Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Networking: Branching out to Others Brings Information Closer

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Networking: Branching out to Others Brings Information Closer

Article excerpt

For schools, districts, libraries, labs, media centers, universities, dorms and virtually every facet of academia, numerous benefits are reaped from networking. The pieces of the networking puzzle are many and varied. Hardware, software, topologies, cable, throughput, remote access--these are but a few concerns. What follows is an historical look at networking, a primer of sorts, and a look the major players in educational connectivity.

* But First, A Word

Connecting computers together for the purpose of file sharing, printer sharing and remote communications enables institutions as well as individual classes to either realize a tremendous improvement in productivity or find themselves with a huge headache. Sometimes these two go hand-in-hand.

The best way to avoid pitfalls is to have a clear idea of what you want your network to accomplish. How many computers--and of what platform and class--will you be connecting? What are the limitations of your site in terms of distance between computers plus any physical barriers? Do you need to share a specific number of printers? What about security features?

All of these questions are but the tip of the networking iceberg. Consult with other institutions who have already installed a network to see how it addresses their needs, what they like and dislike about their current system, and why they made the choices they did. The successes and failures of your peers can provide valuable insights. In addition, there are myriad companies whose services focus on recommending and installing networks.

* Network Operating Systems

There are two basic types of network operating systems (NOSs), both with pros and cons. Client/ server networks require a dedicated computer, called a server, to perform file transfers, printer sharing and communications tasks. Resources are connected to the server and made available to the workstations (nodes) on the network. And since they must handle a multitude of requests for information and services, servers must be very powerful machines. However, if the dedicated server goes down, so does the rest of the network.

The second type of NOS is called peer-to-peer. These networks do not require a dedicated machine; each computer on the network can be configured as either a node or a server. These networks can make all network resources available to every computer.

In general, peer-to-peer is less expensive than client/server because it does not call for a high-powered computer that can only be used for network management tasks. Less support and maintenance is required and, on the whole, teachers and administrators can easily learn to be network managers.

The trade off occurs in overall network performance. While both types of networks can feasibly support up to 200 or more workstations, at some point on a peer-to-peer network, a machine whose hard drive is accessed frequently will experience significant performance degradation; the primary user will notice that commands take longer to execute.

More and more schools want to reach out to other institutions around the country and the world, either directly or through the Internet and other global networks. For this reason, communications support is quite important in an NOS. Modem-sharing software plus dial-in and dial-out products deserve careful scrutiny.

* Heavy Hitters

Novell is synonymous with DOS-based client/server LAN products. The first version of the NetWare NOS was introduced in early 1983. In 1986, after several upgrades, Version 2.0 of Advanced NetWare was born. This version allowed users to connect up to four different networks on a single server for the first time.

Soon afterward, NetWare for Macintosh gave Mac users the ability to access a NetWare server to store and retrieve data. NetWare 386 Version 3.0, announced in 1989, is a 32-bit NOS designed specifically for 386- and 486-based computers that offers enhancements in security and performance. …

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