Net What?! Computer Networks Explained
“The Network”. Did you feel a pang of fear when you read that? We get it — even the word sounds intimidating, which may be why so many people feel lost when it comes to what networks really are.
We’re going to take a big picture look, starting with the basics of computer networking, so that the next time someone talks about IT networking, you feel connected (hint hint) to what’s going on.
What is a Network?
When someone talks about your network, they’re talking about the computers, servers, mainframes, network devices, etc that are connected to each other in some way so that they can share resources. Think: In your office, you probably have multiple computers that can print from the same printer, that can access the same server, and that are connected to the same internet router — because all of those devices can communicate with each other, they’re on the same “network”. To make that communication possible, cables, telephone lines, satellites, etc. are used. Networking then, is the process of linking systems and devices so that they are able to talk to each other.
Generally, there are two types of networks – and chances are that you’ve heard of them before without even realizing it:
LAN – Local Area Network
LAN is a kind of network that is generally pretty small and is typically limited to a certain area (think: your office, your home, your school, etc.). In a LAN, servers are usually set up to host and relay services to workstations, making it easy for lots of different users to get access to data from a centralized location. Computers (or workstations) may connect to the server by cables or by using wireless access points, which act as bridges between computers and networks.
WAN – Wide Area Network
Wide Area Networks, on the other hand, are used in really large areas — think cities, states or countries. Often times, companies use WANs to enable data exchange between offices in multiple cities or even between offices in different countries. WANs can link two LANs, enabling communication between the two.