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Networking and Why it May Make Sense For You

Modern management needs information as fast as it can get it, and computers make it readily available. However, once a company gets its first one, it's not long before there are queues of people wanting to use it. The next step, of course, is to get one for each person in the queue, and to stop them wasting time by walking round the office to exchange floppy disks (and save money by making them share printers or programs), it's not long before the computers are joined together. 

This is a common scenario, and many businesses grow to need computer systems capable of accepting and processing information from several users at the same time - a typical example is an accounts system which is fed with data from several operators at different terminals all day.

They're beginning to be useful at home as well; many people find when they buy the latest PC that their previous one is worth so little they may as well keep it. At the very least, it can provide extra storage space and can even be used by another member of the family - with Windows 98 (2nd Edition) both machines can use the Internet at the same time by sharing the connection. Another good reason for having a small network is the lack of room for devices in the average PC. If you've got a lot of equipment to shoehorn into a machine, it can make sense to spread it over 2 PCs and join them together.

A network therefore provides convenience, cost-saving and security, because everything is in one place and can be backed up easily, although you have to make sure that the network's performance is at least equal to that of the machine where the work is being done - people will soon get fed up if they have to wait for data to come over the cable when it would be miles quicker off their local hard drive, so there is a danger that documents could be out of sync as people keep their own versions. In the early days, NetWare's delivery was considerably quicker than anything the average workstation could come up with, but it's not the case now.

So, to sum up, a network exists where a number of PCs are connected together to share a resource, which could be a printer, or data on a hard disk. The reasons for doing so could be down to cost, productivity or both. In fact, the combined processing power of the PCs has made networks a viable alternative to minicomputers in many companies. The most distinguishing characteristic of a network is that data can enter or leave at any point and be processed at any workstation or any printer, for instance, should be useable from any word processor by any person at any computer on the network.

If the network is to do with a single location (usually a building, or one or two floors in one), it is known as a Local Area Network, or LAN. A Wide Area Network, or WAN, on the other hand, can spread over city or international boundaries, and usually has a third party (such as a telephone company) involved in making it work. As some internal systems (like in a university) can cover several miles without anyone else's assistance, distance alone is no indication of whether a network is Local or Wide Area. The best example of a WAN is The Internet.

Somewhere in between is a Metropolitan Area Network (MAN), which operates over the area of a city, or within a 50km boundary, with fiber optics at 100 Mbps. Nodes are connected over 2 km distances, but this appears to have been superseded by the Internet, according to the N+ exam.

This is an article from  Phil Croucher, author of  Communications and Networks.  Phil has a way of explaining in "plain" English. The information is well presented and is well above A+ standard.

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Updated 07/06/04

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