Choosing the Best Computer Network
Your business is growing. Is it time for a computer network? You've added 2 new staff members in the past year, and all 5 employees are complaining about the increasing difficulty of sharing files. Your billing database is on a computer which can only be accessed by your administrative assistant and you are concerned about not having a centralized backup of the files being saved on each employee's computer. If all this sounds familiar, it may be time to implement a computer network. In this discussion, we'll look at two main computer network solutions for small and medium businesses. We'll explore the pros and cons of each type so that you can gain an understanding of which type might be the best solution for your business.
Networks begin when two or more computers are connected so that information can be shared. In order to connect to any kind of network, a computer requires a network card and CAT5 or CAT6 cables. (This website has more in depth information about choosing network cards).
If the computer has a "wireless" network card, radio signals can be used in place of the cables. A network also requires a piece of equipment called a switch, which acts as a central routing "hub" for the information being shared. A switch is kind of like a mail room in a large company. It makes sure the addressed messages get to the right recipient.
You may have heard the term LAN or WAN. LAN stands for Local Area Network, and usually denotes a network of computers which are fairly close together, say in the same building or office. WAN stands for Wide Area Network. WANs usually connect local area networks which are separated by great distances. (For example, a larger company may have an office LAN in Seattle, and an office LAN in Boston. These two LANs could be connected via a WAN data line.)
Peer to Peer Networks
The most basic type of network is a called a peer to peer network. This type of network consists of several computers which are connected to each other. The "network" consists of shared folders located on computers within the network.
These folders are set to a "shared" status, so that other people connected to the network can access them. Each shared folder is accessed by the users of the network, who set up a certain drive letter (say H:) as a "pointer" to the shared folders on other computers. In addition, any printers connected to any computer can be shared to other network users.
Here's an example. Susan and Joe work together in a small office and need to look at files on each other's computers. Susan creates a folder called "SusansFiles" on her computer and sets it up as a shared folder. Joe can then use the network connections to "see" the folder called "SusansFiles".
He sets up a permanent shortcut called "H:" drive to the folder called "SusansFiles". Now when he turns his computer on, Windows Explorer will show the folders on his computer's C: drive, the CDROM D: drive and the shared H: drive as his available file locations. Susan can do the same with a folder that Joe shares out from his computer.
Benefits of a Peer to Peer Network:
Client Server Networks
A more common type of network is called a client server network. This type of network uses a central server and specialized network software. The server is dedicated and is only used to store files and run server tasks. The computers which connect to the server are called clients and these are the machines the company staff would use.
The server acts as the "hub" of the network, and does most of the "behind the scenes" maintenance and storage. Common server network operating systems include Windows Small Business Server 2003 or 2008, Windows Server or Linux.
Limitations of a Client Server Computer Network
The benefits of a client server computer network are substantial, but there are some limitations.
Which Computer Network is Best For Your Business?
Peer to peer computer networks are reliant upon the computer users, so employee behavior is a major factor. Peer to peer networking could work for your business if you have the following:
A client server computer network is more secure, easier to manage, and would be a better solution for your business if the following is true:
Think of the cost of implementing a network as an investment in your business. As your business grows, implementing a computer network will help your employees share information and resources, and in the long run, will play a major role in the successful growth of your business.
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