Working with only one computer is simply unthinkable. Therefore, connecting a series of computers into a network is nothing short of a basic necessity in most organizations, starting from educational institutions to multinational business companies.
Adding a network card to each of the computers to be connected is the first step in setting up networking hardware. The kind of networking hardware implemented depends on the kind of network that needs to be set up. For a wired network, an Ethernet card is used to link the computer to the network via a UTP cable that has an RJ-45 connector at its end. At present, Ethernet is the most extensively implemented Network Hardware Standard and it is used to connect computers in not only small residential networks but also in large workplaces. Small, relatively inexpensive and carrying and delivering data at high speeds, the Ethernet is mainly used for the formation of the LAN, or Local Area Network.
For a wireless network, however, a Wi-Fi networking card is required. Its function is essentially the same as that of the Ethernet but it is without the cable connections characteristic of the Ethernet. Instead, a Wi-Fi networking card connects through electromagnetic radiation. Today, Wi-Fi can be as fast as 54MBps and 108 MBps, and any node within a 100 or 1000-foot range of a Wi-Fi router can easily obtain a steady and secure connection to the LAN.
Now that the computers are connected, the next step in setting up a network is implementing a data distributor to give out the connected information to the networked computers. For wired networks, hubs, routers and switches serve as data distributors, with the three varying in their levels of complexity. The simplest of these are the hubs whereas routers are the more complex of the lot. Wireless networks, however, require a different kind of networking hardware to provide wireless connectivity and data distribution to the Wi-Fi connected computers. These include wireless routers, wireless hubs and wireless switches.
When many computers are connected in a network, it usually means that there is a large amount of data to be stored. These vast amounts of data are stored in special devices that let the networked computers access, retrieve and manipulate the data as and when required based on the different levels of authorization. Such devices centrally store data within a computer network and are often referred to as data servers or file servers.