What is a network?
A network can be defined as two or more computers which are linked together to share resources. These resources can include internet access, printers, software and files. The ‘heart’ of a network is called the server, and its function is to contain all the software and services which the network and its users depend on.
Figure 1: Example of a basic network
The server is operated by personnel called Network or System Administrators, and it’s their responsibility to ensure the smooth running of the network so it is working as efficiently as possible. This is achieved through the use of a dedicated operating system called Windows Server 2003 – this gives the network administrator complete control over the network functions.
Advantages for a network
Because networked computers can share the same resources, costs can be dramatically reduced. For example, if there are ten computers in a room each needing access to a printer – it is far cheaper to route all ten computers to a single, shared printer than it is to purchase ten printers; one for each computer. In this example, the saving would also include the cost of ink cartridges (you would only need to purchase one set of cartridges instead of ten).
Software can be purchased and installed in a similar cost effective way. Most popular software is able to be bought and installed on a server, and anyone who requires to use it will only need to purchase a license (the legal rights to use it, usually in the form of a certificate). These licenses are far cheaper than buying the software for each user. This method also means that it isn’t necessary for an I.T Technician to install the software on every computer; only one install on the server is needed. Another benefit to this approach is when the software requires an update. If it is server based, only the software on the server would need to be updated. All the users would benefit from the update as soon as it has been installed. If each user had a copy on their computer, I.T Technicians would need to update each one. This could become time consuming, expensive and complicated. The software that this could apply to, includes most Microsoft software and Anti-virus software.
Security is a vital element in any business. In a network, security is enhanced both internally (security within the network) and externally. Users are given a username and password to access their files and all the programs, hardware etc that they have been given access to. When a user saves a file, it is saved to the server and not the computer that he/she is working on. If that user wants to retrieve that file, it can be done on any computer on the network, and not just on the computer that was originally used. This data can be accessed, monitored and backed up by the Network Administrator at any time.
Each department can have their own ‘identity’ on the server, which allows them to have access to files, applications and resources which would be relevant to their requirements. For example, the Accounts department may need to have access to invoicing software (e.g. Sage and Excel), whereas Sales may only require software to monitor and forecast sales over a period of time (e.g. Excel). Accounts may not want other departments accessing their software due to security or confidentiality reasons.
Internet security is tighter for both users accessing the internet, and external threats when a network is set up. All the computers can share a single access point to the internet, which makes it easier to monitor internet usage, help reduce hacking and other external threats trying to access data on the network.
Another feature which can be applied by the system administrator is Encryption. Data within a folder/subfolder can be encrypted to prevent unauthorized access to data if other security measures have been breached. Typically, only system administrators will be...