the Internet. Other desktop and notebook computers and possibly other electronic appliances can be hooked up as clients and share the thin server's connection or connections to the Internet.
The thin server and the thin client concepts arise from the same idea: why pay for the function in a computer that you don't need? Whereas the thin client is a constrained personal computer that gets applications and data the user needs from a shared and usually full-function server computer, the thin server serves the client requests of other computers and their users by doing one thing well without needing to provide any other service. A thin server is similar to a thin client in that both may be thought of as single application, special-purpose computers, almost always with a very limited storage capability and with "trimmed-down" operating systems.