How to Connect Computers in the Enterprise

One of the most important developments in the IT industry was the ability to share resources. Until computers could talk to each other, they really were little more than fancy typewriters. Ethernet changed all that.

How Does the Hardware Work?

There are three main levels of networking hardware, but only two of them are really relevant in the enterprise. The one thing they all do is provide ports that allow different computers to talk to each other. The three basic devices are:

  • Hubs: These devices are essentially port splitters. All they do is let you connect multiple computers together, but they do not perform any sort of management. All they need is power.
  • Switches: The next step up, switches manage networks. Each port features its own individual connection so that rather than sharing the bandwidth, each of its Gigabit ports can put out a full Gigabit of bandwidth. This makes them very useful in more congested situations.
  • Routers: Where switches manage networks, routers connect them. They connect the Internet to a LAN, or simply connect different intranets so that they can work together.

What About Switches?

A 3Com Switch generally falls into one of three categories: 

  • Unmanaged: Usually found in the home, and smaller businesses, 3Com Baseline models rely on plug-and-play for operation. The biggest advantage here is that all you need to do is hook up your cables and go. There's no need to worry about configuration because everything is pre-set.
  • Managed: Managed units are a little more complicated. They tend to have more ports and rely on console software for IT management. It takes more work to setup, although the default settings will usually be fine out of the box. In return you get better security and flexibility for your LAN.
  • Modular: These are the kings of the enterprise. It's not just autosensing and multicast, it's the ability to grow your network with your business. Modular units can not only configure in software, but also physically so that you get the unit you need for your unique situation. Some even offer PoE as well as connectivity, so some devices can draw power directly from their cable connection.

Keeping it All Together

Enabling computers to connect to each other was truly empowering, but it didn't really reach its stride until the development of Fast Ethernet. This enabled high speed communications where systems were actively able to share data and resources rather than simply sending each other status updates. Once speeds got high enough, the enterprise could move away from Telnet and focus on Intranets and the Internet to greatly boost both flexibility and performance. Any single computer can only do so much, but once you connect them the capabilities scale tremendously.