The Internet is the biggest network in the world. Have you ever wondered how this network actually works? Or how it is organized? The Internet is actually a network of networks. It isn’t an official network as such, but it is what we’ve obtained after connecting smaller networks located in different locations around the world. This is one of the reasons why the Internet is so popular- nobody owns it, and nobody can control how you use it, beyond a certain extent.
The organization of the Internet is actually very complex. You will first have to understand how a basic computer network operates. In this tutorial, we’re going to discuss the two broad categories of computer networking, which should give you an idea about how computer networks are organized, and give you some info about the different kinds of computer networks we see today. For more information about the basics of computer networking, you can take a look at the other tutorials we’ve written. You can also sign up for our computer networking course – we cover everything in more detail there.
Two Broad Types of Computer Networking
Computer networking refers to the practice of connecting two or more devices together with a cable, or any other medium (like wireless receivers). The way these devices are connected is the type of computer network you have. There are two ways a device could be connected to another: directly, which is called as peer to peer networking, or indirectly, which is called as client server networking.
Peer to peer networking is where you connect two or more computers to each other without another device, like a router, to act as an intermediary. Data can pass freely between these computers. The advantage of peer to peer networks is that every node (computer or other device) in the network bears equal responsibility for communication, which doesn’t bring too much load on a single computer. Peer to peer networking is also more resilient than client server networking. If a network node goes down, the other nodes can pick up the slack and continue communicating between themselves. The other major advantage is that there are fewer bottlenecks in peer to peer networks, as the data doesn’t have to pass through a server.
Client server networking is where you connect two or more computers to each other through another device. This device, called as the server, acts as an intermediary. Client server networking is a form of layered networking. There may be several layers in a client server network. All communication between the nodes on the client server network has to pass through the server. The server is responsible for overseeing the communication, and for making sure each node receives the data that is meant for it. The server also controls access to the network. Authorization is needed to communicate with any node on the client server network. A major advantage of client server networking is the central storage system most implement. All computers have access to the same storage- any changes made to a file on the storage system will be visible to the other computers in real time. Also, a single copy of data makes it easier to copy and store for back up. However, if the server fails, so does the entire network.
Usually, you see a combination of peer to peer networking and client server networking put in use, which is known as hybrid networking. Hybrid networking increases the advantages offered and reduces the disadvantages of both types of networking. The Internet is the best example of a hybrid network. Your home computer and printer form a peer to peer network, which is connected to the Internet by your ISP. This forms a hybrid network. Please note that a hybrid network may also refer to a network that uses two or more communication standards, like Wi-Fi and Ethernet. For more information how networks communicate over the TCP/IP protocols, take this course.
Different Types of Computer Networks
Computer networks, whether they employ peer to peer networking or client server networking, are categorized on the basis of the area they occupy. LANs, CANs and SANs are small scale networks, while WANs and MANs are large scale networks. For more information on different kinds of networks, and an introduction on setting them up, take this course. In the meanwhile, here is a top level summary of different kinds of networks:
LANs: Local Area Networks occupy a small area, like in a school or an office building. The computers are connected to each other using the TCP/IP protocol. LANs are easy to set up and look after. You don’t need to be an expert to set up a LAN network. LANs can also be changed easily- you can add new nodes or upgrade nodes with barely a hassle.
CANs: Campus Area Networks are a comparatively new development. They refer to the computer networks found in a university campus or an office campus. CANs are usually a combination of small LAN networks. While larger than LANs, they still don’t occupy a very large area.
SANs: SAN can be an acronym for both System Area Network as well as Storage Area Network. A System Area Network refers to a network that provides high speed net access to clients. The network contains servers that handle incoming requests. A Storage Area Network, on the other hand, refers to a collection of servers that store information. A popular website, for example, may use several servers that contain information about its users. Both the SANs are small.
MANs: Metropolitan Area Networks span an entire city. MANs aren’t that common today. They come somewhere between WANs and CANs in the area they cover. They are used by systems spread out across an entire Metropolitan area.
WAN: Wide Area Networks refer to the networks that cover entire continents. The best example of a WAN is the Internet. WANs are extremely costly to implement and maintain.
Now that you know about the different kinds of computer networks, you might be interested in learning how to set up a basic computer network, like a LAN network. We teach you how to do that, and a host of other interesting things, in this advanced computer networking course.