An Overview of Computer Networksby Michael Russell
My second degree, or should I say my second go through inside the education system was in networking. I'm a certified Novell and Microsoft engineer, not that I'm all that excited about the fact. Networking is actually pretty mindless work once you learn it. It's pretty much do it by the numbers based on what the customer wants. After you hook everything up the software installation is pretty straight forward. My 16 year old daughter could do it or as GEICO would say, a caveman could do it.
In this article I'm just going to cover the basics of what a network is and the types of networks. I'll go into more detail in later articles.
A network is simply a means for computers to speak to each other, or communicate with each other. With a network, computers can receive emails from each other, send files to each other, instant message each other and a variety of other things. This is something that we take for granted today but there was a time when networks were not so sophisticated and not all that efficient either.
There are basically two types of networks.
The simplest network is a LAN or Local Area Network. This is where all the computers in the network are located in one place such as an office building. Within this type of network you have 2 ways to connect.
The simplest way is peer to peer. This is where 2 or more computers are hooked up directly to each other. In other words if you have 5 computers you would have computer 1 hooked into computer 2 which would be hooked into computer 3 and so on. In this type of connection each computer is dependent on the other. So if computer 3 would go down then computers 1 and 2 would not be able to communicate or exchange information with computers 4 and 5 and visa versa. That is the main problem with a peer to peer network. Also in peer to peer networks the write process between computers leads to data corruption problems. This is not something they teach you in school but something you learn from experience.
The more common type of LAN connection is client server. This is where all the computers in the network are connected to each other via a central computer. This kind of connection does require more work in set up but is more efficient, carries data better and if one computer goes down the others aren't affected. However, should the server go down then all the computers on the network would be affected as far as their ability to get information from the other computers and the server itself. They, however, would still be able to do work locally on their own such as with a word processing program, unless the word processing program was located on the server. Then it would not be available. Usually, however, most applications are installed on each computer. What is most commonly lost when a server goes down is the ability to retrieve data that is common to everyone in the network, say an in house database of all employees.
The second type of network is a WAN or wide area network. This is where several LAN networks or even single computers are connected to a much larger network. A perfect example of a WAN is the Internet. This is where users from all over the world can interact with each other through email, chat rooms and instant messaging. WANs are enormous to say the least and are very intricate in their design, requiring hubs from all over the world to stay connected. One hub goes down and it can affect connections for millions of people though there are protocols instituted to reroute connections if a hub does go down.
The above is a very simplified overview of computer networks. In future articles I'll go into detail on the hardware and software required to set up these networks and some of the finer points. Stay tuned.
About the Author
Michael Russell Your Independent guide to Networking