Client-server versus peer-to-peer
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Inside MS Windows 95
A Publication of The Cobb Group
Published July 1997
Many people think only large corporations can afford computer networks, but connecting your company's PCs is relatively inexpensive. In fact, it can actually save you money. This is because networking allows you to share resources such as printers, modems, and CD-ROM drives.
For example, let's suppose you have one printer that several people need to use. It would probably be wise to establish a network and give everyone access to that printer rather than buy a printer for each person's workstation. In this article, we'll discuss various aspects of PC networks, and we'll provide a brief overview of their hardware requirements and approximate cost.
There are essentially two types of network architectures—client-server and peer-to-peer. In the client-server scheme, a central server handles all security and file transactions; in peer-to-peer networks, each machine shares its own resources and handles its own security. Client-server is the more expensive of the two to implement because such networks require a central file server. Although you can use many types of computers as your file server, you'll get the best results if you use a dedicated, high-end machine—so you'll have to spend at least a couple of thousand dollars on a computer that you'll be able to use only as a server. (An exception is Microsoft's Windows NT Server, which can run applications while acting as a network server; however, doing so can severely impact network performance.)
The other disadvantage to client-server networks is the cost of the server software. For example, you can expect to pay about $700 for a copy of NT Server. The core software package authorizes you to connect five PCs to your server, and then it requires you to pay a client license fee of around $70 for each additional PC that you connect to your network. The pricing scheme is similar for Novell NetWare, another popular server platform.
In fact, client-server networks are so expensive to set up that you may be wondering why anyone would ever choose this option. The answer is that this network structure offers a wide range of powerful administrative tools, which are particularly useful in an environment where security is an issue. In a client-server environment, the dedicated file server controls the level of access that client PCs have to shared resources. This means that you can control network security from a central location through a utility such as Windows NT Server's User Manager or NetWare's NWADMIN.
Peer-to-peer networks aren't nearly as expensive to create, since you don't need a dedicated machine, server software, or special client licenses. In fact, all the software you need comes with Windows 95. This affordability often makes peer-to-peer networks ideal for small businesses or home users.
However, the main disadvantage of using this type of network is that you sacrifice security by placing network control in the hands of end users. Therefore, this network strategy is obviously inappropriate for high-security environments.
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Networking two machines
After you decide on the type of network you want to build, you need to determine the cabling to use. Your options range from very expensive fiber-optic cable to increasingly obsolete, but moderately priced Arcnet cable. Your choice should depend on how fast you want your data to travel and how much money you want to spend. It's also important to keep in mind that some types of cable are easier to install than others—you'll save a considerable amount of money if you can install the cable yourself instead of paying a consultant or an electrician to do the job for you.
For small to midsize networks, we recommend using 10BaseT cables. They're moderately priced at less than $20 per machine, and they're as easy to install as a telephone—you just plug them into a jack. In fact, the RJ-45 connector on 10BaseT cables looks very similar to a telephone connector, as you can see in Figure A on page 8.
Figure A A 10BaseT connector looks a lot like a common telephone connector.
If network speed is your main concern, you'll be happy to know that 10BaseT cables can carry data at speeds of up to 100 megabits (Mb) per second. However, no matter what type of cable you use, the speed at which data travels across your network also depends on your network cards and hubs.
A network card is a circuit board that plugs into an expansion slot inside your PC. It provides the jack for connecting a network cable to your PC, as shown in Figure B.
Figure B A network card allows you to connect your PC to a network.
10BaseT network cards are available in speeds of 10 Mb and 100 Mb. Obviously, 100-Mb cards are faster, but they also cost more. A 100-Mb card costs about $150, whereas a 10-Mb card typically costs around $90.
If you plan to network more than two PCs, you'll need a hub, which is a device that directs network traffic. A hub has several ports into which you can plug your network cables. One end of each network cable plugs into the hub, while the other end plugs into a PC's network card, as shown in Figure C. Small hubs are relatively inexpensive, although you'll pay more for high-speed or multiport hubs.
Figure C Each computer on your network must connect to a hub.
For example, a 5-port, 10-Mb hub costs about $100. However, a 16-port hub capable of transmitting data at the same speed costs around $300. And if you want that 16-port hub to run at 100 Mb, you'll pay around $1,250. As you can see, speed makes a big difference in price.
Networking two machines
It costs very little to establish a 10BaseT network between two PCs because you don't need a hub. All you need is a network card for each machine and a special 10BaseT cable called a crossover cable. You plug one end of this cable into each machine's network card, as shown in Figure D.
Figure D You don't need a hub to create a two-machine 10BaseT network.
In this article, we've explained the differences between client-server and peer-to-peer networks. We've also given a brief overview of the hardware necessary for each type of network and what you can expect to pay for this hardware.
The article entitled "Networking on a shoestring budget" was originally published in Inside Windows 95, July 1997. Copyright © 1997, The Cobb Group, 9420 Bunson Parkway, Louisville, KY 40220. All rights reserved. For subscription information, call the Cobb Group at 1-800-223-8720.
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