Look Before You LAN

Is a local area network right for your home or office?

Does this sound familiar? You have more than one computer in your home or office but in order to exchange information, you often find yourself going back and forth between them with a floppy disk. Commonly called a “sneaker net,” this is one of the most inefficient ways of sharing information between PCs (the other would be osmosis). Before you wear out the soles of your shoes, it may be time to consider a local area network (LAN). This series will take you from the planning stage through the deployment of a full-scale network. Even a household with only two computers can benefit from a LAN. Take this quick quiz to determine if a local area network is right for you.

1. Do you have more than one computer in your home or office?
2. Do you need to share files, applications or resources between these computers?

If you answered yes to both questions, a LAN is probably right for you.

A LAN can save you money by allowing you to share expensive computer hardware. Rather than purchasing a printer, fax machine, modem, etc., for each workstation in your home or office, a LAN allows you to connect multiple PCs to these devices for more efficient use of your resources. It also distributes your company’s informational assets. such as files and applications, to everyone connected. The ability to share computer resources and information increases productivity by helping people do their jobs more efficiently and with less hassle than stand-alone PCs.

There is no cut-and-dry method of deciding what kind of network to install. “The type of LAN you install depends heavily on the kind of work you do and what your needs are,” says Zuri Stanback, president and CEO of VisionOne Consulting, an Atlanta-based technology consulting firm (www.withvison.com).

First, adds Stanback, accurately assess your company’s present and future computer needs. Of course, cost will play a role, but it should determine your method of implementation, not your needs assessment. Remember to plan for expansion–a network never shrinks, it only grows.

There are two types of LANs: peer-to-peer and client/server. A peer-to-peer network is best if you have five or fewer PCs and light file and printer sharing is your main reason for implementing a network. Peer-to-peer is the least costly method of connecting PCs and requires little setup and maintenance but it doesn’t have the network security and management features of a client/server network.

However, in a peer-to-peer network, the computers can exchange files and use each other’s resources. This setup requires that shared applications and resources be stored in a particular PC with access given to the other users. One or more PCs store the resources, which are shared by others. This model can be counterproductive if there are too many users trying to share an application or resource simultaneously. For instance, continuous requests to print or run a shared program will slow down the host computer. Imagine an office where the accountant has the only copy of a database application that is shared by everyone

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