What you need to know about networking

Because networking is a relatively young science, it borrows language from other disciplines. Many networking terms come from the realm of physical transportation—terms such as bridge, hub, port, routing, and switching. That borrowing is apt. Just as the transportation revolution, and especially the advent of the railroad, was an economic catalyst of the Industrial Age, networks are the economic catalysts of the information age. And just as railroads need a solid infrastructure, so do networks. The foundation technologies of networks are routing and switching.

The Basics

In its most basic form, a network consists of two pieces of electronic equipment that communicate data back and forth, connected by a third piece of equipment that enables that communication. A printer attached directly to a computer via a parallel or USB cable does not comprise a network; it becomes a network if the printer and computer are both attached to a switch or router. The Internet provided the impetus for most companies to adopt a network infrastructure. Even the smallest businesses need network-enabled Internet connections to send and receive e-mail, advertise and sell products and services online, interact with customers, and connect with suppliers. Moving to a networked environment opens new possibilities, including online business applications and collaboration opportunities. Data security also becomes a central consideration with a network. While switches and routers have evolved and the lines between them may seem blurred, one simple distinction remains: Switches reside within a local-area network (LAN), while routers are needed in a wide-area network (WAN) environment. It's analogous to an old-fashioned office phone: Switching is like dialing a four digit extension to reach someone in your building, while routing is like dialing 9 to get an outside line, and then dialing a seven- or ten-digit phone number.

Systems-Based Solutions

Growing companies, especially those opening new offices, can opt for integrated foundation solutions that are secure, solid, and compatible with future technologies. Rather than purchasing separate products for individual functions such as routing, switching, security, and Internet gateways, companies can choose a "systems-based" solution that provides everything a business unit needs to fully and securely connect to the Internet and the company as a whole. A systems-based approach to routing and switching lets all workers, even those at different sites, have the same access to business applications, Internet Protocol (IP) Communications, and videoconferencing as their colleagues at headquarters. Networking solutions for satellite offices tend to be modular in nature, allowing you to install just the features you need for a particular office. Modularity also enables you to upgrade equipment (rather than replace it altogether) when needs change or an office expands. An added benefit of this systems-based approach is that technical staff at headquarters can centrally manage the network, which keeps staffing counts low while providing reliable service to employees in all locations.


Alex Lakatos is an expert on computer networking hardware




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