Computer networks are all around you. Every business, academic institution, and nearly every home relies on at least a basic network to connect multiple devices together. Even if you do not work in the Information Technology field, having a basic understanding of computer networking allows you to troubleshoot basic problems on your home network and gain a better understanding of how computers communicate amongst each other.
In this article, you will learn the basics of computer networking including what computer networks are, the most common types of computer networks, and some of the important protocols used in the networking field. If you have absolutely no prior computer networking experience, check out Learn Computer Networking for a solid foundation.
Networking has become an integral part of information sharing. Think of the Internet. This is a large network that allows people around the world to share information instantaneously. It serves tasks ranging from social media updates on popular sites such as Facebook to connecting scientists working on groundbreaking medical projects. In the Information Age, the importance of computer networking has never been more evident and it is in your best interest to understand exactly how these systems work together to create the Information Superhighway.
What is a Computer Network?
In general terms, a network is an interconnected group of people or objects capable of sharing information with one another. A computer network implies a group of computers (and other technology related devices such as printers, tablets and phone systems) that are connected together using physical media (wiring) or using various wireless protocols.
A computer network consists of nodes. Each node refers to a specific computer or device using the network. The network also consists of links – the physical connections that carry messages between various nodes.
Networking has literally revolutionized the world. Think about how much faster email is compared to traditional “snail mail.” In an instant, you can connect to the Internet and have access to millions of web pages full of information.
Even at the business level, networks have allowed for collaboration between colleagues that simply was not possible 30 years ago. In your own home, you may have multiple devices connected via a wireless network. When properly configured, this network allows all of your devices to share information and even use a single printer from anywhere within the home.
Types of Networks
There are numerous types of networks that vary based on the specific needs of each implementation.
The first type of network is known as a peer-to-peer network. This refers to a network design where several machines are interconnected but no single computer is considered more important than any other computer. In this type of network, every computer can communicate with every other computer on the network for sharing information; however, each machine is responsible for storing its own files and running its own applications.
The second type of network is known as a client/server network. In this design, one or more computers are designated as servers that are tasked with performing critical functions for the client machines throughout the network. Typically, server functions might include data storage, user authentication, and the execution of large applications.
In most client/server networks, the servers are also responsible for providing an Internet gateway where client machines can access the Internet from a central point. This makes network management much easier and usually means that less money needs to be spent on client machines because processor intensive operations can be performed by network servers.
More recently, a third type of network has emerged known as a cloud-based network. In this design, a business purchases network services from a third-party vendor. Using the Internet to connect the local network to this third-party network, a business is able to host data, applications and other resources on servers managed by another company. This is the network topology many business are migrating to. You can learn more about cloud computing in Virtual Networking for Cloud Computing.
This provides a few key benefits. First, it greatly decreases the initial equipment costs typically associated with installing a new network infrastructure. Second, it’s reduces the need for in-house IT staff as most IT related issues are handled by the third-party cloud provider. Finally, cloud-based networks provide an additional layer of redundancy in terms of data storage. All of the business’s critical data is stored off site at the vendor location meaning that in the event of a natural disaster, the likelihood of catastrophic data loss is substantially mitigated.
Sometimes also known as standards, protocols are basically a set of guidelines used by vendors and manufacturers to ensure the interoperability of network devices across multiple platforms. Although there are thousands of protocols related directly to networking, the ones you should be familiar with are Ethernet and TCP/IP protocols.
Ethernet over twisted-pair (IEEE 802.3) is the standard protocol for wired networking. This protocol dictates how cables are constructed, the connectors used, and the amount of data that can be transmitted via an Ethernet network. Likewise, 802.11b/g/n is the standard protocol used for wireless (Wi-Fi) technology within any network infrastructure. Although you may not know it, these wireless standards are applied in every wireless network including the one you may have at home, at work, or even at the local coffee shop.
Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) is the standard for network communication. This protocol is the basis for the Internet and most local networks as well. Basically, TCP/IP describes exactly how computers communicate with one another. In this case, packets of data are sent from one machine to the next and are reassembled to create the entire document, picture, or file on the other machine when requested.
You can learn practically everything about TCP/IP protocol in the TCP/IP Video Training course.
Of course, this is simply scratching the surface of computer network. It is a very interesting field that provides ample professional opportunities as well as the chance to create useful and functional networks at home.
If you are considering networking as an IT related profession, there are numerous certification programs that teach you basic and advanced networking techniques such as the Cisco CCNA certification program. You can learn more about this highly respected certification in the CCNA Video Mentor course.
Whether you decide to use your computer networking knowledge to enter a new career field or you simply want to improve the design of your home network, anyone who relies on technology should understand the basic concepts of how computers communicate locally and globally with one another.