This is a great question and like all networking answers, it depends... First thing to do is to check and see if you have a NIC card on your PC/Apple. Most machines have this now, so this is just a double check. Now a SMB class switch and Cat5e cables are required. I like the Cat Express 500 for a quick and easy switch. One cat5e cable is needed per PC and connected from the PC to the switch.
Now it is decision time... Protocols needed. IP is the defacto standard for protocols, but understand you need to either:
a: Manually config an IP address for each PC
b: Have a DHCP server on the network.
I recommend IP since it is the standard in communication now a days. Now just go in and set up file and print sharing on your PC and share want folders you need and there you go.
Caution!! In this type of environment, make sure you have a up to date anti-virus solution installed on all PC's.
you should understand a few things before you begin:
1) how many PCs do you want to connect to the network? how many printers are to be connected to the network? are there any other services you'd like the network to provide?
2) what is the operating system(s) on the PCs you wish to network? (i recommend XP professional w/SR2 for windows based PCs.)
3) what type of 'file sharing' are you going to use; windows or a file server?
(for only a handful or two of users, then windows file sharing is fine. if more than a few handfuls of users perhaps a file/printer server will be more efficient.
4) what type of 'administration' of the system do you expect? onsite technician or do-it-yourself? (consider costs vs. know how and doing it correct the first time.)
5) if less than 24 users, then a simple cisco switch will be sufficient; ce500, 3550, 3560...many flavors to choose from; provide us your user numbers and service needs and we can recommend a solution.
6) you'll need to know what 'messaging' system you wish to use for your Calendar, Scheduling, Email, etc. (outlook?, outlook express?, other....)
7) you'll need to know what networking protocol you will be using. in todays windows based networks, TCP/IP is commonly used. (may require a network engineer to assist with setup if you're not familiar)
8) will you require 'internet access' for your networked PCs? if so, what type will you have; DSL?, T1?, or other...? (tell us your user size and required internet services, ie: browsing, surfing, web hosting...and we can recommend a solution)
In addition to the recommendations listed above, I would recommend Microsoft Small Business Server 2003. Features included are Email and Messaging Platform; File, Print, & Application Sharing; Firewall; Built-in Intranet (using SharePoint); Shared Calendaring; Automated Network-wide Patch & Update Management; Daily Status Report of Desktops and Servers (SUS); and a Fax Server. The Premium Edition has Frontpage for Web Design and the Full-Blown ISA Server 2004.
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