Networking is basically the joining of two or more computers to share information and resources, including internet, files and printers.

There are two main types of network, a local area network (LAN) and a wide area network (WAN). The former allows you to communicate internally, while the latter covers communication with other offices or third parties.

What can a network do for your business?

Sharing Printers
If you have two or more computers at home or in a small office and just one printer, networking is the easiest form of printer sharing. For one, it saves on buying an extra printer for each computer and the associated toner and cartridge costs that go with it.

Sharing information
Work in a small business where people need to share files or information – such as letters, general business documents and presentations – networking removes the need to copy files or documents onto floppy disks and carry them around the office to other people.

Manually sharing information may suit some companies and individuals but it gets increasingly difficult the more you want to share larger and larger files, especially if those files contain pictures or video. The only way to maintain this set up is to invest in a set of high capacity floppy drives. Once you have decided to invest in half a dozen ZIP disks you might as well invest in a small network and have greater functionality for the same cost.

There are other benefits to having a network in a business. No matter how small the network, there can be an element of control over what individual machines are allowed to do. For example, if there is shared internet access through the network, software can allow you to remove access to certain types of website. There is also the power to monitor what type of site each individual is visiting on a regular basis. Without a network, this level of management is impossible.

What are the techies going on about?

At some point you will have to take the plunge and invest in some IT equipment. However, once the computer people arrive they soon start talking in a language that only they understand. Here are a few terms to learn before they arrive.

This is the standard, tried and tested networking method and currently offers the fastest networking on the market. It comes in two standards, 10 Mega bits per second (Mbps) and the faster, 100 Mbps ideal for sharing large files and applications.

This involves no wires at all and communicates through radio transmission, which can currently achieve rates of up to 11Mbps. It is ideal for offices where hiding Ethernet cables would be difficult and where there is a lack of phone sockets. The big advantage with wireless is that it really does enable networked computing anywhere in the house but the cost puts it out of the reach of most small or home offices at present.
Interest in wireless connectivity is growing but the problem at the moment is speed. While the advantage of wireless networking is obvious – its wirelessness – it cannot match the speed of ethernet.