If you’ve ever wondered what our team of engineers is talking about when it comes to your IT networking, then it’s time for Networking 101. Read on to educate yourself about the backbone of your IT infrastructure!
At its core, a local IT network exists to pass information. It does not store or process information as a primary function but rather is the highway and subsequent roadways for information to travel between computers, whether they be employee PCs, a printer, a server, a phone or tablet, a backup device of some type, the internet, or any other device that may be connected to a network.
There are a few basic parts to a traditional local IT network for a business or organization, although most will have slight variations depending on the custom needs of the entity. Some will have major variations; this becomes more common as a business scales with growth, for example. Still, the pieces will work together in a similar way utilizing a similar philosophy.
It is up for debate whether the engineers who originally designed these components were ostracized for the lack of over-complication but, thankfully, the most common appliances used for a network are quite plainly named—they describe their function. The primary pieces of an IT network are a firewall, a switch, wireless access points, and endpoints.
Let’s start from the devices closest to us—endpoints. You are likely using an endpoint right now to access this article (and, if not, almost certainly used an endpoint to originally access this article before using a separate endpoint to print it). An endpoint is simply a device that exists at a remote location (meaning not part of the same machine…it does not need to be at a different address) and communicates through a network. As mentioned, this can take many forms. Computers, servers, printers, and IoT devices (such as smart appliances) all are endpoints that require a remote connection to communicate with other devices (via the network). Generally speaking, these devices are vulnerable to attack without a security architecture to protect them. (This is why common security recommendations include avoiding open wireless networks that provide little to no overarching security considerations.)
Wireless access points, commonly called WAPs, enhance networks by creating WiFi networks, removing the need for a wired connection for mobile endpoints. (For our purposes, a WAP is generally a separate device. However, many home networks will have the wireless access points integrated into a router. More on that later.) Either way, the Wireless Access Point simply creates a WiFi network via varying protocols. A common solution for poor WiFi coverage, for example, would be to enhance either the power of the WAP or add additional WAP appliances to a network. Similarly, if too many WiFi devices are connecting to one WAP, the WAP may be augmented with a second access point or replaced with one that can handle more incoming connections.
Switches and hubs share a single connection between many endpoints. This allows these endpoints to quickly communicate. The primary difference between a switch and hub is that a switch attempts to make intelligent decisions on prioritizing varying traffic to increase efficiency in a network. A hub is “blind” connection with a first-come, first-served mentality. This can slow important traffic down, however, due to lack of prioritization so switches are more common. We often integrate Ubiquiti switches due to the value and quality we find in their products, however we service a large selection of switch manufacturers within our MSP umbrella.
A firewall exists to protect the network from unwelcome visitors. Just as the firewall in a car protects the passengers from engine heat, a digital firewall protects the endpoints from digital harm. This danger can manifest in many forms, but a few examples are from malicious port scanning, SQL injections, or DDoS attacks. A firewall can be an appliance—a physical box—or software. In many cases, it’s both or a combination of firewall layers. Additionally, many models of firewalls can be set up for specific VPN configurations. Some also include malware protection via packet inspection or other methods. Of the firewall devices we integrate into customer systems, we often will match an appropriate speed throughput via various Ubiquiti or SonicWALL models.
But wait…what about a router?
A router is a common term in household WiFi devices. In this context, the appliance is often performing at least basic firewall duties, routing, switching, and providing a wireless access point. Whatever device performs it, though, the routing function determines where data packets need to go on a network and commonly occurs in the Firewall appliance. Switches may also perform routing functions. However, neither of these are necessarily true and, in fact, larger infrastructures may have a specific routing appliance, separate from a firewall or switch. To learn more, check out this article to dig more into the technical differences between a router, a hub, and a switch.
This concludes your Networking 101 lesson! If you’d prefer that the experts on our team handle your business’s IT infrastructure design and integration (which we, of course, recommend), please CONTACT US or give us a call!