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What are the best methods of packaging data for ArcGIS for Server?
There are two methods of packaging data to be published on ArcGIS for Server.
Create a Map Package
Map packages, also known as MPK files, are packages that contain map documents (MXD files) and data referenced by layers. Map packages simplify sharing information between users of ArcGIS. Once the map package is created, it can be transferred to an ArcGIS Server machine, ready to be published as a service via ArcMap. For more information, refer to the following ArcGIS Help page: ArcGIS for Desktop: Creating a map package
Create a Service Definition from the Map Document
Service definition files contain information about service properties and types and are published as SD files. Service definition files are better suited for a cloud environment or a secure environment, and the information is not directly transferred into the ArcGIS Server machine. Publishing an SD file automatically uploads it to ArcGIS for Server. For more information, refer to the following ArcGIS Help page: ArcGIS for Server: Creating a service definition in ArcGIS for Desktop