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What is a Network?

In order to understand what a network is, try and visualize a grid of connected objects. These objects, usually a computer or phone, could be adjacent to one another or across the globe. We use a few different terms to help us communicate the simplicity or the complexity that the size of this connected family of objects represents. Whatever type of network cabling they use to connect will still allows them to communicate in one way or another…

       router                                  cix670_3

The Top 3 Types of Networks:

LAN – Local Area Network

Local. Close together. This is what a LAN is. Your house would have a LAN, or your office would also have a LAN. This is a group of computers and/or phones that are connected together, usually through a switch, to a server, router and eventually the internet. Local area networks are a great place to begin for someone inclined to learn about protocols, sharing, server resources and networking equipment. This is where anyone in the managed services field gets their start.

MAN – Metropolitan Area Network

This is a network that spans further out from a LAN, but still confined to a regional setting. We have seen many MAN’s popping up across the world in major cities offering internet access through a common connection (usually cellular). This would allow a user to carry an internet device, such as a laptop, down the street to grab something to eat without loosing connectivity. MAN’s could also be used to describe something along the lines of a campus wide network. Universities have MAN’s that connect their students from one side to the other, allowing seamless connections no matter which building, or field they find themselves. In order to understand what a network is, but on the global scale, we move on to the grand design.

WAN – Wide Area Network

WAN’s can be used a variety of ways. We have cellular connectivity with our phones that provide internet country wide. This is where it helps to understand that there is a data and voice network everywhere you look. It doesn’t matter what medium the signals are traveling on, they are part of a group that shares the same connection. That is why it is usually free to call those on the same carrier, or phone network as you. You don’t have to be handed off to another network. Businesses also have WAN’s. If you have many different offices spread throughout the country, or the globe, it is important for them to all be networked together. Not only does their data not travel across other networks, thus keeping things a bit more secure, but they don’t have to pay for long distance charges either. You could be on the same voice network as a colleague, but be in different hemispheres and still see the line light up when your colleague picks up their extension on the business phone system.

The 5 Most Important Networking Devices:

First you have your endpoints. These are the objects on the far tip of the network architecture diagram. This is where we start when exploring exactly what a network is.

Endpoints

  • Desktop computers
  • Phones
  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • Cell phones
  • MP3 players
  • Video game consoles
  • Even some children’s toys

Switches

Switches are the casino dealers of the network. The look at every piece of data coming or going across the network and delegate to which device they will send the traffic. They do this by comparing the identifying information with tables they have generated from the experience gained from a history of working with the devices. The reason why I like to think of them as the casino dealers of the network is because they know to which networking endpoint they are to deal the data and facilitate the handouts in a increasingly efficient way.

You can get switches in both PoE and non PoE. PoE stands for ‘power over Ethernet’ and they actually deliver power to endpoints that can take advantage of the free flowing electricity. This can save you from having to use a power cord with your office phone, for example.

Switches also come in 2 speeds. The first is 10/100 and the other is 10/100/1000, called gigabit. As long as you have the right cabling, you can take advantage of the speeds gigabit has to offer your network.

Firewalls

Named because of its protective qualities, a firewall can be left unscathed when faced with intrusion that would damage the other network devices behind it. It is a protective barrier that can be programmed to only allow certain types of traffic across its path and into the network. Traffic deemed safe to the endpoints and from only trusted sources.

Routers

The edge device, or router, is the last device between your LAN and the rest of the world. Operating on network layer #3, the router is what knows how to talk to all the other routers. The routers also have tables in them, called routing tables, where they catalog all traffic so that they are able to address their traffic properly allowing the fastest possible arrival.

Cable

What ties it all together? Cabling of some shape or size. It is the most effective way to connect devices thus far and comes in many forms. Growing increasingly more popular is fiber optic cabling, transmitting data with light signals. If it’s not fiber, it’s going to be copper wiring, twisted together in pairs, color coded and sheathed. You can find shielded or unshielded (UTP) twisted pair depending on the intensity of interference, if any, you might run across.

Communicating connectivity:

The devices in your network family are going to need a way to talk to each other. Usually this is accomplished by a carefully designed and skillfully deployed combination of both physical network cabling or wireless transmitters. The cables can be anything from UTP copper cabling to fiber optic glass strands that use light to signal the language that is being spoken. The languages that they use to speak are called protocols. As we move further and further ahead, the more common ground is made with the use of protocols allowing more and more people on different networks to communicate with each other. Open standards have helped a lot in this area allowing changes to be made to protocols without instead trying only to profit on their use. We are seeing more and more voice and data equipment manufacturer’s sharing the same connections and coexisting on the same network.

I hope that you have found this information useful and have a better understanding for exactly what a network is. I thank you for reading. Although very basic, I hope it encourages you to learn even more about the most incredible way we have ever communicated.