A network consists of two or more nodes (e.g. computers) that are linked in order to share resources (such as printers and CDs), exchange files, or allow electronic communications. The computers on a network may be linked through cables, telephone lines, radio waves, satellites, or infrared light beams.
The main goal of networking is "Resource sharing", and it is to make all programs, data and equipment available to anyone on the network without the regard to the physical location of the resource and the user.
A second goal is to provide high reliability by having alternative sources of supply. For example, all files could be replicated on two or three machines, so if one of them is unavailable, the other copies could be available.
Another goal is saving money. Small computers have a much better price/performance ratio than larger ones. Mainframes are roughly a factor of ten times faster than the fastest single chip microprocessors, but they cost thousand times more. This imbalance has caused many system designers to build systems consisting of powerful personal computers, one per user, with data kept on one or more shared file server machines. This goal leads to networks with many computers located in the same building. Such a network is called a LAN (local area network).
Another closely related goal is to increase the systems performance as the work load increases by just adding more processors. With central mainframes, when the system is full, it must be replaced by a larger one, usually at great expense and with even greater disruption to the users.
- Computer networks provide a powerful communication medium. A file that was updated or modified on a network can be seen by the other users on the network immediately.
- Access to remote programs.
- Access to remote databases.
- Value-added communication facilities.