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What is a Network

A computer network consists of a collection of computers, printers and other equipment that is connected together so that they can communicate with each other. Fig 1 gives an example of a network in a school comprising of a local area network or LAN connecting computers with each other, the internet, and various servers. 

what is network

Fig 1: Representation of Network in a school. 

Broadly speaking, there are two types of network configuration, peer-to-peer networks and client/server networks.

Peer-to-peer networks are more commonly implemented where less then ten computers are involved and where strict security is not necessary. All computers have the same status, hence the term ‘peer’, and they communicate with each other on an equal footing. Files, such as word processing or spreadsheet documents, can be shared across the network and all the computers on the network can share devices, such as printers or scanners, which are connected to any one computer.

Client/server networks are more suitable for larger networks. A central computer, or ‘server’, acts as the storage location for files and applications shared on the network. Usually the server is a higher than average File and Print Server CD or Multimedia Servers Other users, computers Users computers Cache, Proxy, Filtering, Firewall Server Access to: Internet content & learning resources, Scoilnet etc Email communication Modem or Router School ‘Local Area Network’ (LAN) Peer to Peer Network 4 performance computer. The server also controls the network access of the other computers which are referred to as the ‘client’ computers. Typically, teachers and students in a school will use the client computers for their work and only the network administrator (usually a designated staff member) will have access rights to the server.

Summary comparison between Peer-to-Peer and Client/Server Networks.

Peer-to-peer Network V/s Client/Server Network

Peer-to-peer Network 

Client/Server Network

Easy to set up

More difficult to set up

Less expensive to install

More expensive to install

Can be implemented on a wide range of operating systems

A variety of operating systems can be supported on the client computers, but the server needs to run an operating system that supports Networking

More time consuming to maintain the software being used(as computers must be managed individually)

Less time consuming to maintain the software being used(as most of the maintenance is managed by the server)

Ideal for Network with less than 10 computers

No limit to the number of computers that can be supported by the network

Does not require a server

Requires a server running a server operating system

Demands a moderate level of skill to administer the network

Demands that the Network administrator has a high level of IT skills with a good working knowledge of server an operating system

Table 1: Peer-to-Peer Networks vs Client/Server Networks

Components of a Network A computer network comprises the following components:

  • A minimum of at least 2 computers
  • Cables that connect the computers to each other, although wireless communication is becoming more common (see Advice Sheet 20 for more information)
  • A network interface device on each computer (this is called a network interface card or NIC)
  • A ‘Switch’ used to switch the data from one point to another. Hubs are outdated and are little used for new installations.
  • Network operating system software
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