What is Network ?


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The word network can be used to describe a very large and complicated set of equipment. In its most accurate and simplest definition a network refers to the cables and electronic components that amplify the signals going through the cables. The amplifying equipment is necessary to ensure accurate communication and make the signal stronger if it needs to go long distances.

Broader Definition
When many people talk about a network, they are talking about a network using a very broad concept. For instance if someone cannot get to their email, they may say "the network is down". Likewise they may say this if they cannot surf the internet or get to their files. They may not stop to think that in each specific instance there is a single piece of equipment that may provide the capability which they are trying to use.

Most people who work on a corporate or organizational network think about the network in component parts. The three main parts are:

The cabling and amplifiers mentioned in the first paragraph.
The workstations which most members of the organization use to access resources.
Higher powered computers called servers - These are the machines that provide what network administrators call services. Services include the functions that most people try to use such as email, reading and writing files, printing, and getting to the internet. Whenever a user is trying to do something on the network, there is a service or machine providing the capability to do so. This even includes times when someone is trying to get to network resources from their home.

Services include:

Email service
File service - Allows users to use and share file space on a computer with a lot of file space.
Print service - Allows printing to printers connected on the network.
Web surfing - Allowing someone to open web pages and see web sites on the internet.
Filtering out undesired sites on the internet.
Allowing someone to access the network from the outside (from home).
Updating virus definitions on workstations.
Allowing someone to log onto the network.
Even giving a workstation an address on the network is a service. If your computer does not have an address, it cannot access the internet or any other resource on the network.
A Typical Network
A typical corporate or organizational network is shown below:

Of course there are variations on this network layout and some details have been left out for the sake of simplicity but this drawing should give you some idea about what goes on behind the scene on the network at your organization. Some servers and server functions have not been shown here.

The firewall is the device that protects all computers in the network from many attacks. It allows some types of network traffic into the network from the outside, but usually only for mail or web services. Usually the internet traffic that that is allowed to come into the network is routed to the part of the network labeled "DMZ" on the right side of the diagram. DMZ stands for demilitarized zone and is also called a semi-private network. In this DMZ is a web server which is used to allow people surfing on the internet to see web pages posted by the organization. A mail server is also shown in the DMZ but this could be replaced by a mail relay server while the mail server is placed inside the private network. The mail relay server would forward mail traffic from the outside to the mail server. This would increase the security of the network since a direct connection from the internet to the mail server would not be allowed.

The private network is of course the most secure part of the network. There are several servers on this network including:

A login server (called a domain controller) which controls everyones permissions and access to the network resources such as files. Without this server, they cannot login to the network.
An address server (called a DHCP server) which provides addresses to computers on the network so they can communicate as discussed earlier.
A file server which provides common files and a private folder for users.
A remote access server which allows users to connect to the network by telephone from the outside.
Also the workstations are part of this network.

Knowing the above information, if someone cannot get their mail, they may think the network is down. This is not likely to be the case. The mail server may be down but the network is not likely to be down. The same goes for when someone can't surf the web. There may be a problem with the firewall or the line connecting to the internet, but it is unlikely that the whold netwlrk is down. When problems are noticed it is best for the user to describe what they were trying to do and what happened.