A computer network is a system of networks where computers are interconnected via peer-to-peer connection or client-server connection to share data, information and resources. Networking is the engineering discipline which concerns itself with the communication between computer systems and devices. It is not an independent science since it extensively derives most of its theoretical and practical aspects from other communications technology disciplines like telecommunications, information technology, computer science and computer engineering. It can be called a sub-discipline of these four major disciplines. Let us take a brief look at its basics and get to understand how it all works.
Computer Network Types
There are four major types of computer networks:
- LAN or Local Area Network which is a network of computers within a very small area, say one building. Its most distinguishing characteristics are high data exchange rates, very small geographic area coverage and no requirement for leased telecommunication lines.
- MAN or Metropolitan Area Network which is a network covering a larger area than LAN, say a network of all computers within a city. A MAN may be owned and operated by a single organization but is used by a larger number of individuals and organizations. MAN may also be used in cable television.
- WAN or Wide Area Network which covers a larger geographic area than either LAN or MAN. WAN offers four connection options - leased lines, circuit switching, packet switching and cell relay.
- Wireless LAN/WAN is the wireless variant of the LAN or WAN and is related to telecommunications network where the nodes are interconnected without the use of wires or cables. Wireless networking is usually implemented using remote information transmission systems which use electromagnetic frequency for the network carrier and such an implementation generally occurs at the layer of the network.
Computer Networking Methods
Peer-to-Peer Networking: In this method, computers can be directly connected to each other and files and network information can be accessed directly by connecting to another computer. However, for this to take place, it is necessary that the computer from which the data needs to be accessed is turned on. For instance, if Computer B requires the X-files from Computer A, it cannot do so if Computer A is turned off. The computers involved in a peer-to-peer network must be similar and run workstation operating systems.
Setting up a Peer-to-Peer Network:
- Start with installing the appropriate operating system.
- Shut down all the participant computers and the router (optional) and turn on just one computer which would be used to set up the router.
- Follow the instructions for setting up the router. These instructions may come as a manual or as a CD.
- After your router is configured, turn off both, the router and the computer.
- Connect each participating computer to the router using a separate RJ-45 cable for each connection and turn on the router. Turn on the computers after a few seconds of turning on the router. Soon, you will get a pop up indication of network detection.
- If setting up a wireless connection, you would need to connect a wireless router to one computer and configure the router following the configuration instructions.
- Install wireless network cards on all other computers. Turn on the router and computers as mentioned above.
- Because of the wireless network cards, the other computers won't be required to be physically connected to the router.
Client-Server Networking: Under this form of networking, all the information and files are centralized on the server and any computer can access any information at any time, irrespective of the source computer's power status. For instance, extending the above example, Computer B can access the X-files of Computer A even if the latter is turned off. The files would be present on the server! One of the biggest advantages of this kind of networking is that there is network security as the computers are accessing all the data and information via the server, and not directly. The server computer is the single point of contact for all the client computers. Due to centralization of data, information and resources, client-server networking provides centralized backup facilities, Internet facilities and the assurance of Internet monitoring.
Setting up a Client-Server Network:
- First of all, you need a server. You can either purchase one or use an existing computer as a server. If you're using an existing computer as server, make sure it has a 133 MHz or higher speed processor, a minimum RAM of 128 MB, up to 2 GB of free hard disk space, CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive and hardware that supports console redirection.
- Install a server operating system on the server computer and follow instructions for such installation very closely.
- The final step of installation would probably show you a dialog box confirming successful active directory installation. Your server is now a domain controller and ready for client access.
- Once the domain is created, client computer accounts can be created and added to it.
Computer Network Administration
The duties of a computer network administrator includes network maintenance and regulation of all systems and peripherals attached to the network. Windows XP Professional and Windows Server 2003 provide many tools for network management for both P2P as well as CS network administration. For P2P administration, Windows XP Professional offers local and small network tools which are sufficient for managing workstation. On the other hand, Windows Server 2003 provides lots of tools for remote management of servers as well as clients.
That was a brief computer networking tutorial - crash course would be more appropriate! It was a brief attempt towards understanding networking basic before graduating to more advanced niches like the details of how virtual networks function. In case you plan on setting up a network yourself, and you're not a network professional, make sure to read all the related instructions carefully and follow them verbatim.