If you want to connect all your computers together so that they can share files and access the same Internet source, you will need to use a networking device. While routers are the most common networking option, a network switch is a less expensive choice that can work just as well. Although a network switch lacks the built-in firewall of a router, it is a more than adequate choice for most small-scale networks in a home or office setting.
At the most basic level a router links two networks together, the network within your home (however big or small) and the network outside your home (in this case, the Internet). The broadband modem provided to you by your ISP is only suited to linking a single computer to the internet and usually does not include any sort of routing or switch functionality. A router performs the following functions:
IP sharing: Your ISP assigns you one IP address. If you have a desktop, a laptop, a media box on your TV, and an iPad, that one IP address clearly isn’t going to cut it. A router manages those multiple connections and ensures that the right packets of information go to the right places. Without this function there would be no way for a person on the desktop and a person on the laptop to both browse the web as there would be no distinguishing between which computer was requesting what.
Network Address Translation (NAT): Related to the IP sharing function, NAT modifies the headers in packets of information coming into and out of your network so that they get routed to the proper device. Think of NAT like a very helpful receptionist inside your router that knows exactly where every incoming/outgoing package should go and stamps the department on them accordingly.
Dynamic Host Configuration: Without DHCP you would have to manually configure and add all the hosts to your network. This means every time a new computer entered the network you would have to manually assign it an address on the network. DHCP does that for you automatically so that when you plug your XBOX into your router, your friend gets on your wireless network, or you add a new computer, an address is assigned with no human interaction required.
Routers and Firewall: For Home usage and for really small businesses, routers can act as basic firewalls in a variety of ways including automatically rejecting incoming data that is not part of an ongoing exchange between a computer within your network and the outside world. If you request a music stream from Pandora, for example, your router says, “We’re expecting you, come on in” and that stream of data is directed to the device that made the request. On the other hand, if a sudden burst of port probing comes in from an unknown address your router acts as a bouncer and rejects the requests, effectively cloaking your computers. Even for a user with a single computer a simple $50 router is worth it for the firewall functionality alone.
In addition to the inside-to-outside network functionality outlined above, home routers also act as a network switch. A network switch is a piece of hardware that facilitates communication between computers on an internal network. Without the switching function the devices could talk through the router to the greater internet but not to each other—something as simple as copying an MP3 from your laptop to your desktop over the network would be impossible.
Most routers have four Ethernet ports which allow you to plug in four devices and have them communicate via the switch function. If you need more than four Ethernet connections, you’ll need to upgrade to a router with a larger port bank (a rather expensive proposition that will usually only boost you up to eight ports) or you can pick up a dedicated switch.
For small businesses and larger companies, a dedicated firewall is a mandatory hardware device. Firewalls place a barrier between your trusted internal network and untrusted outside networks, like the Internet. A set of defined rules are employed to block or allow traffic. A firewall can be software, hardware, or both. The free firewall efficiently manages traffic on your PC, monitors in/out connections, and secures all connections when you are online. The hardware firewall is more robust and can handle to multiple connections needed for multiple people on the network at the same time.
Let our highly skilled team at FITS provide the IT support services for your Switch, VLAN project. Give us a call so that we can schedule a meeting to help you with your issue.