10 Steps to Set Up Your Network

Updated: April 30, 2009

If you have a small office or a home office with several computers, you will want to connect them with a network. That way you can share files, printers and other devices attached to the various machines and share an Internet connection. The advantages of a network far outweigh the work involved in setting it up. Here are 10 steps to make setting up your network as painless as possible:

  1. First, you will need to log on with administrator privileges in order to set up a network. This requirement prevents unauthorized users from changing network settings. There should be only one administrator account on the network, and its username and password should be closely guarded secrets.
  2. You will need some hardware to physically connect the computers. There are several options available, but the fastest and most reliable is Ethernet cabling. Wireless connectivity is more convenient because you don't have cables running everywhere, but it is slower than 100 Mbps Ethernet and can be subject to interference. Nonetheless, wireless networking is a popular choice in small offices. Other technologies use phone or power lines to connect computers.
  3. Each technology will have its own kind of NIC (network interface card) , a device that plugs into a computer and enables it to communicate with the network. These devices can take various forms. A PCI (peripheral component interconnect) card requires you to open up the computer to install it. A USB form factor just plugs into a USB port. A laptop computer will have a PC Card port. An Ethernet card will have ports for cables, while a wireless card may have a stubby antenna.
  4. Software drivers provided with NICs configure the hardware you install for use with the network. This configuration is usually done automatically by Windows when it detects a newly installed device.
  5. All of the computer connections come together at one device that routes traffic between the appropriate machines. This device can be a simple hub or switch , but more often it is a router that also handles sharing an Internet connection. In the case of a wireless network, a device called an access point broadcasts radio signals to all of the NICs. Often a router is built into the access point to enable Internet sharing.

    It is usually preferable to use a router instead of a hub or switch when sharing an Internet connection. Otherwise, the Internet will not be available to other machines on the network if the computer directly connected to the Internet is turned off. Also, the router generally provides firewall functionality to protect your network from intruders. In this configuration, the router attaches directly to the Internet and all computers on the network connect to the router directly.
  6. A software network operating system is also necessary to manage traffic on the network. This software is built into modern operating systems such as Windows and Linux. It allows you to set up user groups and resources that can be shared, such as files, folders and peripheral devices.
  7. With the network hardware and software installed, it's time to organize your network resources. When you installed the operating system on each computer, you assigned a work group or domain name, such as "OFFICE," to each set of computers that share resources. This helps keep business resources separate from home resources. Each computer also received its own name, for example, "ACCOUNTING." All computers in the OFFICE work group will be listed by their names in your Network Places.
  8. Next, you need to set up resources on each computer that will be shared with others on the network. In Windows, you will need to enable file and printer sharing on each computer. The procedure for doing this varies depending on which version of Windows you have. Consult your help files. Sharing files and folders is as simple as dragging the icon for the shared resource to the "shared" folder. Only computers in the same work group or domain will be able to access these shared resources.
  9. To share a device, such as a printer attached to the ACCOUNTING computer, you have to enable sharing on the device and give the device a network name, for example, "PRINTER." It will then show up as "PRINTER ON ACCOUNTING" in the list of available printers.
  10. A firewall is an essential security precaution when connecting to the Internet. Windows comes with a built-in firewall, and routers also include firewall functions. They can block certain kinds of traffic , restrict traffic on different ports and even control when an Internet connection can be used by each computer on a network.

Setting up a network may seem like a lot of work, but much of the software configuration is handled automatically. The biggest chore is installing the hardware, and much of that is plug-and-play. Windows XP and Vista even include a Network Setup Wizard that walks you through the process step-by-step. The productivity benefits of an office network far outweigh the initial setup effort.

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