There are actually some very compelling reasons why someone (someone being a person, small business, or mega-institution) with more than a couple computers would want to connect those computers into a network. What the network will actually be used for will, of course, vary depending on the needs of the person or organization creating the network. Networks can be used for simple tasks , such as sharing a printer, or they can be used for more advanced applications, such as a complex point-of-sale system and worldwide video conferencing.
All networks, whether big or small, are typically created so that users on the network can share resources and communicate. The list that follows breaks down some of the reasons for networking computers:
File sharing. Networking computers makes it very easy for the users on the network to share data files. Files on a particular user 's computer can be shared on the network or files can be placed on a file server, which provides a central location for all files needed by the users on the network.
Hardware sharing. Users can share devices such as printers, CD-ROM drives, and hard drives (users can be assigned space on network server drives). Once networked, computers can share their own local devices, such as CD-ROM and hard drives , or take advantage of high-speed printers or other devices that are provided by a particular server on the network.
Program sharing. Applications such as spreadsheets and word processors can be run over the network. You keep most of the files that make up the application on a special application server on the network. This makes installing the software on a computer easier (because it can be done over the network). It also makes upgrading an application easier because the upgrade only has to be performed on the server itself.
User communication. Networks allow users to take advantage of communication media such as electronic mail, newsgroups, and video conferencing. Because voice, pictures, and video can be moved across the network as data, network communication is certainly not limited to just text messages. A number of communication platforms exist for PC networks such as Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange.
Multiplayer gaming. While this certainly isn't a reason for networking computers in a business environment, individuals who set up home-based peer-to-peer networks can take advantage of a large number of computer games that provide support for multiple players on a network.
Not only does a network provide the ability to share resources found locally on the network (such as a printer shared by several users in a small office), but the fact that the network exists means that the local network can be connected to other networks. Most networks, big and small, are also now connected to the Internet, meaning that the potential for sharing resources and communication is almost endless. One of the most compelling reasons for a company to decide to network its computers is to have all its users "plugged in to" the global network that is the Internet.
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In networks that consist of more than just a few computers, you will have two different types of computers operating on the network: clients and servers. Client computers supply users with a connection to the network. Servers actually serve up the resources that are available on the networkeverything from files to electronic mail post offices. A more detailed discussion of clients and servers is offered later in this chapter.