networkThe days of the one-computer household are coming to an end. The Digital Living Network Alliance predicts that by the year 2008, 52% of American households will have a home network.

The big question becomes why? The thought of a computer network often brings about images of an enormous server room connecting to hundreds of computers in a corporate environment. However, when we look at what a computer network is defined as, we begin to see how the trend of home and small business networks is a growing one.

The Definition of Computer Network

In its simplest form, a computer network is defined as two computers that are linked together through either a physical cable, or a wireless device. This link then allows the computers on the network to share resources such as an Internet connection, printers, files, and programs. Having a grasp of this definition, we can take our understanding of computer networks a step further.

Client/Server Networks

A computer network that utilizes one or more central servers is called a client/server environment or a domain. In this type of computer network, the server acts as a central brain for the network controlling one or more tasks. Any number of clients can be accessing this same resource at any given moment. Another way we see the client/server environment is when we log into a computer at work. In a Microsoft Windows environment, when you enter your username and password at the login screen, it checks this information against the domain controller. The domain controller then checks to see if the user is legitimate and what resources they have access to.

Peer-to-Peer Networks

A peer-to-peer, or P2P, network is the type of computer network where all of the computers that exist on the network are equal. Unlike the client/server environment, a peer-to-peer network has no central server that manages the network. Another term for this type of network is workgroup.

Pure peer-to-peer networks are hard to come by these days. A common misconception is that home networks are peer-to-peer environments. Most likely, these home networks are hybrids. When a customer signs up for DSL or cable Internet service, they are often given a router/modem that allows them to share their Internet connection among multiple computers. Inside most of these routers resides a DHCP server. This DHCP server assigns an IP address to each computer on the network. The server does nothing more than assign these addresses, but because of its existence, the home network no longer remains a pure P2P. Since the server houses no other resources and there is no domain assigned to the network, it is not a true client/server environment.

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