Understanding Computer Networks

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A network is created when two or more computers are connected — via cables to a central hub, or through wireless devices — to share information and resources.

Often categorized according to their size, wide area networks (WANs) refer to networks that extend beyond a single building, such as those that cover school campuses or entire cities. This type of network uses satellites and radio waves to cover great distances and may be used for cross-country and global communications. Most small, nonprofit organizations operate successfully using a local area network (LAN). The two main types of LANS are peer-to-peer (P2P) and client/server.

While it is fairly easy to connect two computers to each other and to a shared printer for a simple P2P LAN, building a safe and secure client/server LAN can take considerable time and resources. Understanding your organization's needs, the size and complexity of the desired network, and the fundamental differences between the different types of LANs and WANs will help you determine which network will work best for your program.

Wireless

Wireless networking (oftentimes referred to as WiFi) is a way to connect two or more devices (such as computers, cell phones, and printers) to share data without the use of cables; other networking equipment, such as hubs or cables, are also unnecessary. Some practical considerations for a wireless network, however, include security, range, and interoperability.

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