Networks are collections of computers, software, and hardware that are all connected to help their users work together. A network connects computers by means of cabling systems, specialized software, and devices that manage data traffic. A network enables users to share files and resources, such as printers, as well as send messages electronically (e-mail) to each other.
Computer networks fall into two main types: client/server networks and peer-to-peer networks. A client/server network uses one or more dedicated machines (the server) to share the files, printers, and applications. A peer-to-peer network allows any user to share files with any other user and doesn’t require a central, dedicated server.
The most common networks are Local Area Networks or LANs for short. A LAN connects computers within a single geographical location, such as one office building, office suite, or home. By contrast, Wide Area Networks (WANs) span different cities or even countries, using phone lines or satellite links.
Networks are often categorized in other ways, too. You can refer to a network by what sort of circuit boards the computers use to link to each other – Ethernet and Token-Ring are the most popular choices. You can also refer to a network by how it packages data for transmission across the cable, with terms such as TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) and IPX/SPX (Internet Package eXchnage/Sequenced Package eXchange).
Steps to Setting-Up a Network.
All networks go through roughly the same steps in terms of design, rollout, configuration, and management.
Designing Your Network
Plan on the design phase to take anywhere from one to three working days, depending on how much help you have ad how big your network is.
Here are the key tasks:
- Settle on a peer-to-peer network or a client/server network.
- Pick you network system software.
- Pick a network language.
- Figure out what hardware you need.
- Decide on what degree of information security you need.
- Choose software and hardware solutions to handle day-to-day management chores.
Rolling Out Your Network
Rolling out your network requires the following steps:
- Run and test network cables.
- Install the server or servers if you’re setting up a client/server network. (If you are setting up a peer-to-peer network, you typically don’t have to worry about any dedicated servers.)
- Set up the workstation hardware.
- Plug in and cable the Network Interface Cards (NICs – these connect the network to the LAN).
- Install the hub or hubs (if you are using twisted-pair cable).
- Install printers.
- Load up the server software (the NOS, or Network Operating System) if your network is a client/server type.
- Install the workstation software.
- Install modem hardware for remote dail-up (if you want the users to be able to dial into the network).
- Install the programs you want to run (application software).
Configuring Your Network
Network configuration means customizing the network for your own use.
- Creating network accounts for your users (names, passwords, and groups).
- Creating areas on shared disk drives for users to share data files.
- Creating areas on shared disk drives for users to share programs (unless everyone runs programs from their own computer).
- Setting up print queues (the software that lets users share networked printers).
- Installing network support on user workstations, so they can "talk" to your network.
Managing Your Network
The work you do right after your LAN is up and running and configured can save you huge amounts of time in the coming months.
- Mapping your network for easier management and troubleshooting.
- Setting up appropriate security measures to protect against accidential and intentional harm.
- Tuning up your LAN so that you get the best possible speed from it.
- Creating company standards for adding hardware and software, so you don’t have nagging compatibility problems later.
- Putting backup systems in place so that you have copies of data and programs if your hardware fails.
- Installing some monitoring and diagnostic software so that you can check on your network’s health and get an early warning of implending problems.
- Figuring out how you plan to handle troubleshooting – educating your LAN administrator, setting up a support contract with a software vendor, and so on.
One key advantage of a peer-to-peer network is that it’s easy to setup. With the simplest sort of peer-to-peer network, you just use the built-in networking that comes with your operating system (Windows 98, Windows 95, MacOS, and so on) and you have very little software to set up – even less if you have computers that have the operating system preinstalled, as most computers do these days.
For Windows 95 and Windows 98, the basic steps to setting up a peer-to-peer network are as follows:
- Sketch out your workgroup map.
- Figure out a naming convention (set rules for naming individual computers).
- Go to the first computer on your network and click Start – Settings – Control Panel.
- Double-click the Network icon to display the Network dialog box.
- Click the Configuration tab (if it isn’t already in the foreground).
- Click the File and Print Sharing button.
- Click both checkboxes so that they appear checked, and then click OK.
- Click the Identification tab.
- Make the computer a member of the workgroup by typing the workgroup name in the Workgroup: text box.
- Give the computer a unique name in the Computer name: text box.
- Repeat Steps 3-10 for each workstation in your new workgroup.
- Teach all the network users how to share files, directories, and printers.
Another key advantage of peer-to-peer networking is that you don’t have to buy a computer that nobody can use as a client workstation (something that client/server networking requires). Peer-to-peer networking offers other cost advantages:
- The software is usually free. It either comes bundled with the workstation operating system or it is an inexpensive addition.
- The software is simple. You don’t have to spend the money and time required training someone to learn a complex, full-featured Network Operating System.
- Administartion is easy. Each user is a small-scale network administrator, responsible for whatever that user’s computer shares on the network.