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Networking Basics


Computer networking can be the route to real productivity for businesses of all sizes. It allows users to gain access to all the resources present on the network as easily as if they were a part of their personal computer. This includes files, printers, scanners, access to the Internet etc, etc. It also allows files to be stored at a common location where a regular backup routine can be implemented to protect against the accidental loss of important and valuable data.

Networking used to be a daunting proposition for smaller companies who could not justify employing a full time IT manager, however the advent of comprehensive networking capabilities within the Microsoft Windows environment has made it a practical and inexpensive proposition for any organisation with some experience of using computer technology. Here we outline the concepts of the networking capabilities of Windows and the advantages and limitations of the different approaches which can be adopted, however the optimum solution for any networking requirement is unique to the needs of your business and we will be pleased to advise on the best way to employ Windows networking in your environment.


Peer-to-Peer Networks

The simplest and least expensive solution for networking in a small office (typically up to 10 users) is an approach known as peer-to-peer. In this configuration each computer connected to the network holds a list of the users (stored on its own hard drive) who are permitted access to that machine and thus to the network. Individual resources (e.g. files and folders) resident on any computer can be shared with others as desired and access and can be controlled by passwords associated with those resources, different passwords can be chosen to determine the level of access which is granted. In most cases one or more computers are chosen as common repositories for data (file servers) and are equipped with the appropriate hardware and software to allow back-up copies of the data to be made on a regular basis.

Any of the variations of Windows (95/98/ME or NT4.0/2000) are suitable for peer-to-peer networking although we strongly recommend the use of Windows 2000 in an office environment on the grounds of improved security and robustness. The hardware requirements are generally not demanding and depend to a large extent on the nature of the applications being run on each machine. Hardware specific to the network often involves no more than the installation of a network adapter in each computer, an inexpensive Ethernet hub and the necessary cabling to join everything together although it is often preferable to install dedicated printer servers, Internet access servers etc. rather than using individual users computers to provide these services. These devices are also inexpensive and avoid the degradation in performance which would be noticeable to a user when their machine is being used by others to carry out tasks such as processing large print outputs.

Advantages

  • Inexpensive to purchase and configure

  • No specialised hardware or software requirements

  • Can be administered with little specialised knowledge

Disadvantages

  • Limited to small office networks

  • No centralised control and administration

  • Very limited security

Client-Server Networks


Client-Server technology is the basis for all but the smallest PC networks. Here the information which allows users to gain access to the network and it's resources is stored centrally and is usually replicated on two or more machines to provide redundancy in the event of a fault. This allows the network administrator to manage access to the network by controlling the 'permissions' granted to users or groups of users. The server software also provides a wide range of ancillary services and tools to facilitate the configuration and management of larger and more complex networks.

Whilst the level of technology and cost of the client computers is not necessarily greater than that of machines used in a peer-to-peer workgroup it is common for servers to use sophisticated designs employing multiple processors, arrays of hard disc drives in a fault tolerant configuration, redundant power supplies and so on. It is also common for larger networks to be divided up into 'sub-nets' to keep the amount of data traffic moving on any part of the network structure within acceptable limits. Sub-nets are usually designed to be functional units where traffic is mostly contained within the sub-net itself although devices known as routers allow data to be passed between machines located on different sub-nets as and when required.

Client-server network designs can be scaled to suit the requirements of all sizes of business from a single office network up to a large enterprise with thousands of clients spread over hundreds of sites. Technology is moving very rapidly especially with the introduction of web based concepts into the business networking environment making the interchange of information within a business and also with the world outside easier and more economical than ever before.

Windows NT server and Windows 2000 server are both available in a range of builds intended to suit the needs of different sizes of network and are taking over from the Netware networking software which has been the cornerstone of business networking for many years. Whilst both Windows and Netware have a significant initial cost the administration of a Windows network is considerably easier and producing a lower total cost of ownership over the lifetime of a network. Linux, based on the Unix technology of the minicomputer world, is rapidly growing in popularity and is widely used on machines acting as internet servers. Linux is available for free but as yet the availability of easy to use management tools is limited making it best suited to environments which employ full time network administrators.

Advantages

  • Can be scaled to suit any size of business

  • Centralised administration

  • High degree of security possible with proper management

Disadvantages

  • Significant initial software cost

  • Administration is more complex


Our Network Services

Link to Enquiry FormWe are able to offer a full range of Windows networking services from an initial free consultation through design, installation, configuration and support. We can also provide training for your staff to enable them to perform the routine administration tasks and to help you obtain the maximum productivity from your network. For full details please click for further information and complete the enquiry form.


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Last Updated March 2001
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