Now that we've gotten some of the prerequisite basic theory out of the way, we need to take a moment to discuss assessing your own network needs. The type of resources that your users need to share and the number of users, as well as their physical locations, will really dictate how you use the rest of the information in this book to choose the type of network you build, the network operating system you use, and the type of servers (if any) you place on your network.
Let's break the process into a list:
How many users do you currently have and do they each have their own PC? A very small user base with only a couple of computers could really get along just fine on a peer-to-peer network. More users and more client machines may dictate that you go with a server-based network.
What type of resources do your users need to share? If you are looking at a situation where only a printer and a few files need to be shared, you are again probably in the realm of the peer-to-peer network. In cases where specialized resources such as databases and multiple printers or file servers are required, you will definitely be working in a server-based networking environment.
Where are your users? If all the users work in close proximity, you can typically select an easy-to-deploy network media type, such as wire (or you might be able to use existing electrical or phone wire, as discussed in Chapter 4). If your users are on different floors of a building or in different buildings , this will complicate issues related to getting all the users connected. In cases where you have users that telecommute, you can use special servers, such as remote access servers (called RAS servers), to allow users to dial into the network. We cover remote access in Chapter 17, "Networking on the Run".
How will your network grow over time? If you expect growth in your user base and the type of resources that they need to access, a server-based network is really the only way to go. A star topology also provides the easiest type of network topology for expanding the number of computers on the network.
What does your budget look like? Even if you determine that you need a number of specialized servers on your network, you have to be able to afford the physical aspects of the network (such as the cabling and the topology). How many specialized servers you can set up is also going to be limited by your budget. Although it might seem to be very exciting to plan to implement the latest and greatest technologies, budgeting constraints might require that you build a simpler network that provides you with the ability to expand in the future.
Although these are just some general guidelines, you should probably do a serious needs analysis before jumping into the network arena. There is nothing worse than miscalculating your needs and ending up with a network that just isn't usable or ending up with a network that is under-utilized.