Two or more computers connected together to share resources (such printers and Discs), exchange files, or enable electronic communications make up a network. A network’s connections to its computers can be made by cables, phone lines, radio waves, satellites, or infrared laser beams. A network is a group of two or more computers or other electronic devices that are interconnected for the purpose of exchanging data and sharing resources.
Networks can be divided into two main categories:
- Local Area Network (LAN)
- Wide Area Network (WAN)
The terms Metropolitan Area Networks (MAN), Wireless LAN (WLAN), and Wireless WAN may also be used (WWAN).
- Local Area Network
A network that is contained inside a very limited region is known as a local area network (LAN). It is typically constrained to a certain location, such a writing lab, building, or school.
Servers and workstations are the two primary categories of computers that are networked. In most cases, servers are not directly used by people; instead, they run continually to offer “services” to the other computers on the network and their human users. Printing and faxing, hosting of software, file sharing and storage, messaging, data storage and retrieval, complete access control (security) for network resources, and many other services can be given.
Workstations are so named because normally a human user uses them to communicate with the network. Traditionally, workstations were either desktop computers with a keyboard, display, and mouse or laptop computers with a keyboard, display, and touchpad built in. Our understanding of what a workstation is changing swiftly to include with the rise of tablets and other touch-screen devices like the iPad and iPhone and their capacity to communicate with the network and use network services.
Workstations are typically less powerful than servers, though configurations are determined by demand. For instance, a collection of servers might be placed in a safe location, away from people, and only be accessible via the network. It would be typical for the servers to function in these circumstances without a dedicated display or keyboard. The server’s processor(s), hard drive, and main memory could all significantly increase the system cost, depending on their size and performance. A workstation, on the other hand, would not require as much storage or working memory but might need a pricey display to meet the needs of its user. Every computer connected to a network needs to be properly set up.
Computers and servers can connect wirelessly or with cables to a single Network. Wireless access points enable wireless connectivity to a wired network (WAPs). These WAP gadgets act as a connection point between networks and computers. Although the practical capacity of a typical WAP may be much lower, it may theoretically be able to connect hundreds or even thousands of wireless users to a network.
While cable connections continue to be the fastest, servers will almost always be connected to the network via cables. Although desktop workstations are typically connected to the network by a cable as well, the cost of wireless adapters has decreased to the point where it may be simpler and less expensive to use wireless for a desktop when putting workstations in an existing building with insufficient cabling.
For more details on setting up a LAN, consult the Topology, Cabling, and Hardware sections of this article.
- Wide Area Network
Wide Area Networks (WANs) link networks over wider geographic regions, like Florida, the US, or the entire planet. The connections between this kind of global network may be made using specialized transoceanic cabling or satellite uplinks.
Schools in Florida can quickly communicate with locations like Tokyo through a WAN without incurring astronomical phone fees. A real-time teleconference between two users who are located half a world distant and have computers with microphones and webcams is possible. A WAN is challenging. Local and metropolitan networks are linked to international communications networks like the Internet using multiplexers, bridges, and routers. Yet, a WAN won’t seem all that different to users from a LAN.
- Advantages of Installing a School Network
User access control
Modern networks almost always have one or more servers which allows centralized management for users and for network resources to which they have access. User credentials on a privately-owned and operated network may be as simple as a user name and password, but with ever-increasing attention to computing security issues, these servers are critical to ensuring that sensitive information is only available to authorized users.
Information storing and sharing
Computers allow users to create and manipulate information. Information takes on a life of its own on a network. The network provides both a place to store the information and mechanisms to share that information with other network users.
Administrators, instructors, and even students and guests can be connected using the campus network.
The school can provide services, such as registration, school directories, course schedules, access to research, and email accounts, and many others.
The school can provide network users with access to the internet, via an internet gateway.
The school can provide access to special purpose computing devices which individual users would not normally own. For example, a school network might have high-speed high quality printers strategically located around a campus for instructor or student use.
School networks allow students to access their information from connected devices throughout the school. Students can begin an assignment in their classroom, save part of it on a public access area of the network, then go to the media center after school to finish their work. Students can also work cooperatively through the network.
Collaborative software allows many users to work on a document or project concurrently. For example, educators located at various schools within a county could simultaneously contribute their ideas about new curriculum standards to the same document, spreadsheets, or website.
- Disadvantages of Installing a School Network
Expensive to Install
Large campus networks can carry hefty price tags. Cabling, network cards, routers, bridges, firewalls, wireless access points, and software can get expensive, and the installation would certainly require the services of technicians. But, with the ease of setup of home networks, a simple network with internet access can be setup for a small campus in an afternoon.
Requires Administrative Time
Proper maintenance of a network requires considerable time and expertise. Many schools have installed a network, only to find that they did not budget for the necessary administrative support.
Although a network server is no more susceptible to failure than any other computer, when the files server “goes down” the entire network may come to a halt. Good network design practices say that critical network services (provided by servers) should be redundant on the network whenever possible.
Cables May Break
The Topology chapter presents information about the various configurations of cables. Some of the configurations are designed to minimize the inconvenience of a broken cable; with other configurations, one broken cable can stop the entire network.
Security and compliance
Network security is expensive. It is also very important. A school network would possibly be subject to more stringent security requirements than a similarly-sized corporate network, because of its likelihood of storing personal and confidential information of network users, the danger of which can be compounded if any network users are minors. A great deal of attention must be paid to network services to ensure all network content is appropriate for the network community it serves.