Choosing a Network that's Right for You
By Joseph Cheek
Computers open up a world of information and communication. A single computer
can assist with managing finances, advertising a business, providing hours of entertainment, and
interacting with people around the world with unprecedented ease. When these tasks are taken to a
larger scale, however, a single computer cannot provide all the necessary resources. Computer
networks provide ways for otherwise separate computers to talk to each other, so that all the
computers can work together on the tasks given them.
An example of a benefit of networks is printing. An office with three computers
has two choices if every employee with a computer needs to print documents. First, printers can be
purchased for every computer. Buying many printers can be expensive, and chances are that the
printers will sit unused most of the time. Second, printers can be purchased for only one or two
computers, and the employees that aren't lucky enough to get a printer on their desk must borrow
one of the other computers to print. This means they get to save their work on a floppy disk, walk
to the other computer, hope no one is using it, load up their document on this computer, and
finally print. What a waste of time and productivity!
Enter computer networks. One printer can be purchased, and placed in a central
location. Each employee can use that single printer as though they each had their own printer! The
savings gained with increased productivity and fewer printers to purchase will pay for a small
network immediately. Networks provide other services also, such as file sharing, centralized
faxing, intra-office email and time scheduling, direct Internet access, centralized PC management,
file security, and more.
This article will discuss available network solutions from different vendors.
Ease of use, price, and functionality will all be discussed here for three major network operating
systems: IntranetWare from Novell, Windows 95 and Windows NT from Microsoft, and UNIX, available
from various vendors. Keep in mind that no decision has to be absolute; networks can include all
three operating systems, as well as parts from many other vendors.
Novell has the lion's share of the PC networking market; Novell has sold more
copies of its product than any other vendor has. IntranetWare, the latest offering, is
server-based; this means that it runs on its own machine, which is used exclusively to provide
network services. The good news is that this allows a high degree of security and stability; the
bad news is that it requires an extra PC; placing five computers on an IntranetWare network
requires six PC's.
Novell's systems have several benefits. Their security is the best in its class.
Many third party programs integrate well with IntranetWare because of the market share it controls.
A single high-end server PC can accommodate thousands of users. System-wide management tools are
available, making it easy to manage both the network itself and the PC's on the network. Its
messaging package has been consistently rated best of class for years. With all of these added
features, it still handles the basics extremely well.
Novell's systems have a downside, and that is the cash required up front. While
Novell has recently introduced a less expensive small business version, costs are still higher than
that of some other systems. Compared to a car, I see Novell as a Cadillac.
Microsoft's Windows 95 and NT
Microsoft really has two different types of network offerings: peer-to-peer with
Windows 95, and server-based with Windows NT. A peer-to-peer network is simply a network without a
dedicated server; all computers on the network are responsible for requesting and providing their
own services. This has both advantages and disadvantages.
The advantages of a Windows 95 network is ease of installation and low cost. If
your PC's are already running Windows 95, there is no extra software to load! The only purchases
necessary are the actual hardware that plugs in to the computer. Because there is no server, the
functionality is limited. Files and printers can be shared, but with very little security. Email
and some fax sharing is available, but to a smaller degree than with other solutions.
Windows NT (New Technology) is Microsoft's high-end network operating system.
This is server-based, like Novell's IntranetWare. Since the server is running a version of Windows
it can be used for applications, although I strongly recommend against it. Simple day-to-day
administration is easy; Microsoft provides software 'wizards' for automating simple tasks like
setting up new user accounts. Security is not as strong as IntranetWare's, and a single Windows NT
server cannot handle as heavy of a workload as IntranetWare can. Simple installations of Windows
NT, however, are much less expensive than IntranetWare. Compared to a car, Windows 95 is a
Volkswagen bug; Windows NT is a nice Toyota.
UNIX, available from various vendors
UNIX really isn't in the same class as IntranetWare and Windows NT; I include it
here because it can do what Windows NT and IntranetWare do, although in different ways. Versions of
UNIX are available for free (!), while some versions cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
UNIX has been around for decades, and as such has a LOT of support from
thousands of different vendors. Standard services, such as file and printer sharing and email
messaging, are included in basically all installations; beyond that, you can pick and choose what
you want. If you want it, UNIX has it; sometimes it's cheap, and sometimes it isn't.
My favorite part of UNIX is its connectivity options; with all the diversity of
the Internet, UNIX systems power most of them (by some counts, more than 81%). At my office, I use
a UNIX-clone, Linux, to provide my Internet connections, administrate my IntranetWare server, share
files and printers with my Windows 95 and NT computers, and provide internal and external email for
all users. The basic version of this software cost me less than one hundred dollars; the latest
upgrade with added functionality is less than four hundred right now. What a deal! Compared to a
car, UNIX can be anything from a Ford Escort to a Lamborghini Countach.
Computer networks offer functionality that make them well worth the price and
time investment. Only the basics have been covered here; more information can be easily obtained
from anyone in the networking industry. Many different options exist, and most of the different
systems offer most of the required services. When properly implemented, networks provide
functionality and resources that far surpass those of stand-alone computers.
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Joseph Cheek is a network professional that has been involved with
computers for 15 years. He has been published in national and international magazines, and
currently spends his time working for his computer network consulting business, Cheek
Consulting. He can be reached at
email@example.com or on the web at