A computer network is a system in which computers are connected to share information and resources. The connection can be done as peer-to-peer or client/server. This web site reviews the techniques you can use to set up and possibly manage a network for home or a small business.


* File Sharing: The major advantage of a computer network is that is allows file sharing and remote file access. A person sitting at one workstation of a network can easily see the files present on the other workstation, provided he is authorized to do so. It saves the time which is wasted in copying a file from one system to another, by using a storage device. In addition to that, many people can access or update the information stored in a database, making it up-to-date and accurate.

 * Resource Sharing: Resource sharing is also an important benefit of a computer network. For example, if there are four people in a family, each having their own computer, they will require four modems (for the Internet connection) and four printers, if they want to use the resources at the same time. A computer network, on the other hand, provides a cheaper alternative by the provision of resource sharing. In this way, all the four computers can be interconnected, using a network, and just one modem and printer can efficiently provide the services to all four members. The facility of shared folders can also be availed by family members.

* Increased Storage Capacity: As there is more than one computer on a network which can easily share files, the issue of storage capacity gets resolved to a great extent. A standalone computer might fall short of storage memory, but when many computers are on a network, memory of different computers can be used in such case. One can also design a storage server on the network in order to have a huge storage capacity.

* Increased Cost Efficiency: There are many softwares available in the market which are costly and take time for installation. Computer networks resolve this issue as the software can be stored or installed on a system or a server and can be used by the different workstations.

* Security Issues: One of the major drawbacks of computer networks is the security  issues involved. If a computer is a standalone, physical access becomes necessary for any kind of data theft. However, if a computer is on a network, a computer hacker  can get unauthorized access by using different tools. In case of big organizations, various network security softwares are used to prevent the theft of any confidential and classified data.

* Rapid Spread of Computer Viruses: If any computer system in a network gets affected by computer virus, there is a possible threat of other systems getting affected too. Viruses get spread on a network easily because of the interconnectivity of workstations. Such spread can be dangerous if the computers have important database which can get corrupted by the virus.

* Expensive Set Up: The initial set up cost of a computer network can be high depending on the number of computers to be connected. Costly devices like routers, switches, hubs, etc., can add up to the bills of a person trying to install a computer network. He will also have to buy NICs (Network Interface Cards) for each of the workstations, in case they are not inbuilt.

 * Dependency on the Main File Server: In case the main File Server of a computer network breaks down, the system becomes useless. In case of big networks, the File Server should be a powerful computer, which often makes it expensive.
Peer-to-Peer Networking
Based on their layout (not the physical but the imagined layout, also referred to as topology), there are two types of networks. A network is referred to as peer-to-peer if most computers are similar and run workstation operating systems:
It typically has a mix of Microsoft Windows 9X, Me, Windows XP Home Edition, or Windows XP Professional (you can also connect a Novell SUSE Linux as part of a Microsoft Windows-based network; the current release of the operating system is really easily to install and made part of the network).
In a peer-to-peer network, each computer holds its files and resources. Other computers can access these resources but a computer that has a particular resource must be turned on for other computers to access the resource it has. For example, if a printer is connected to computer A and computer B wants to printer to that printer, computer A must be turned On.

Client/Server Networking
A computer network is referred to as client/server if (at least) one of the computers is used to "serve" other computers referred to as "clients". Besides the computers, other types of devices can be part of the network:
In a client/server environment, each computer still holds (or can still hold) its (or some) resources and files. Other computers can also access the resources stored in a computer, as in a peer-to-peer scenario. One of the particularities of a client/server network is that the files and resources are centralized. This means that a computer, the server, can hold them and other computers can access them. Since the server is always On, the client machines can access the files and resources without caring whether a certain computer is On.
Another big advantage of a client/server network is that security is created, managed, and can highly get enforced. To access the network, a person, called a user must provide some credentials, including a username and a password. If the credentials are not valid, the user can be prevented from accessing the network.
The client/server type of network also provides many other advantages such as centralized backup, Intranet capability, Internet monitoring, etc.
In these series of lessons, the network we will build is based on Microsoft Windows operating systems (I have been able to fully connect some versions of Linux, such as Novell SUSE Linux, into a Microsoft Windows-based network but at the time of this writing, I will not be able to address that).
In our lessons, we will mention the names of companies or provide links. These are only indications and not advertisements. Any other company or link that provides the mentioned service is suitable.

 Topology refers to the way in which the network of computers is connected. Each topology is suited to specific tasks and has its own advantages and disadvantages.

There are FOUR major competing topologies


Bus topology is one the easiest topologies to install, it does not require lots of cabling. There are two most popular Ethernet cable types which are used in this topology they are 10Base-2 and 10BaseT. Bus topology based networks works with very limited devices. It performs fine as long as computer count remain with in 12 – 15, problems occurs when number of computer increases.
Bus topology uses one common cable (backbone) to connect all devices in the network in linear shape. Network interface cards of all network devices are attached to single communication medium backbone cable. When any computer sends out message in the network it is broadcasted in the entire network but only intended computer accepts the message and process it. Bus topology provide simplicity to the network, however there is big disadvantage of this topology, if main single network cable some how gets damaged, it will shut down the entire network no computer will run on network and no communication can be made among computers until backbone cable is replaced.

Ring topology is one of the old ways of building computer network design and it is pretty much obsolete. FDDI, SONET or Token Ring technologies are used to build ring technology. It is not widely popular in terms of usability but incase if you find it any where it will mostly be in schools or office buildings. In ring network topology computers and other networking devices are attached to each other in such a way that they have devices adjacent to each other (Left and right side). All messages are travelled in the same directory either clockwise or anticlockwise. In case of failure of any device or cable the whole network will be down and communication will not be possible.

This is the most commonly used network topology design you will come across in LAN computer networks. In Star, all computers are connected to central device called hub, router or switches using Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) or Shielded Twisted Pair cables.
In star topology, we require more connecting devices like routers, cables unlike in bus topology where entire network is supported by single backbone. The most practical point of Star topology success is that the entire network does not go down incase of failure of a computer or cable or device, it will only affect the computer whose wire failed rest of the network will be working fine. However, incase of failure of central communication device such as Hub, Router or Switch the entire network will collapse. Star topology is widely used in homes, offices and in buildings because of its commercial success.

Mesh topology is designed over the concept of routing. Basically it uses router to choose the shortest distance for the destination. In topologies like star, bus etc, message is broadcasted to entire network and only intended computer accepts the message, but in mesh the message is only sent to the destination computer which finds its route it self with the help of router. Internet is based on mesh topology. Routers plays important role in mesh topology, routers are responsible to route the message to its destination address or computer. When every device is connected to every other device it is known as full mesh topology and if every device is connected indirectly to each other then it is called partial mesh topology.

The most common network protocols are

    *  Ethernet
    * Local Talk
    * Token Ring
    * FDDI
    * ATM

The Ethernet protocol is by far the most widely used. Ethernet uses an access method called CSMA/CD (Carrier Sense Multiple Access/Collision Detection). This is a system where each computer listens to the cable before sending anything through the network. If the network is clear, the computer will transmit. If some other node is already transmitting on the cable, the computer will wait and try again when the line is clear. Sometimes, two computers attempt to transmit at the same instant. When this happens a collision occurs. Each computer then backs off and waits a random amount of time before attempting to retransmit. With this access method, it is normal to have collisions. However, the delay caused by collisions and retransmitting is very small and does not normally effect the speed of transmission on the network.The Ethernet protocol allows for linear bus, star, or tree topologies. Data can be transmitted over wireless access points, twisted pair, coaxial, or fiber optic cable at a speed of 10 Mbps up to 1000 Mbps.

 To allow for an increased speed of transmission, the Ethernet protocol has developed a new standard that supports 100 Mbps. This is commonly called Fast Ethernet. Fast Ethernet requires the use of different, more expensive network concentrators/hubs and network interface cards. In addition, category 5 twisted pair or fiber optic cable is necessary. Fast Ethernet is becoming common in schools that have been recently wired.

 The most recent development in the Ethernet standard is a protocol that has a transmission speed of 1 Gbps. Gigabit Ethernet is primarily used for backbones on a network at this time. In the future, it will probably be used for workstation and server connections also. It can be used with both fiber optic cabling and copper. The 1000BaseTX, the copper cable used for Gigabit Ethernet, is expected to become the formal standard in 1999.

Local Talk is a network protocol that was developed by Apple Computer, Inc. for Macintosh computers. The method used by Local Talk is called CSMA/CA (Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Avoidance). It is similar to CSMA/CD except that a computer signals its intent to transmit before it actually does so. Local Talk adapters and special twisted pair cable can be used to connect a series of computers through the serial port. The Macintosh operating system allows the establishment of a peer-to-peer network without the need for additional software. With the addition of the server version of AppleShare software, a client/server network can be established.
The Local Talk protocol allows for linear bus, star, or tree topologies using twisted pair cable. A primary disadvantage of Local Talk is speed. Its speed of transmission is only 230 Kbps.

The Token Ring protocol was developed by IBM in the mid-1980s. The access method used involves token-passing. In Token Ring, the computers are connected so that the signal travels around the network from one computer to another in a logical ring. A single electronic token moves around the ring from one computer to the next. If a computer does not have information to transmit, it simply passes the token on to the next workstation. If a computer wishes to transmit and receives an empty token, it attaches data to the token. The token then proceeds around the ring until it comes to the computer for which the data is meant. At this point, the data is captured by the receiving computer. The Token Ring protocol requires a star-wired ring using twisted pair or fiber optic cable. It can operate at transmission speeds of 4 Mbps or 16 Mbps. Due to the increasing popularity of Ethernet, the use of Token Ring in school environments has decreased.

Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI) is a network protocol that is used primarily to interconnect two or more local area networks, often over large distances. The access method used by FDDI involves token-passing. FDDI uses a dual ring physical topology. Transmission normally occurs on one of the rings; however, if a break occurs, the system keeps information moving by automatically using portions of the second ring to create a new complete ring. A major advantage of FDDI is speed. It operates over fiber optic cable at 100 Mbps.

Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) is a network protocol that transmits data at a speed of 155 Mbps and higher. ATM works by transmitting all data in small packets of a fixed size; whereas, other protocols transfer variable length packets. ATM supports a variety of media such as video, CD-quality audio, and imaging. ATM employs a star topology, which can work with fiber optic as well as twisted pair cable.
ATM is most often used to interconnect two or more local area networks. It is also frequently used by Internet Service Providers to utilize high-speed access to the Internet for their clients. As ATM technology becomes more cost-effective, it will provide another solution for constructing faster local area networks.


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