How to set up your office LAN

Most small business today have multiple PCs and need to hook them up to share files, printers and other resources conveniently. Automated software installation and easy-to-install network cards have made the process easier for the average IT user. Windows Middle East takes you through a step-by-step guide on how to set up your office LAN the easy way.

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By  Vijaya George Published  May 1, 2002

I|~||~||~|Sharing resources has become an essential part of the office environment. In homes too, PC penetration has increased rapidly. Moreover, knowledge workers and college students have laptops in addition to their desktops at home. In both environments, networking has become significantly convenient. Setting up a network is not as tough as it sounds if you have the right cables, connectors and cards. A little help from us should get you started on trying to set up your own network. Windows Middle East teamed up with Alpha Data to bring you this step-by-step guide on how to set up a Local Access Network (LAN).
A network is a medium through which you can share common resources such as printers, files and so on. Two kinds of networks that are widely used are the Wide Area Network (WAN) and Local Area Network (LAN). WAN is outside the scope of this workshop as it deals with networking offices in two different locations, such as a main branch in Abu Dhabi and another in Dubai. At a simpler level is LAN, which can be done at your home with two PCs or at your office with many more.

What kind of a LAN network to install?
Within a LAN network you can choose, how you want to connect your PCs to one another so that they can talk to each other as well as share common resources.

This depends on many factors.
1. Do you have many workers who keep shifting from one desk to another within the office? Perhaps, wireless will be a more feasible option.
2. Do you want to do away with cables? Perhaps, wireless is the answer again.
3. Do you want good network speed and this issue is more important than cables? Perhaps, Ethernet is your answer.
4. Your workers work on the same workstation everyday? Ethernet will do just fine.
5. Do you have a small budget? Ethernet is your best answer.
Three of the most commonly-used network types are Ethernet, PhoneLine and Wireless Ethernet (WiFi or 802.11b).
Of these, Ethernet is the most popular type of network used at home and in businesses because it is currently the fastest and cheapest available. The only trouble with Ethernet is that all the PCs need to be connected to each other through cables and this is a bit of a hassle.
Wireless networks are more expensive, slower and could break connection in some areas due to interference.
Phone lines are used for wide area networks usually and use ADSL connections.
We’ll deal here with Ethernet connections because they are the simplest, cheapest and easiest to install as well.
||**||II|~||~||~|Hardware requirements for networking
In the case of two PCs
1. Two ethernet cards.
2. A cross cable.

Networking three PCs or more.
1. Three cards
2. A hub or a switch. (a switch is the newer technology and the recommended option).
3. Cabling system: including patch and UTP (CAT 5e is what we used) cables, a face plate which comes with single as well as dual switches, a patch panel with a minimum of six ports, a module inside panel and line card.

To network two PCs.
If you have only two PCs as you would in a home environment and you need to connect them, place them back to back and connect one ethernet card to the other with the relevant transmit and receive cables. The transmit cable from one PC will go into the receive slot of the other and vice versa. This is easily done and is called cross-cabling. In this case, you do not require a hub or a switch.
But this only applies to two PCs. If you use more than two PCs, you need a switch.

How to choose an ethernet card?
1. There are different types of ethernet cards. For desktop PCs, the most common one is that which comes with a PCI slot. USB versions are also available. For those using a laptop, purchase one that uses the PCMCIA.
2. It must be able to support at least 10/100 megabits per second (mbps). This is the normal standard these days.
3. Also, ensure that its drivers are compatible with the operating system you have. Most are Windows compatible.
50% of the machines today come with built-in ethernet ports, where the circuitry on the ethernet card has been transferred to the motherboard.

||**||III|~||~||~|How to choose your cables?
Connections between computers are made with cables. Cables come in rolls or boxes with no sockets at the ends. You will have to remove a portion of the sleeve from the end of the cable, pair up the cables inside into their respective colours and insert each pair into a module, also called an RJ-45 connector. The connector has each colour marked on it to indicate which wire must go into which respective slot. This connector, in turn, goes into the back of the face plate, which is attached to the wall. The most popular cable today is the category 5 enhanced cable (CAT 5e).

A small digression to the history of cables:
CAT 1 and 2 have only been used for voice transmission. A long time ago, CAT 3 used to be the standard. CAT 4 never took shape.
CAT 5 has been the standard for the last five years and supports speeds up to 155 mbps. However, two years ago, a new interim standard was developed between CAT 5 and CAT6 called CAT5e, which supports speeds up to 622 mbps.
The next generation is thought to be CAT 6, which will be able to support a speed of 1.2 Gbits/sec.

However, SMBs should be quite comfortable using CAT5e (less than $100 per box of 1000 feet of cable). The difference in price between CAT 5 and CAT5e is almost nominal. Hence, CAT 5 e is a good buy.

The maximum distance to which you can take a cable is 100m from the switch. This should be sufficient for our purpose. For those who have larger work areas, the simple solution would be to install the next switch at around 90m.

||**||IV|~||~||~|Patch panels: Cables usually go into the patch panel. From the patch panel, each corresponding cable goes into one port in the switch. The patch panel and switch are usually kept together.

Switches are preferred to hubs as the latter represents an older technology.
The purpose of a switch is to work as an exchange (like a telephone exchange) and identify each node, and help PCs to talk to each other.

Link lights: Hubs, switches, and sometimes Ethernet cards have small indicator lights called link lights. These lights tell you when you have everything connected correctly. Often, these lights will not come on until your computer has the proper network drivers installed.

Now, that we have made the connections, spoken about the kind of cards and cables to buy, we also need to understand what Ethernet is. For one, it is not enough to connect all the PCs to one another by means of cables. Each of these PCs also need to use a common protocol to talk to each other and understand each other. Ethernet serves as that common protocol.

But let us consider an even more basic issue. A PC does not ordinarily talk to Ethernet or understand it either. It won’t, unless there is an Ethernet interface card, which picks up the data from the bus of the PC and puts it into packets of information that can be understood by a PC. Simply put, it converts data into an comprehensible language for the PC to read. So, we can’t do without the Ethernet card also commonly called an Ethernet adapter. The Ethernet card or adapter connects to the PC on one side and to the cables on the other.

||**||V|~||~||~|Configuring your system
Every adapter comes with drivers. These must be loaded onto your PC and your operating system must be configured to perform the networking task. For a small number of PCs, from two to five, a Windows operating system such as 98 or 2000 should work fine.

The next step is to give each PC an identity so that it can be recognised on the network. When you load the drivers and configure your operating system, it naturally throws up a unique TCP/IP address for each PC. At the same time, each card also comes up with a unique MAC (media access control) address. So, each PC has a physical number (the MAC address which is embedded on the card) as well as a logical address (which is the IP address). This enables each PC to have a unique identity, so that we know who is talking to whom. The physical address is not usually used unless it is a high security network.

Configuring your operating system for a network isn’t very difficult anymore. In the case of Windows, there are user-friendly wizards to take you through the operation.
There are four basic things to tick and load for networking from your CD if it isn’t already done.

1. Network Adapter Drivers
2. Net BEUI
3. Client for Microsoft Windows
4. File and Printer sharing for Microsoft Windows

||**||VI|~||~||~|This is the final step.

So, this is how your network looks right now. PCs are loaded with Ethernet cards. Their operating systems are configured to talk to these cards. A cable from a PC goes into a face plate. From the back of each face plate, each cable goes into a patch plate. Corresponding wires from the patch plate go finally into a switch.
Your networking is done. This is a workgroup environment and typically takes between two and five people. Sometimes, a few more can be taken in.

For a larger network
What happens when there is a group of 30 or 100 more in an office who need to share common resources like printers, fax machines and also a portion of your hard disk. The above workgroup environment would cause a traffic jam, slow your workstations and decrease work efficiency.

What you need to do in that case is share only those applications that are commonly used by all. These common application resources like filers, modems, routers and so on will be handled by a server.

When you think of a server, you also need to consider an operating system that can handle such a network. Typically, people use the Windows 2000 OS, Windows NT or UNIX or Novell. The server is the centre of the network. All the other machines that log onto the server are called clients.

To share any resources on the network or access them, you need to log into the network. What happens when you log into the server is that it identifies you as one of the clients that is authorised to use the resources on the network.

Wireless Network
The difference between a wireless network and an ethernet connection rests largely on the premise that one does not operate on cables, currently has slower connectivity (11mbps currently) and connections could break should there be an interference. In place of an ethernet card, you use a wireless trans-receiver for such a network.

This should take you through the basics of a small network. Once you have learnt the rules and know what to look for, the rest should be a breeze. ||**||

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