Understanding Computer Networks

A computer network is simply one or more computers that are connected allowing them to share files, programs and hardware. Instead of needing a different printer, for example, for every computer in a company, they will often be joined in a network to keep costs down and make the work much more cost effective.

There are many ways that a computer can be connected, including cables, satellites, phone lines, radio waves – any way that can connect two units together allowing them to exchange information – can be used. Networking computers have many benefits, including the ease of sharing information and hardware, and the reduced cost of needing separate programs and devices.

A network normally has three important components: a server, a workstation and a means of communicating. The server acts as the main computer that allows access to hardware and files from other computers. It is the main computer and provides the service to the others in the network. A workstation is essentially any of the other computers in the network that can be used to access the hardware or software. And, the channel for communication is the path that is used to send information between computers or peripheral devices. These channels can be with cable, or even wireless.

As new workstations are added, the network will grow. These networks are often categorized either into a local area network (LAN) or a wide area network (WAN) depending on the size and area of the network.

In a LAN, the workstations are all connected in a small area, such as a home or small business. Resources are shared between a few computers and perhaps printers and other similar peripheral devices. WAN connect networks in completely different locations. WAN can connect LAN using cables, satellite and wires. Many businesses use WAN to connect when needing more than one geographic location. An example of a WAN would be the Internet.

Networks can help make the most out of smaller budgets, helping users share information and resources.