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NETWORKING HARDWARE

Basic Networking Devices in Layman`s Terms
By: Barzan "Tony" Antal
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    2009-02-26

    Table of Contents:
  • Basic Networking Devices in Layman`s Terms
  • Hubs
  • Switches and Routers
  • Taking a Break

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    Basic Networking Devices in Layman`s Terms - Hubs


    (Page 2 of 4 )

    Without doubt the most frequent thing that users all over the world have to deal with each day is connecting multiple computers to the Internet. The situation is simple. The user has an Internet connection that already works with the main system. But then somewhere down the line another computer is bought, another laptop is welcomed into their home, and so forth—a little home-based LAN infrastructure has slowly developed.

    It makes sense that the user expects to connect to the Internet and surf the Web from each of these systems (computers, notebooks, etc.). To accomplish this, the average Joe needs to build a LAN, a Local Area Network, and to have Internet access available through it. Years ago this task was a bit harder. Nowadays it’s really trivial.

    However, in order to understand the solution to this situation, we need to briefly get into the history of networking devices, and present two already extinct, or so are they considered at least, computer network devices. Yes, that’s right. They aren’t manufactured that much anymore (except in a very few unique cases) and, thus, you can’t really purchase them either, because they aren’t available—not in  stock, at least.

    Back in the early and late 90s those devices had gained quite a bit of popularity because they were very affordable back then. And “better” solutions were outrageously expensive; therefore, there was no way a home user could ever afford a so-called “enterprise” networking device. As you’d expect, they were required to get around with whatever they could afford, even if it that meant much more hassle.

    Fortunately, with the rapid growth of technology, the mass production of those previously expensive devices (which were considered high-end) have slowly become a bargain; nowadays, they can be acquired without putting a hole in your pocket. There are a multitude of manufacturing companies with literally hundreds of models, so it’s up to you to pick one that fits your needs.

    Now after this short introduction, let’s get into specifics and point out what these devices were. Back in the early days of computer networking two of the most common devices were the following: repeaters and hubs. While you may not have heard of the first, you've almost certainly heard of hubs. 

    You see, the days of hubs are passed. They are over. Hubs are considered extinct. But still, they are part of everyday computing discussions all over the world, and they confuse hundreds of people on a daily basis. People don’t really know the difference between these devices, nor do they know that they are part of the history.

    I’ve had frustrated customers coming to me and asking for advice—where could they purchase a hub? And why are they so hard to acquire? Apparently, they did receive “useful” advice from neighbors and friends; people told them to purchase hubs for their home networks. Imagine the frustration of shopping for an extinct device throughout dozens of IT shops. Until I’ve explained the reality…

    Hubs were/are inexpensive devices that allow connection between computers. Each computer had a Network Interface Card (NIC) and, thus, they could be wired to the hub with RJ45 network cables. This is how a LAN could be designed. Moving on, the Internet arrived and created confusion. While hubs made LAN possible between computers, a hub wasn’t able to connect, by itself, the computers from the LAN to the Web.

    The workaround situation was affordable. One of the computers was selected to be a gateway to the Internet, another network interface card was added to that system, and then computers would surf the Web, since that chosen computer was much more intelligent and routed the packets wisely with the help of the hub. By itself, the hub transmits everything that it receives to all of the computers. It’s quite stupid.

    In the case of simple LANs, this was enough. It was cheap and slow-performing. Network hubs were also called multi-port repeaters, simply because they had more than one port—anywhere from two and four ports up to 16 and even 32.

    As you can see, a hub isn’t able to figure out by itself from which computer comes a packet, and where should it be sent. Instead it transmits everything it receives to everybody! And herein lies its inefficiency and stupidity. Therefore, if you want to connect your LAN to the Internet, hubs require a dedicated gateway computer (24/7) with an extra NIC, configuration (it must be set as a gateway).

    Hubs were replaced by switches. These switches are a bit more intelligent, they are available right now on the market with numerous offerings ranging from low and mid-range up to high-end enterprise multilayer switches. On the next page we’re going to continue our story explaining the rest of networking devices that you should know about. We’re doing our best to explain everything practically in layman’s terms.

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