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Different Types of Computer Networks


A comparison of a variety of computer networks may be beneficial when setting up a new network. In some cases, there may be numerous options available. In other instances, only a limited option may be available. The options vary depending on location, networking needs, equipment available, and cost.

Computer Network Classification

There are numerous networks, and no two are exactly alike. However, most networks can be classified according to their general characteristics. These general characteristics are:

Size: the network’s geographic size (i.e. LAN, MAN, and WAN)

Protocol: the set of communication rules used by the network (i.e. TCP/IP)

Hardware: what types of hardware and physical links are used by the network (i.e. cable, DSL, wireless)

Security and access: who can use the network and how the access is controlled (i.e. employees, family, city, or national residents, anyone with a password)

LANs (Local area networks) are normally used by home and small business networks, and are usually confined to one building or area. The LAN category is subdivided into two categories: peer-to-peer (common for homes) and client-server. MAN (Metropolitan area network) is commonly used by medium-sized businesses, school districts, and city governmental agencies. WANs (Wide area networks) are used by larger corporations and national government agencies.

Other Types of Networks

Other types of networks include VPNs (Virtual private networks), intranets, and extranets. With a VPN, the user can connect across the internet to a business’ private network. This system is used for businesses that have remote workers. It is normally less expensive than leased lines and domestic-type broadband connections.

An intranet network is commonly set up by businesses to allow employees to access stored business information from a central computer while traveling or working from home. The employee accesses the private internet address by connecting through the internet. This type of network requires an investment of design and management, and must be properly maintained.

When a business opens a portion of its intranet network to its customers, partners, or suppliers, that portion becomes an extranet. For instance, a business can let suppliers link directly to their business accounts system to track payments. This type of system also requires an investment of design, management, and proper maintenance.

Cost and Location

Wireless network systems usually cost less than cabled networks. However, location may cause poor signal
reception and security risks for wireless networks.

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