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Table Of Contents  The TCP/IP Guide
 9  Networking Fundamentals
      9  Introduction to Networking

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The Advantages (Benefits) of Networking
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Fundamental Network Characteristics
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The Disadvantages (Costs) of Networking

Now that I have portrayed the great value and many useful benefits of networking, I must bring you crashing back to earth with that old nemesis of the realistic: TANSTAAFL. For those who are not Heinlein fans, this acronym stands for “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”. Even though networking really does represent a “whole that is greater than the sum of its parts”, it does have some real and significant costs and drawbacks associated with it.

Here are a few of the items that balance against the advantages of networking.

  • Network Hardware, Software and Setup Costs: Computers don't just magically network themselves, of course. Setting up a network requires an investment in hardware and software, as well as funds for planning, designing and implementing the network. For a home with a small network of two or three PCs, this is relatively inexpensive, possibly amounting to less than a hundred dollars with today's low prices for network hardware, and operating systems already designed for networks. For a large company, cost can easily run into tens of thousands of dollars—or more.

  • Hardware and Software Management and Administration Costs: In all but the smallest of implementations, ongoing maintenance and management of the network requires the care and attention of an IT professional. In a smaller organization that already has a system administrator, a network may fall within this person's job responsibilities, but it will take time away from other tasks. In more substantial organizations, a network administrator may need to be hired, and in large companies an entire department may be necessary.

  • Undesirable Sharing: With the good comes the bad; while networking allows the easy sharing of useful information, it also allows the sharing of undesirable data. One significant “sharing problem” in this regard has to do with viruses, which are easily spread over networks and the Internet. Mitigating these effects costs more time, money and administrative effort.

  • Illegal or Undesirable Behavior: Similar to the point above, networking facilitates useful connectivity and communication, but also brings difficulties with it. Typical problems include abuse of company resources, distractions that reduce productivity, downloading of illegal or illicit materials, and even software piracy. In larger organizations, these issues must be managed through explicit policies and monitoring, which again, further increases management costs.

  • Data Security Concerns: If a network is implemented properly, it is possible to greatly improve the security of important data. In contrast, a poorly-secured network puts critical data at risk, exposing it to the potential problems associated with hackers, unauthorized access and even sabotage.

Most of these costs and potential problems can be managed; that's a big part of the job of those who set up and run networks. In the end, as with any other decision, whether to network or not is a matter of weighing the advantages against the disadvantages. Of course today, nearly everyone decides that networking is worthwhile.

Key Concept: Networking has a few drawbacks that balance against its many positive aspects. Setting up a network has costs in hardware, software, maintenance and administration. It is also necessary to manage a network to keep it running smoothly, and to address possible misuse or abuse. Data security also becomes a much bigger concern when computers are connected together.


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The Advantages (Benefits) of Networking
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Fundamental Network Characteristics
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Version 3.0 - Version Date: September 20, 2005

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