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What Is a Computer Network? Everything You Need to Know

Feb 08, 202311 mins readAmit Masih
What Is a Computer Network? Everything You Need to Know

A computer network is a system of interconnected computing devices that communicate with each other using standardized connection protocols. It enables sharing resources such as files, printers, and Internet access. Networks can be connected by wired or wireless methods and require hardware and software components for seamless functioning.

In this guide, you will learn computer networking, including its different types, the responsibilities of a network engineer, and top certifications to sharpen your network expertise.

What is a Computer Network?

A computer network refers to the interconnection of computing devices, such as computers, routers, and switches, to exchange data and access shared resources. The connection is established depending on the communication needs and can be either wired or wireless. A set of protocols, known as communication protocols, are used to transmit information between these devices. These protocols enable the seamless exchange of information over physical or wireless technologies, creating a network of interconnected devices.

How does a Computer Network work?

The foundation of a computer network lies in its nodes and links. A network node can be either a data communication device, such as a modem, hub, or switch, or data terminal equipment, like computers and printers. On the other hand, the link is the transmission medium connecting two nodes and can take the form of physical cables, optical fibers, or the free space used by wireless networks. To ensure the proper functioning of a computer network, nodes follow a set of protocols that dictate the sending and receipt of electronic data through the links. The architecture of a computer network is responsible for defining its physical and logical components, such as its physical specifications, functional organization, protocols, and procedures.

Types of Computer Networks

A computer network can be categorized by its size. A computer network is mainly of four types:

Local Area Network (LAN)

A Local Area Network (LAN) is a computer network that connects multiple devices within a limited geographic range. It enables efficient and effective data and service exchange among the connected devices.

Key Features of LAN:

  • It is a privately owned network, free from external control.
  • It offers high-speed data transfer compared to other wide-area networks (WANs).
  • It supports multiple media access control methods such as Token Ring and Ethernet.

PAN(Personal Area Network)

A Personal Area Network (PAN) is a small-scale network of computing devices centered around an individual. It typically comprises personal devices such as a computer, smartphone, or personal digital assistant. PAN enables the communication between these personal devices and facilitates connection to digital networks and the internet.

Key Features of PAN:

  • It is a network primarily made up of personal devices nearby.
  • It enables the interconnection of IT devices in the immediate surroundings of a single user.
  • PAN devices commonly used include smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other personal devices.
  • It can be connected wirelessly to the internet through a Wireless Personal Area Network (WPAN).
  • Examples of appliances used in PAN include cordless mice, keyboards, and Bluetooth systems.

MAN(Metropolitan Area Network)

The Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) is a computer network that spans a metropolitan area, connecting multiple devices and systems within a defined geographic region. The network is typically established using wired technology, such as data cables and optical fibers.

Key Features of MAN

  • It covers a metropolitan area with a range of up to 50 km.
  • It utilizes wired technology, such as data cables and optical fibers.
  • It offers data rates sufficient for distributed computing applications.

WAN(Wide Area Network)

WAN (Wide Area Network) is a network that spans a large geographical area, such as across states or countries. It typically uses wireless technology, such as radio waves, to connect network devices and facilitate communication. A WAN can be composed of multiple LAN and MAN networks, allowing for the integration of disparate networks into a more extensive, cohesive network.

Key Features of WAN

  • Ability to connect devices over long distances.
  • Use of wireless technology for communication.
  • Ability to integrate multiple LAN and MAN networks into a larger network.
  • Facilitate file sharing among users, allowing all users to access the latest versions of files.
  • Enables organizations to form a global, integrated network.

Other popular types of Computer Networks

Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN)

WLAN is a computer network that operates like a LAN but uses wireless technology such as Wi-Fi. This network enables devices to communicate with each other wirelessly, eliminating the need for physical cables.

Campus Area Network (CAN)

CAN is larger than a LAN but smaller than a MAN. It is a computer network commonly used in educational institutions, covering a limited geographical area, such as several buildings within a campus.

Storage Area Network (SAN)

SAN is a high-speed computer network that connects storage devices to multiple servers. Unlike LAN and WAN, SAN operates independently and moves storage resources to its dedicated network, providing access to block-level data storage.

System Area Network (SAN)

SAN is a type of computer network that connects clusters of high-performance computers. It is a high-bandwidth, connection-oriented network that is useful for processing applications that require high network performance.

Passive Optical Local Area Network (POLAN)

POLAN is an alternative to LAN, which uses optical splitters to distribute signals from a single strand of single-mode optical fiber to multiple users and devices. It is a point-to-multipoint LAN architecture.

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

VPN is a computer network that extends a private network over the internet, allowing users to send and receive data as if they were connected to a private network, even when they are not. VPN uses a virtual point-to-point connection to provide remote access to a private network and protects users from malicious sources.

Home Area Network (HAN)

HAN is a network that allows interconnecting of multiple computers and digital devices within a home. It supports wired and wireless communication and encourages sharing of resources, files, and programs within the network.

What is a network engineer?

A Network Engineer is a highly skilled technical professional specializing in planning, designing, and managing various types of networks. Their primary responsibility is to ensure smooth communication and connection of wireless network services, data, voice, and video. With their in-depth knowledge of networking, they implement high-level network infrastructures, and configurations, troubleshoot any issues and maintain the security of the entire network system. Network Engineers play a vital role in the IT team as they have a comprehensive understanding of networks and provide the necessary hardware and software tools for efficient, fast, and secure connections and communication across different locations.

Responsibilities of a Network Engineer:

  • Maintaining and controlling computer networks and associated computing environments, including software for systems, applications, equipment, and configurations.
  • Conducting disaster recovery and data backup operations.
  • Implementing network security measures to protect data, applications, and hardware.
  • Troubleshooting and resolving hardware, software, and network issues.
  • Replacing faulty hardware components as needed.
  • Monitoring virus protection for device and email applications.
  • Monitoring network performance and making necessary changes.
  • Assisting network users with resolving issues.
  • Using master consoles to control network and computer system output.
  • Coordinating access to computer networks.
  • Planning, installing, and testing networking devices, hardware, and operating systems.

The best certifications for Computer Networking

CompTIA Network+

CompTIA Network+ certification showcases your expertise in managing, designing, and maintaining secure networks. You'll be able to effectively operate network devices, improve network performance, troubleshoot issues, and ensure network security. CompTIA Network+ is a vendor-neutral certification that aligns with various IT job roles, such as network administrator, systems engineer, network support specialist, and network analyst. Pursuing this certification can help you take your computer networking career to the next level.

CompTIA Security+

CompTIA Security+ certification focuses on essential security practices such as risk management, threat mitigation, and intrusion detection, keeping you up-to-date with the latest trends and techniques in the field. By obtaining this certification, you'll show your expertise in ensuring the security and connectivity of your organization. The certification aligns with career paths such as systems administrator, security administrator, network engineer, and junior IT auditor/penetration tester, making it a valuable asset for those seeking advancement in IT security.

CompTIA Linux+

CompTIA Linux+ program covers essential concepts such as system configuration, command line usage, scripting fundamentals, network settings and services, and system security. Upon completion, you'll have a deep understanding of configuring and maintaining network settings, troubleshooting issues, writing scripts, and performing basic SQL data manipulation. The certification aligns with career paths such as systems administrator, network administrator, technical support specialist, and Linux administrator, making it a valuable asset in the competitive field of IT.

CompTIA Server+

CompTIA Server+ program equips professionals with the skills necessary to operate and secure physical and virtual servers in data center and cloud environments. The certification covers various server administration topics, including server hardware installation and management, server administration focusing on high availability and virtualization, security and disaster recovery, and troubleshooting. With this certification under your belt, you'll be well-equipped as a systems administrator, data center technician, network administrator, and server administrator.

Cisco Certified Networking Professional

Cisco, a leading technology company, offers six tiers of certifications, ranging from entry-level to architect. The CCNP certification is a highly regarded, professional-level industry designation covering networking specialties, including data centers, IT collaboration, security, and DevOps. Holding a CCNP certification demonstrates a comprehensive understanding of core functions within these networking fields and sets you apart as a skilled and knowledgeable professional in the industry.

F5 Networks Certified Technology Specialist

Boost your credibility as a professional in Application Delivery Networking by becoming a Certified Technology Specialist through F5 Networks. This certification showcases your mastery of optimizing network performance by managing traffic flow, domain name server tasks, application security, and remote authorization policies. The certification requires passing written exams in these crucial areas, proving your expertise and dedication to your profession. By earning the Certified Technology Specialist designation, you'll differentiate yourself as a knowledgeable and skilled professional in Application Delivery Networking.

Google Associate Cloud Engineer

The Google Associate Cloud Engineer certification is a highly-regarded computer networking certification program recognized for its rigorous assessment of cloud expertise. It verifies your ability to plan, configure, deploy, implement, operate, and secure cloud solutions upon completion. As an entry-level certificate for Google Cloud, it offers a valuable starting point for those seeking a career in this field. For those looking to advance beyond the entry-level, there are higher-level certifications within the program to explore. There are no formal prerequisites, but you must have at least six months of practical experience with Google Cloud before attempting the certification.

AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner

Amazon Web Services is a widely used platform for cloud computing. The AWS Cloud Practitioner certification is a great starting point for IT professionals who want to gain proficiency in this area. This entry-level certification covers the fundamental concepts of cloud architecture and compliance and provides a comprehensive understanding of specific AWS features and services. By obtaining the AWS Cloud Practitioner certification, you can demonstrate a solid foundation in cloud computing and position yourself for future growth and advancement.

Juniper Networks Certified Enterprise Routing and Switching Expert

This certification path offers a tiered testing system, with the JNCIE-ENT exam as the crowning achievement, showcasing exceptional skills in designing and implementing network architecture utilizing digital and physical infrastructure tools. Achieving this level requires the completion of all previous certification tiers, as well as passing a rigorous lab examination. The JNCIE-ENT certification solidifies your expertise and sets you apart as a Juniper Networks specialist.

Is Computer Network certification really worth it?

Earning certification is not a compulsory requirement in some cases, but it can certainly make a big difference in the hiring process by providing employers with an easy way to assess your skill level. Investing in network certifications can boost your resume and equip you with the necessary skills to thrive in an IT role. If you're new to the field and still exploring your options, consider starting with an entry-level IT certification or introductory certification program. These can open doors to careers as a network technician, administrator, engineer, architect, or any other professional in the network field. A strong understanding of networks can also benefit those in system administration positions.

The final words

A comprehensive understanding of key IT concepts is critical in information technology. Obtaining a networking certification is a widely recognized and respected industry standard that showcases your competency in various areas.

Whether you're just starting your career or looking to advance, earning a certification can help you hone your practical skills and significantly increase your chances of landing the job you want. Selecting the right networking certification program that aligns with your career goals is the first step toward realizing your professional aspirations.

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