Your business is growing. Your employees have the PCs and software that they need to do their jobs in the most effective way possible. Now it's time to grasp the added benefit of working together. You can leap ahead in efficiency and productivity by linking your PCs in a computer network. As your PCs work together more efficiently, you gain a new advantage. With computer networking, you can share files and documents, quickly schedule meetings, and manage group projects. With a network, you can also send and receive electronic mail. You can reduce the time spent in meetings and traveling between your offices, suppliers, and customers.

Networking also offers you the added savings and security that come with greater control of your resources. A network makes the most of expensive printers and peripherals by sharing them and controlling who has access to them. You can manage all security and data access from a central point. But what is the best strategy for your business? What kind of network best meets your needs? This guide helps you pick between peer-to-peer and client/server networks and shows you how to make the transition to a time-and money-saving network system.


The Difference Between Peer-to-Peer and Client/Server

There are basically two types of computer networks: peer-to-peer and client/server. Each type offers its own unique advantages. The most basic network—and a good networking solution for companies with fewer than five computers—is a peer-to-peer network. In this network, PCs are connected to each other with cables and a peer-to-peer operating system. For example, Microsoft Windows 98/XP has built-in  peer-to-peer networking.  A peer-to-peer network is a low-cost entry into simple networking and lets employees share files and peripherals, such as printers and CD-ROM drives, as well as send e-mail within the company.

A client/server network, on the other hand, has the power to bring you many more benefits. This option is especially valuable if you have already invested in multiple platforms (such as UNIX or Macintosh) or if you have more than five PCs. In the client/server network, "clients"—standard desktop PCs—are connected to a "server"—a more powerful PC that "serves up" data, devices, and software applications to clients. There are different levels of client/server network operating systems, as well. Some only support file and printer sharing, while others specialize in running software applications. A multipurpose client/server network operating system, such as Microsoft Windows NT operating system, can provide everything you need in a network.


Easy and Inexpensive Peer-to-Peer Networking

Peer-to-peer networking offers a quick and easy way to tie all your resources and people together. Employees can access information from and share it directly with others in the network. A peer-to-peer network can be set up for a very modest investment. All you need are network cards, cables, and Microsoft Windows 98 or higher, which has a built-in peer-to-peer network operating system. You can use peer-to-peer networking to keep your staff fully informed of your daily schedule by allowing them to access and view your business calendar as a shared file on your system. Then you can forget the hassle of leaving notes about where you can be reached and when you'll return. Employees can easily share files and file folders (directories) in a peer-to-peer network. With a couple of mouse clicks, they can easily let one or more colleagues access files on their computer's hard disk, so there's no more trading back and forth of disks, and files are always available—even if the employee is out to lunch.

To give your customers royal treatment, you can make your customer database available on the network. This way, any employee taking a call can quickly pull up a customer profile for information and changes. Customers spend less time on hold, and don't get that bounced-around feeling when they have to be transferred. The employee who answers the call can ask them how their last purchase is doing, giving the customer personalized attention. Customers are more satisfied, and your employees get more work done in less time.


Powerful and Flexible Client/Server Networking

As you add people, computers, and other resources, a client/ server network can give you the increased performance you need. In a client/server network, clients are connected by cable to a centralized server. The server provides centralized security, backup, and recovery capability and controls access to sensitive files and expensive peripherals (such as color printers and modems). A dedicated server improves data integrity, because the most current version of a document will be saved in one location. This type of network requires a network operating system, such as Microsoft Windows NT Server.  With client/server networking, you can manage all security and data access from a central point. You can set passwords with different security levels for different files, set access times, and define access permissions and limitations to confidential data such as payroll and contracts.

Client/server networking gives you the resources to host and administer your own Web site on your server. New software now makes it easy for you to create Web pages and manage a Web site. Then, all you need to do is establish a domain name (Web address) and connect to an Internet service provider (ISP).

A server should support a wide variety of clients—such as Macintosh, Windows 98, and Windows NT—and communicate with other systems—such as NetWare and UNIX—using multiple network protocols.


Checklist for Choosing Network Software

Consider these factors to determine which network solution is right for your business. You may choose to set up a peer-to-peer network now and move up to a client  server network later. Windows NT Server fits right in with existing networks. That means you can move from peer-to-peer to client/server networking without losing your original investment.
Peer-To-Peer Networking Client/Server Networking
Fewer than 5 computers More than 5 computers
Work within the office Remote access: Work from a remote location
Single platform (Windows 98 or higher) Multiple platforms or systems
Integrated applications Multiple vendors / software
Basic security and access Added security