For many businesses, the first computer network they need will be confined to a single building. This type of network is called a local area network (LAN). There are two common kinds of LAN: peer-to-peer and client/server.
Peer-to-peer office networks
Peer-to-peer networks connect two or more computers directly, allowing them to share files or programs. They are particularly suitable for collaborative work. They are also relatively cheap and straightforward to create.
However, peer-to-peer networks have a number of downsides. They can be much slower than server-based networks and unsuitable for very complex networks.
Also, since peer-to-peer systems connect users through other users' computers, a failure at one point in the network will affect every computer connected to that network.
Client/server networks use one computer as a server - where you keep shared files and programs - which other PCs connect to. This central machine can be a normal PC, although it is best to use a powerful computer or a purpose-built server computer.
Client/server networks have a number of advantages. As files are stored centrally, these systems are:
- more efficient at backing up and handling data - eg users cannot modify files simultaneously
- capable of linking to different types of computers - they can support more users more reliably than a peer-to-peer network.
Unlike peer-to-peer systems, a failure at a single point in a client/server network will not affect other computers on the network, as long as the server remains intact.
Wired or wireless networks?
Wireless networking technology can replace all, or some, of the cabling requirements for a network. It offers:
- greater flexibility around the location of your IT equipment
- less health and safety hazards in the workplace, with fewer cables around
- access to Wi-Fi within your premises for visitors
However, depending on the layout of your office, wireless signals can be slower and less reliable than cable connections. In some situations, wired networking can be a more reliable, affordable option for your business. See more on wireless technology.