COMPUTER NETWORKS:

SETTING UP HOME & OFFICE COMPUTER NETWORKS


Computer networks are in essence, telecommunications systems. You mean like telephone systems? Yep, the difference being it's the computers within the network that do the "talking". Networks can be of any size – from a home network with a desktop computer and a few laptops linked up to today's biggest network, the Internet.

Networking allows us to do all sorts of things. Access the web, instantly share files, access and utilize shared storage drives and applications, connect to peripheral devices like printers/scanners, and more. The sharing or resources and information is what makes networks so powerful, and in today's world, necessary.

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TYPES OF NETWORKS - PAN, LAN, MAN & WAN

PANs are what you'd find as the network of choice for an individual or family, small office or the like. A single wired internet connection and modem provide access to the network typically managed by a single computer that allows other computers or devices (printers, smart phones, televisions, video consoles) to connect and access the network as well. Today, most PANs are wireless (Wi-Fi). This level of networking provides a lot of conveniences like:
• Printing documents to a centrally located printer from anywhere in the house/office.
• Streaming videos to your television
• Transferring files like photos from your cell phone to your desktop computer

LANs are the next step up the ladder. Think of these as "office building" networks – a computer network at a single site designed primarily to share resources like data storage and printing. While you could have a LAN as small as two computers, this type of network is really designed to accommodate from dozens to thousands of computers. LANs are usually hard-wired relying on those hard connections to increase speed and security but wireless connectivity is becoming more common. When wireless is added to the equation, LAN becomes WLAN.

Beyond LAN lie networks like MAN and WAN. These are huge networks and not something that you'll ever need to contemplate. MANs can serve the needs of: colleges/universities or similar multiple building institutions, cities or regions. MANs are often a series of LANs connected to one another. WANs can be a grouping of LANs and MANs that eventually become large enough to service an entire country, even the entire globe. The Internet is the world's largest WAN.

NETWORK SECURITY
Most networks are going to be connected to the Internet, and that's a great thing as you're then able to access all that wonderful info and entertainment waiting for you cyberspace. But, with great access comes potentially great exposure and risk. That brings us back to PANs and LANs. A huge benefit inherent in these networks is that they can be kept entirely private. Sensitive communications within the network can be kept, well, within the network, restricted from the Internet. Only those within the protected network can access them, and even then, setting up permissions as to who gets to see what makes keeping a tight control on security a breeze.

Security once again becomes a concern when a network user wants to access the LAN remotely. In other words, they're going to connect to the LAN via WAN, and so ends their control over security. In those situations, a Private Network is needed. One method is by way of an Enterprise Private Network (EPN). Think of EPNs as belonging to one company or organization controlled by that same group. The network has its hub where the system is managed and that in turn connects multiple locations. Essentially that network is much like it's own Internet separate the public internet. That's why you won't be finding EPNs at small businesses or homes. This is reserved for the big boys like telecommunications giants AT&T. High level enterprise-wide security and control comes at quite a price.

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WHICH NETWORK IS BEST FOR MY BUSINESS?

For home use or small offices, a simple peer-to-peer network would most likely suffice. The biggest benefit is they are inexpensive to set up. Each computer on the network can create a "shared" folder that they other computers can access and vice-versa. Jill has a "Jill's Work" folder that Jack can access, Jack has a "Jack's Work" folder that Jill can access. Voila... instant file sharing!

Low-cost and easy has its limits, though. Computers are on the network are only available if powered on. When Jill leaves the office and shuts down her computer, the network won't see it and neither will you. Those sharable files aren't there to use until Jill returns or someone else boots it up. Security is also an issue. You'd better trust all those folks on the network as all it takes is one malicious act to destroy loads of data (read, your work!). There is no centralized file system so backing up becomes a much bigger task than it should be. Updates to computer software, virus protection, patches... has to be done on each machine, individually. More wasted time, loads more work. When those concerns become more than you wish to deal with, move up to the next level. Client Server Networks.

CLIENT SERVER NETWORKS FOR LARGER NETWORK NEEDS

A Client Server Network (CPN) starts with a centralized server, think of it as the mother computer that serves the network via specialized software. This dedicated server stores files and runs server tasks. All those computers at all those desks in your office.. those are the clients... the machines that your employees are working on. Benefits of a CPN are many. The server handles the behind the scenes stuff... maintenance, storage, file sharing. It will automatically backup your data on a schedule that you determine (like backing up in the middle of the night so as not to slow down performance during business hours). Printing tasks are managed centrally as is the software that runs those printers so driver updates or adding new printers is quick and easy. Software applications can also be shared from the server to multiple users. Bottomline, CPNs allow for easier network administration with a high level of security and easy access to shared resources.

CPNs can accomplish much but they have their limitations, too. First on the list is expense. CPNs are much more expensive to implement than peer-to-peer systems. The hardware itself, the actual server, is a much more robust machine compared to the desktop stations of the end users and comes a much higher price. The software that runs the network is also more complex, powerful and complicated. Not only are installations more exacting and costly the software purchase itself adds to the final bill. The server being the hub of the system is a point of critical failure... it goes down, everything goes down. Avoiding that scenario calls for redundancy... multiple drives within the server so that if one fails the remaining drives are available to take over. A second back-up server is advisable as even with redundant drives aboard the primary server, complete server failure happens. The more reliability and redundancy you build into your CPN, the greater the expense.

QUICK TIPS TO MAKING NETWORKING CHOICES

In summary, here's a few guidelines to help you decide which way to go.

PEER-TO-PEER NETWORK
If your situation fits into the following:

• 5-6 employees or less
• Staff you can trust, low turnover
• Relatively new computers with lots of memory/hard drive space
• Large capacity storage drive(s) to backup data/files
• Time/knowledge needed to maintain each computer (virus protection, updates, patches)


CLIENT SERVER NETWORK
If your situation fits into the following:
• 6+ employees or high turnover rate
• Need for higher level of network security
• Centralized files for employee access/collaboration
• Complete backup of critical data is paramount
• Managing emails centrally

If you need help setting up the right computer network, we can help. Contact us about our computer networking services in the San Diego area.

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