The sharing of data and resources. Information travels over the cables, allowing network users to exchange documents & data with each other, print to the same printers, and generally share any hardware or software that is connected to the network. Each computer, printer, or other peripheral device that is connected to the network is called a node. Networks can have tens, thousands, or even millions of nodes.
The two most popular types of network cabling are twisted-pair (also known as 10BaseT) and thin coax (also known as 10Base2). 10BaseT cabling looks like ordinary telephone wire, except that it has 8 wires inside instead of 4. Thin coax looks like the copper coaxial cabling that’s often used to connect a VCR to a TV set.
A network computer is connected to the network cabling with a network interface card, (also called a “NIC”, “nick”, or network adapter). Some NICs are installed inside of a computer: the PC is opened up and a network card is plugged directly into one of the computer’s internal expansion slots. 286, 386, and many 486 computers have 16-bit slots, so a 16-bit NIC is needed. Faster computers, like high-speed 486s and Pentiums, , often have 32-bit, or PCI slots. These PCs require 32-bit NICs to achieve the fastest networking speeds possible for speed-critical applications like desktop video, multimedia, publishing, and databases. And if a computer is going to be used with a Fast Ethernet network, it will need a network adapter that supports 100Mbps data speeds as well.
The last piece of the networking puzzle is called a hub. A hub is a box that is used to gather groups of PCs together at a central location with 10BaseT cabling. If you’re networking a small group of computers together, you may be able to get by with a hub, some 10BaseT cables, and a handful of network adapters. Larger networks often use a thin coax “backbone” that connects a row of 10BaseT hubs together. Each hub, in turn, may connect a handful of computer together using 10BaseT cabling, which allows you to build networks of tens, hundreds, or thousands of nodes.
Like network cards, hubs are available in both standard (10Mbps) and Fast Ethernet (100Mbps) versions.
LANs (Local Area Networks)
A network is any collection of independent computers that communicate with one another over a shared network medium. LANs are networks usually confined to a geographic area, such as a single building or a college campus. LANs can be small, linking as few as three computers, but often link hundreds of computers used by thousands of people. The development of standard networking protocols and media has resulted in worldwide proliferation of LANs throughout business and educational organizations.
WANs (Wide Area Networks)
Often a network is located in multiple physical places. Wide area networking combines multiple LANs that are geographically separate. This is accomplished by connecting the different LANs using services such as dedicated leased phone lines, dial-up phone lines (both synchronous and asynchronous), satellite links, and data packet carrier services. Wide area networking can be as simple as a modem and remote access server for employees to dial into, or it can be as complex as hundreds of branch offices globally linked using special routing protocols and filters to minimize the expense of sending data sent over vast distances.
The Internet is a system of linked networks that are worldwide in scope and facilitate data communication services such as remote login, file transfer, electronic mail, the World Wide Web and newsgroups.
With the meteoric rise in demand for connectivity, the Internet has become a communications highway for millions of users. The Internet was initially restricted to military and academic institutions, but now it is a full-fledged conduit for any and all forms of information and commerce. Internet websites now provide personal, educational, political and economic resources to every corner of the planet.
With the advancements made in browser-based software for the Internet, many private organizations are implementing intranets. An intranet is a private network utilizing Internet-type tools, but available only within that organization. For large organizations, an intranet provides an easy access mode to corporate information for employees.
Ethernet is the most popular physical layer LAN technology in use today. Other LAN types include Token Ring, Fast Ethernet, Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI), Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) and LocalTalk. Ethernet is popular because it strikes a good balance between speed, cost and ease of installation. These benefits, combined with wide acceptance in the computer marketplace and the ability to support virtually all popular network protocols, make Ethernet an ideal networking technology for most computer users today. The Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) defines the Ethernet standard as IEEE Standard 802.3. This standard defines rules for configuring an Ethernet network as well as specifying how elements in an Ethernet network interact with one another. By adhering to the IEEE standard, network equipment and network protocols can communicate efficiently.
Network protocols are standards that allow computers to communicate. A protocol defines how computers identify one another on a network, the form that the data should take in transit, and how this information is processed once it reaches its final destination. Protocols also define procedures for handling lost or damaged transmissions or “packets.” TCP/IP (for UNIX, Windows NT, Windows 95 and other platforms), IPX (for Novell NetWare), DECnet (for networking Digital Equipment Corp. computers), AppleTalk (for Macintosh computers), and NetBIOS/NetBEUI (for LAN Manager and Windows NT networks) are the main types of network protocols in use today.
Although each network protocol is different, they all share the same physical cabling. This common method of accessing the physical network allows multiple protocols to peacefully coexist over the network media, and allows the builder of a network to use common hardware for a variety of protocols. This concept is known as “protocol independence,” which means that devices that are compatible at the physical and data link layers allow the user to run many different protocols over the same medium.
A network topology is the geometric arrangement of nodes and cable links in a LAN, and is used in two general configurations: bus and star. These two topologies define how nodes are connected to one another. A node is an active device connected to the network, such as a computer or a printer. A node can also be a piece of networking equipment such as a hub, switch or a router. A bus topology consists of nodes linked together in a series with each node connected to a long cable or bus. Many nodes can tap into the bus and begin communication with all other nodes on that cable segment. A break anywhere in the cable will usually cause the entire segment to be inoperable until the break is repaired. Examples of bus topology include 10BASE2 and 10BASE5.
10BASE-T Ethernet and Fast Ethernet use a star topology, in which access is controlled by a central computer. Generally a computer is located at one end of the segment, and the other end is terminated in central location with a hub. Because UTP is often run in conjunction with telephone cabling, this central location can be a telephone closet or other area where it is convenient to connect the UTP segment to a backbone. The primary advantage of this type of network is reliability, for if one of these ‘point-to-point’ segments has a break, it will only affect the two nodes on that link. Other computer users on the network continue to operate as if that segment were nonexistent.
A peer-to-peer network allows two or more PCs to pool their resources together. Individual resources like disk drives, CD-ROM drives, and even printers are transformed into shared, collective resources that are accessible from every PC.
Unlike client-server networks, where network information is stored on a centralized file server PC and made available to tens, hundreds, or thousands client PCs, the information stored across peer-to-peer networks is uniquely decentralized. Because peer-to-peer PCs have their own hard disk drives that are accessible by all computers, each PC acts as both a client (information requestor) and a server (information provider). A peer-to-peer network can be built with either 10BaseT cabling and a hub or with a thin coax backbone. 10BaseT is best for small workgroups of 16 or fewer users that don’t span long distances, or for workgroups that have one or more portable computers that may be disconnected from the network from time to time.