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Basic Computer Network Models

Dan earned his CompTIA (CIOS) certification in 2010 and worked in the computer repair/networking industry for several years.

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When the decision is made to set up an office or room for use of computers, especially if there are going to be two or more people using them—or to expand an existing office to accommodate more people, the network model must be determined for optimal use and administration.

The technology to be used should be determined by the needs and budget of the computer network owner—and there are situations where specific setups are recommended and practical. The following are common setups, although not a rule.

Peer-to-Peer Computer Networking

Generally, with relatively few people using computers on a network, a peer-to-peer setup is implemented where each computer in the network will connect directly with other computers in the network—to access resources. This type of network in Microsoft Windows is commonly referred to as a "Workgroup" network, which is also the default name given to it by Windows.

Linux and macOS also have facilities to enable peer-to-peer sharing. Each computer is individually administered in this type of network setup, typically by the devices' owner. Enabling these types of networks can be done with a few simple steps.

Server-based Network Administration

For networks with a relatively large number of users, server-based setups are implemented where each computer on a network is administered via an account on a computer server, called a "domain controller." Individual computers access resources via the server. Managing user privileges and security on individual computers is generally easier with this model when a large number of computers exist in the network.

For example, resource permissions can be dolled out in what is known as "group policies" where the administrator creates one policy on the server and adds network users to the policy—as opposed to creating several policies on individual computers. Different computer users in the network can be assigned to different policies depending on the level of access the owner wants them to have.

Computer Network Scenarios

Consider the following peer-to-peer scenario. A business owner who works out of a home—by himself—decides to take on four employees. He will need four additional computers for the employees, each with different duties—and the company workload/documents on each computer must be accessible by all other employees from their computers. A separate administrator account must be set up on the individual computers to set up access to these resources.

The group policy feature is available in peer-to-peer network setups to configure these resources. Security best practices are to implement a paradigm called "least privilege," where users of each computer may use only the functions and resources necessary to complete their jobs. Through the separate administrator account, various settings can be configured for an ideal/limited level of access.

When a business or operation begins to grow and more computers (and users) are needed in the network, administering all the computers can become stressful and generally burdensome. Vendors provide server versions of operating systems to address the issue of large-scale administration. Microsoft Windows Server is a specific operating system licensed out by Microsoft for this purpose.

Tasks including but not limited to software installation, updates, virus scans, password policies, time restrictions, group policy permissions, and employee user account settings can all be handled through the administrator account on the server. Although server operating systems can come with various services, the domain controller service, specifically, must be turned on and configured in order to administrator individual user accounts for this type of network. Once the accounts are set up and activated, users can gain access to their accounts and network resources by logging into the server via their individual computers.

Advanced Computer Networking

These are the common network schemes in use today, although with the internet providing increasingly fast speeds and computers becoming more powerful, many of the features and services that traditional onsite networks provide can be obtained via internet "virtual network" services, or SaaS (software as a service) vendors.

Keep in mind that need and budget are not the only factors at play—security should also be considered. Some businesses require—in some cases by law—a relatively high level of security for their network infrastructure where certain network schemes would not be appropriate.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 Dan Martino

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