Solo Newsletter

Volume 11, no. 1

NOT Your Father’s Network

By Nerino J. Petro

So you’ve decided it’s time to create a real computer network. Maybe you’re adding another person or perhaps you’re tired of the “sneaker net”: carrying a floppy disk or a USB flash drive between computers. But you’re holding back—you’ve heard the horror stories about office networking from the “old days” (the 1990s). Well, this is a new day. Networking has never been easier or less expensive than right now.

The first decision is whether to have a peer-to- peer or a client server network. In a peer-to-peer network, programs, data, and e-mail are stored on each individual’s own computer, and these computers communicate directly with each other.

As networking needs grow, most offices switch to a “client-server” network that has an additional computer known as a server to centrally store all the data, instead of spreading it piecemeal around the office on different computers. Each individual’s computer will communicate with the server, but not directly with each other. A client server network simplifies many tasks such as making sure all data is properly backed up and that virus protection is consistent across the network.

Your next decision is whether to go “wired” or “wireless.” Wireless networks are attractive because no cables need be run through the walls, and you can work from any room in the office with a notebook computer. However, I recommend first-timers go with a wired system. It presents the fewest obstacles and doesn’t have the setup and security problems that can occur with an incorrectly configured wireless network.

Most recent desktop and notebook computers come with a Network Interface Card (NIC) already installed. If your computers don’t have this, and you don’t want to open the case, you can purchase a USB NIC that plugs into your computer’s USB port. You’ll also need Windows 2000 or Windows XP running on the computers (to make networking easier) and a network switch or hub. The switch or hub will connect your computers so the information can travel between them. A hub is less expensive, but a switch has a “traffic cop” that reduces collisions between data packets on the network. It’s usually worth it to buy a switch. If you want the computers to share a broadband Internet connection, you’ll also need a router with a built-in switch. A small office will need a minimum of 100 mbps (million bits per second)—usually expressed as 100 Base T (100BT).

(Even though you can connect two computers without a switch by using a “cross over” cable or a USB connection cable, the computers must be close together and cannot easily share a broadband connection.)

You will also need category 5e cables to connect each computer to the switch—these can be purchased pre-made or you can have an electrician or computer cable company do the wiring or do it yourself. Once you have your computers, your switch, and your cables you’re ready to go. For step-by-step instructions, search the Web for “setting up small networks” and you’ll find many “how to” articles.

Nerino J. Petro is a lawyer and legal technologist in Loves Park, IL. He can be reached at

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