Unit 11 – Computer Networks

Unit 11 – Computer Networks is another one of the many assignment-based units. As with all the units, unit 11 has multiple learning aims, each which cover multiple different topics. Unit 11 covers the features and uses of computer networks, e.g. what is a computer network? What are the benefits and drawbacks of a computer network?  What is the purpose and requirements of computer network? The individual learning aims are as follows:

  1. Understand the Features and Uses of Computer Networks;
  2. Design a Computer Network;
  3. Develop and Test a Computer Network;
  4. Review the finished Computer Network;

Learning Aim 1:
The first learning aim of Unit 11 covers the different features and uses of computer networks – a collection of interconnected hardware components and software that allow computer devices to communicate and share data between one another.

You need to understand the different features of various computer networks; these include the different connection methods, such as wired and wireless, the scope or scale such as LAN, WAN, MAN, PAN and SAN, Local Area Network, Wide Area Network, Metropolitan Area Network, Personal Area Network and Storage Area network respectively.

You should also understand what is meant by different architectures, such as peer-to-peer (p2p) and client-server as well as different protocols and their functions, such as Ethernet, Internet Protocol (IP) and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). It is fundamental that you understand how data is transferred across the network; this includes packet routing, transmission modes – half-duplex, full-duplex, simplex, serial and parallel – as well as transfer rates.

Additionally, you need to have a basic understanding of security, in regards to files, folders, data, network access and resources and utilities such as virus protection, access control, backup and remote desktop as well as services such as user account management and login, file and folder permissions for individual user and a group of users, security and software deployment.

The final feature of computer networks, that you need to understand, is the different network topology, such as physical elements like star, bus, ring, mesh, tree and point-to-point and logical elements such as Ethernet and token ring.

Next, you must have a basic understanding of the uses of networks. These could be for communication, such as email, instant messaging, social networking, web conferencing as well as blogs, forms and wikis. Alternatively, this could also be for different storage needs, such as general files and data-centres or multi-user environments such as gaming or collaborative working or exchanging information such as files or other types of data and information.

You also need to understand the use of sharing hardware resources such as the internet, printers and scanners, storage and processing power as well as applications such as online databases and spreadsheets, intranet and extranet.

Finally, in the first learning aim, you must consider how these features could affect the productivity or the user experience, such as increasing speed, sharing information securely, backing up data, as well as keeping people informed using collaborative working.

Learning Aim 2:
The second learning aim of Unit 11 covers the designing of a computer network, along with both the hardware and software components required in the network. Additionally, it covers the design documentation for the computer network.

You start with the designing of a computer network based on the requirements from a brief; this must include the purpose, the requirements and tasks, details of the users and their roles as well as the size and geographical spread and the costs. Additionally, you need to consider any constraints.

You need to think about the features of the hardware components, such as their purpose, how they connect and how they communicate with other components. Examples of different hardware components such be computer systems, workstations and servers, network adapters such as wired and wireless. Even routers, switched and network cabling, such as fibre optics, UTP and STP or wireless, such as infrared or Bluetooth.

Next, you should think about the features of software components, such as the purpose of it and the relationship between other components. This could be applications, such as internet browsers, firewalls, email, antivirus and other network utilities.  You also need to consider constraints like the cost of components for the intended network or any technical constraints such as hardware and software availability.

Finally, for the final part of learning aim 2, you must produce design documentation for a computer network, including the network set-up and configuration, such as IP addressing and subnet marks, if required, as well as security, shared files and folders and any access permissions for users. Additionally, you should include details on any user accounts and sharing of hardware and software resources such as internet, printers and other storage devices.

Your documentation should also include details of network user rights, such as administration rights, access control rights and shared resources rights. You must also include the network diagram for the structure of a network, and the required components and the positioning of them.

You must also include a test plan with test data to test the functionality or the network, such as testing the connectivity between all devices on the network.

Learning Aim 3:
The third learning aim of Unit 11 covers the development of a computer network, including gathering components, following health and safety during development and testing the final network.

You need to develop a computer network, either peer-to-peer or client-server, depending on the hardware and software resources available that meets a certain brief. The different between peer-to-peer and client-server networks is that a peer-to-peer network does not have a central, main server, each of the networks clients shares its data equally with the others. Whereas, a client-server network has one or more dedicated, central, primary servers that the clients access using workstations – they can access files and check authentication.

You start by gathering network components, a minimum of two computer systems – clients or a server, if necessary. Network adapters – wireless or wired – and network cabling might also be required as well as a hub or network switch. Additionally, you should consider gathering a server operating system, if you are building a client-server network as well as other utilities such as remote desktop management, user rights and access control, firewall configuration and anti-virus.

Additionally, you should consider an operating system that can add, remove and amend users, share files and folders, set access permissions, install application as well as sharing hardware resources such as a printer or other networked devices.

Next, you should keep any health and safety issues in mind when developing a network, such as dangers with hardware or electrical connection risks and guidelines and when handling equipment.

Finally, you must test the network for functionality and connectivity using command-line tools such as ipconfig and ping – to test the reliability and performance to check the time taken to transfer a file across the network. You also need to use the full range of utilities and services provided by the operating system to test other aspects of the network, such as shared resources, user access, access control and file/folder permissions.

Additionally, you should record any feedback, such as functionality, usability, requirements and performance, from the ‘client’. As well as any potential improvements to the computer network, such as for improved performance, capacity, accessibility, portability, reliability and security.

Learning Aim 4:
The fourth and final learning aim of Unit 11 covers the reviewing of the completed computer network.

For the final learning aim, you must review your completed computer network against the user requirements and the purpose as well as the user experience, such as the reliability and performance. You should also include any constraints that might have affected your network, such as hardware and software availability, in your review.