Computer networking is a vital part of any organization these days. This article will dwell upon the major advantages and disadvantages of computer networks.
“Computing is not about computers any more. It is about living.” — Nicholas Negroponte, Founder, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab
A computer network is a set of electronically connected computers which can share information and resources among themselves. There are communication protocols that define how this sharing should take place.
Like every other technological prospect, computer networks come with its set of advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of Networks
The major advantage of a computer network is that is allows file sharing and remote file access. A person sitting at one workstation that is connected to a network can easily see files present on another workstation, provided he is authorized to do so. This saves him/her the hassle of carrying a storage device every time data needs to be transported from one system to another. Further, a central database means that anyone on that network can access a file and/or update it. If files are stored on a server and all of its clients share that storage capacity, then it becomes easier to make a file available to multiple users.
Resource sharing is another important benefit of a computer network. For example, if there are twelve employees in an organization, each having their own computer, they will require twelve modems and twelve 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. All the computers can be interconnected using a network, and just one modem and printer can efficiently provide the services to all twelve users.
Shared resources mean reduction in hardware costs. Shared files mean reduction in memory requirement, which indirectly means reduction in file storage expenses. A particular software can be installed only once on the server and made available across all connected computers at once. This saves the expense of buying and installing the same software as many times for as many users.
A user can log on to a computer anywhere on the network and access his files. This offers flexibility to the user as to where he should be during the course of his routine. A network also allows the network administrator to choose which user on the network has what specific permissions to handle a file. For example, the network administrator can allot different permissions to User A and User B for File XYZ. According to these permissions, User A can read and modify File XYZ, but User B cannot modify the file. The permission set for User B is read-only. This offers immense flexibility against unwarranted access to important data.
Increased Storage Capacity
Since 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, the memory of different computers can be used in such a case. One can also design a storage server on the network in order to have a huge storage capacity.
Disadvantages of Networks
One of the major drawbacks of computer networks is the security issues that are involved. If a computer is a standalone computer, physical access becomes necessary for any kind of data theft. However, if a computer is on a network, a hacker can get unauthorized access by using different tools. In case of big organizations, various network security software need to be used to prevent theft of any confidential and classified data.
Virus and Malware
If even one computer on a network gets affected by a virus, there is a possible threat for the other systems getting affected too. Viruses can spread on a network easily, because of the inter-connectivity of workstations. Moreover, multiple systems with common resources are the perfect breeding ground for viruses that multiply. Similarly, if malware gets accidentally installed on the central server, all clients in the network that are connected to that server will get affected automatically.
Lack of Robustness
If the main file server of a computer network breaks down, the entire system becomes useless. If there is a central linking server or a bridging device in the network, and it fails, the entire network will come to a standstill. In case of big networks, the file server should be a powerful computer, which often makes setting up and maintaining the system doubly expensive.
Needs An Efficient Handler
The technical skills and know-how required to operate and administer a computer network is considerably high. Any user with just the basic skills cannot do this job. Also, the responsibility that comes with such a job is high, since allotting username-passwords and permissions to users in the network are also the network administrator’s duties. Similarly, network connection and configuration is also a tedious task, and cannot be done by an average user who does not have advanced knowledge of computers and/or networking.
Lack of Independence
Since most networks have a centralized server and dependent clients, the client users lack any freedom whatsoever. Centralized decision making can sometimes hinder how a client user wants to use his own computer.
Computer networks have had a profound effect on the way we communicate with each other today, and have made our life easier. From the World Wide Web to your local office LAN, computers have become indispensable in daily life, and networks have become a norm in most businesses. If networks are designed and configured keeping in mind its pros and cons, they are the best piece of facility you could ever have.