When setting up your own home internet network you will have to deal with certain internet hardware that you may not be familiar with. This could be because networking hardware has developed over the years and is quite different today than the old dial-up days. Broadband hardware of today can be quite sophisticated as can be the various broadband accessories that go with it.
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This guide to networking hardware will go a long way to introducing you to the networking hardware, particularly broadband hardware, that is currently being used, as the high downloading speeds being obtained today with ADSL and ADSL2+ broadband is making home networking very popular indeed. Because much networking hardware doesn't involve movement or working parts, they are not prone to wear as much as moving parts, therefore you'll find, in many cases, you'll be able to utilise second hand parts quite successfully. This is one way you will be able to keep costs down. It is a highly technical area however and if you are not 100 percent confident about what you are buying it will pay you to engage the services of a trained professional who is experienced in the specific type of broadband hardware and broadband accessories you will need to be able to successfully carry out your project. Starting with the biggest and most important component of your home network is the server itself:
- Depending on the size of your network, you will need at least one, maybe two, file network servers. These are good reliable super fast computers with a comprehensive RAM storage availability, a fast interface card installed, extra expansion slots, fast processor and a fast hard drive. You will be given tools that'll allow you to share the resources of your server computer with all other computers linked to your network. If you are building a small network you will only need the one server/computer that'll be capable of providing access control, file sharing, database, email and printer sharing, along with any other service you may require. Don't forget to also purchase a RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) for saving large amounts of data in case of a disk crashing. You will also need other back up devices in the form of removable hard drives, USB memory sticks or appropriate SD storage devices.
- No network can work without other computers to talk to. When your PC is linked to a network it becomes known as a workstation. To allow your computer to become a workstation, connected to a network, you will have to configure its settings with the use of a network interface card, certain network software and the appropriate cables. Wireless home broadband network set-ups are these days becoming quite popular as wireless networking speed becomes more and more competitive. Setting up a wireless network is far simpler and little other broadband accessories are needed other your modem/router, a central computer to manage the software and your laptops that are manufactured with all the necessary equipment already installed known as wireless adaptors. Wireless networking also eliminates the need for cables and leads running everywhere. It also gives the network users the freedom to move around from room to room and even go outside if convenient.
- Wireless adaptors are installed by most lap top and note book manufacturers these days. They are also included in smartphones and tablets. These latter two devices are fast taking over the whole networking scene. This is happening so fast the new CEO of Apple recently predicted the demise of the computer as we know it today. This would also mean the demise of networking hardware as we use it at the present time. Your broadband accessories could one day be limited to tablets and smartphones. In the meantime wireless adaptors are widely distributed inside the latest broadband products and external wireless adaptors are available to be plugged into most computers that have a USB port or expansion card slot.
- It is the Network Interface Card (NIC) that actually connects your computer workstation to the network. As mentioned most of these are internal and included as part of the computer when you purchase it. These cards also determine the performance, download and upload speed of the data moving around the network you are connected to. For this reason it is a piece of internet hardware that you want to make sure is the fastest available. The two most common broadband hardware devices from this perspective, when setting up a home network, is therefore either a wireless adaptor or an Ethernet card.
- An Ethernet card is also a piece of networking hardware which is pre-set inside your computer by the manufacturer. If this is not so they are easily obtainable and easily installed. An Ethernet card is able to work with either cables or twisted pair wiring. You can purchase an Ethernet card that is only compatible with twisted pair cabling (RJ-45) or you can buy ones dedicated to coaxial calling (BNC), but you can also purchase the cards that contain an AUI connection which will be compatible with both, including fibre optic. The majority of Ethernet card broadband hardware available today is made for the twisted pair cabling or RJ-45.
- A router is another piece of networking hardware that makes life easy for today's networker. Modern routers come combined with a modem built in but, if not, you simply plug your router into one side of your modem, on the other side connect up your LAN connection. It should then go about making all the necessary connections, such as logging into your Internet Service Provider (ISP), sharing the connection with a Local Area Network (LAN) and protect you from hackers. Routers vary in features and price. The cheaper ones are easier for regular people to use and this alone make them preferable to many. Most can be configured through their own web browser site and work in well with Wizard to get you up and going in no time at all.
- Hardwire networking hardware includes switches such as the Ethernet switch. This is a piece of internet hardware that creates a central point of connection for the cables that come in from your various workstations, any peripherals you may have connected such as printers, and your server computer. If you are using what is known as the star topology, you will need to run a twisted pair cable from each workstation to this central switch. Most switches amplify the signal as it travels from one workstation to another. Prior to the switch being developed this work was done by a 'hub.' The downfall in a hub was that it broadcast all inbound packets out of all ports of a computer that created large amounts of unwanted traffic circling around the network. Switches that are now used are far more efficient in that they create a port map of all IP addresses which specifically respond from each individual port. A further advantage with switches is that they are available as 'managed' or 'unmanaged' types. The unmanaged being cheaper than the managed and a better choice of small home networks.
- If you want to make a printer available on your network you will need a print server. These are sometimes called 'print ponies' and they allow a printer to be shared among the network workstations without you having to set up another computer to act as a server in order to share the printer from. A typical set up for a print server would be to have the print server ports from the various workstations enter the device on one side and then shared on the network through the RJ45 port that goes directly to the printer itself.
- You may also come across what is known as a 'bridge.' This is a part of your network hardware that will link one network to another. You may find it will become necessary to set up two smaller networks rather than one large one. A bridge will monitor the traffic coming and going from both networks in order for it to be able to pass on packets of information to the correct destination. In a sense bridges actually listen to what is going on in the networks and automatically decide where the information needs to go. They do this by working out the addresses of each workstation on the networks and when necessary allows the information through. A bridge will therefore keep your networks operating at optimum levels by not allowing unnecessary traffic through but assisting that which needs to pass between one network and the other.
- The piece of broadband hardware used in networking to compensate for the loss of signal strength is called a 'repeater.' Repeaters electrically amplify the signal and rebroadcasts it at a stronger level. They can be incorporated into a concentrator or set up as a separate device altogether and are especially beneficial when the network cable length is greater than the standard it is normally built for. For example the length limit imposed on an unshielded twisted pair cable is 100 metres. And as most network configurations using a twisted pair cable are connected to a multi-port active concentrator, the repeater within this concentrator will amplify the signal sufficiently to allow it to exceed its 100 metre limit.
- There are two types of cables mostly used as home networking hardware. These are (1) the standard, also known as the 'straight through' cable used primarily to connect workstations to switches or broadband accessories such as modems. The other (2) is known as the crossover and is used to connect two workstations together without using a switch.
- Firewalls can be either software or hardware, it depends on the use you want to put it to. A firewall is installed at the entrance to your LAN connection when connecting networks. It is particularly important when connecting a network to the internet. Its role it to filter traffic in and out of your network and to protect your network from hackers. A firewall used to protect a network is a piece of network hardware and needs to be installed between the router and the network itself. Hardware firewalls will come with two ports, one will be labelled 'trusted' and the other 'untrusted.' The internet side should be connected to the untrusted port and the home network side to the trusted port. Software firewalls are mainly used in the modern way of setting up networks. They do the same things as hardware firewalls. The only difference is that software firewalls work within the computer itself. Once installed they can basically be forgotten until they require upgrading or maintenance in some manner.
- Broadband accessories. There are many broadband accessories that combine several functions within the one component, a good example being the modern router that more often than not includes a modem, the networking switch, a residential gateway and anything else needed to completely handle all the requirements needed for a wireless network. Before starting out putting your network together it will pay you to browse a few catalogue websites regarding precisely what networking products are readily available and at what price. Check exactly what each product does to avoid duplication and also make certain that everything you buy is compatible with the ports they are to be plugged into. As technology progresses many broadband accessories and internet hardware in general can now be utilised by a software application. A good example of this is that networking bridging can now be carried out by software built into Windows XP. Other software is available either as an add-on software application or built into your computer that can handle gateway functions, router and modem functions. However these software applications are mostly suitable to smaller networks.
Don't forget that hubs and switches are much the same and perform the same functions. You will not need both. A switch is the better choice in that it is smarter as it is capable of relaying data traffic in an intelligent manner. A hub on the other hand does its own thing and broadcasts data everywhere.