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NETWORKING BASICS I: benefits of a network

(Courtesy of 3com Corporation)

What is a network?

Simply put, a network is computers, printers, faxes, and other electronic devices linked with cables so that all the pieces can "talk" and work together. When your network is connected, your employees and your customers are, too.

Office networks and the Internet

The Internet is the world's largest network. Invaluable as of research tool, it also enables you to send and receive email to your coworkers and customers, as well as access the World Wide Web. These are all capabilities that allow small businesses to act like big businesses.

Which network is right for you?

You have two types of networks to choose from -- peer-to-peer and client/server. Your choice depends on the number of nodes (PCs, printers, and other devices) you want to connect and types of software applications you work with. Either solution can be upgraded as your networking needs change.

Peer-to-peer network

If you have five or less nodes to connect, you'll probably want a peer-to-peer network. In this configuration, a single string of computers are connected together. A central controlling device called a hub is a recommended option. Each computer is an equal or "peer" of the others, and can share files and peripherals connected to the network. While a peer-to-peer network is a low-cost, easy to install solution, it is not as efficient for sharing large complex files, such as databases or graphics. Also, in a peer-to-peer network, the network goes down if one computer goes down or is turned off. This is because all computers in a peer-to-peer network are required for the network functions. For this reason, larger offices have moved on from peer-to-peer networks to client/server networks.

Client/server network

If you have six or more notes to connect, and work with large files like databases or with information that is updated frequently, your best choice is a client/server network. The presence of the central computer, or server, in this configuration gives you several advantages. Because files are stored in a single location, they're easier to update, backup, and archive with dependable results. The server itself is typically a high-performance computer that insures speedy data access and delivery, and gives your business the platform data capabilities such as centralized accounting and CD-ROM research software.

Laying the foundation: cabling

Cabling ties everything in your network together and is a critical component. LAN-TECH, Inc. can help you decide which type of cable you need.

Cabling comes in several varieties, including coax, twisted pair, and optical fiber. The most common types of cabling for smaller networks are coax and twisted pair. Coax cable resembles cable TV wire. It has the benefit of not requiring a hub and can be used to connect more numbers of computers together in a single "string." Coax was the first standard cabling type; however, it is less flexible than newer twisted pair cabling and doesn't support high-speed networks. If you have coax cabling installed and want to upgrade to a twisted pair cabling solution, look for networking products that support both technologies simultaneously. An example of this type of technology is the so-called "combo" network card, installed in PCs to allow connection with coax or twisted pair networks.

Twisted pair cabling resembles the wire that connects your telephone to the wall jack. Its low-cost, ability to make easy additions and changes to the network, and built-in path to high speed technologies such as Fast Ethernet gives you more advantages.

Networking technologies

Networking technologies include Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Token Ring, FDDI, and ATM. The two most popular choices for networks are: Ethernet and Fast Ethernet. Ethernet transfers information at 10 Mbps in small bursts of data called "packets" to ensure accurate, efficient operations. Fast ethernet (a.k.a. 100 base-TX) can transfer information at 100 Mbps. Fast ethernet is ideal for sending large, complex files such as databases and graphics. Fast ethernet devices like hubs are typically less common and more expensive than ethernet devices.

Twisted pair cabling also allows a combination of ethernet and fast ethernet in one network. This allows cost-effective, high-performance solutions where demanding applications or connections are supported by fast ethernet while the rest of the network uses ethernet.

Network operating system

The network operating system is required for every network. It allows computers and other connected devices descended receive information. Network operating system software can range from simple to robust. Peer-to-peer networking features are built into Windows 95, LANtastic, and Macintosh. Client/server configurations require more sophisticated network operating systems. The two major client/server network operating systems are Novell InternetWare and Windows NT. LAN-TECH, Inc. can help you decide which network operating system is right for your firm.

Connecting your network to the world: modems and routers

When you design your network, you can build in the capability for online faxing, Internet, and remote access by including wide area network (WAN) devices like modems, modemshare devices, remote access routers and servers, and Internet gateways. A modem (either analog or ISDN) is an easy, cost-effective way to provide Internet and remote access for a single person. Modems send data over a standard analog telephone line at speeds typically ranging from 14.4 Kbps to 256 Kbps or as fast as 128 Kbps with ISDN. If you need to connect more than one person to the Internet simultaneously, a remote access router is an affordable alternative. Routers link your network to other networks for modems and route information that comes along the network to the right location. Routers can also save you money by providing shared Internet access for all your employees, eliminating the need for expensive individual accounts. Routers can use either built-in modems or ISDN to transmit data.

Solutions for resource sharing

Print, fax, and CD-ROM servers can bring added productivity to your network by allowing you to share these expensive peripherals. By installing a print server you can attach less costly devices, such as inkjet printers directly to your network, illuminating the need to buy a network ready printer. The server can even prioritize jobs and print them in the order you want. A fax server can let employees send and receive faxes directly from their desktops, increasing productivity and eliminating the need for additional fax machines, as well as additional telephone lines. A CD-ROM server provides network-direct connections for up to seven attached CD-ROM drives, allowing employees from different areas to access these drives simultaneously.

Network payback

According to a recent industry study, a network can make your small-business as much as 40 percent more productive in just a few short years. This number is based on three primary factors, outlined below.

First, you'll see an increase in personal productivity. When your offices are connected, your people are, too. So everyone has quicker, more convenient access to the resources they need. With office-wide links to the Internet, employees can conduct research and exchange information with each other and with clients throughout the world. Being connected means there's no more running around trading floppy disks, waiting to print at a designated printer, or having to use someone else's computer to access the database.

Second, a network trims your communications budget. Exchanging information electronically can reduce paper, postage, and overnight delivery fees. You can also lower phone bills by sharing expensive monthly phone lines and things like automatic faxing during off-peak hours. If you're linked to the Internet, your whole office can share a single Internet connection instead of paying for monthly individual accounts.

And third, networking saves you money by letting you defer expensive equipment purchases. You won't have to buy that extra printer or additional fax machine when it's so easy to share what you already got.


Calculating networking benefits

1. Add up the savings+ increased employee productivity+ reduced communication costs+ reduced office equipment costs

2. Deduct expenses-- network components, installation, and maintenance costs

3. Calculate results= substantial business benefits


Atlanta Law Firms and Companies:  For case studies, or a FREE Networking Basics brochure, contact LAN-TECH, Inc. at (770) 514-0400 x14.

LAN-TECH, Inc. hopes that this overview of networking has helped you in your evaluation of this essential office technology. Our highly trained staff stands ready to help firms with their small office networking needs.