Computer networking is the process of linking up all of your computers, printers and other devices, so that you can share files and communication with one another. This has obvious benefits for business, and even families with many machines operating in the same household.

So when you decide to set-up a computer network, what should you consider?

Wired or Wireless?

The main differences between wireless and wired computer networks are related to speed, security and simplicity of set-up.

Wireless networks are very easy to set-up and can generally be set-up in a few hours (for a simple network). Over the past few years’ wireless networks have become cheaper to set-up as well as faster in transferring data. They are also quite secure, with a high level of security being available on most wireless routers. The downside to wireless is that the majority of your devices on the network will need to have a wireless network card, to connect to the router/switch. For devices such as laptops, tablets and phones this almost comes standard, however many PCs will require the installation of a wireless network card before being connected to the network.

Wired networks on the other hand may take longer to establish, but you are expected to get faster transfer speeds, as well as superior security. Being a wired network it is very difficult to access the network, unless one has access to the physical location of wires/router/switcher.

The good news is that it is possible to have a dual wired and wireless network. The benefit of this is that PCS and desktop devices are wired with the faster wired connection, and devices with wireless network cards, such as laptops, can connect wirelessly.

Server or Peer-to-Peer Network

For small businesses it may appropriate to set-up a peer-to-peer network. A peer-to-peer network effectively connects all machines on the network together, directly, without the use of a server. These individual devices connect to a switch/router which connects to the internet. Each device serves as both a host and a client.

However, as a business grows it may not be feasible to continue with a peer-to-peer network. Connecting all devices to one another becomes difficult and becomes quite messy. Security on a peer-to-peer network is also quite limited and many users may be able to access all files – not ideal in a business scenario. So while a peer-to-peer network has benefits for a small number of users, it is not really a suitable enterprise solution.

Enter a Server.

A server is a dedicated machine that handles data – it can act like a shared hard drive for employees to share files, it can act as a point for file transfer (great for very large files) or for email, web hosting, gaming or applications.

While it is possible to use a standard computer in the role of a server, this only works on small scale and it is generally not advised, as most standard personal computers are not designed to handle the workload of a server, especially in a larger organisation.

Equipment

In a network there are a common pieces of equipment that are used. We briefly explain these here;

Server: a dedicated device for transferring and managing data on the network. It is generally central to the network and connects all devices together.

Router:  a router connects networks to other networks. So, think of your business network, connecting to the world’s largest network (the internet). For this to happen you need a router.

Switch: a switch connects devices to one another. This can include computers, servers and printers. Only devices connected to the switch can communicate with one another.

Note: it is common for household routers and switches to be combined, so this means they are packaged as a single device, although they are actually 2 devices performing separate functions.

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