The first step in being a Network Engineer is building a network, if one does not already exist. If one does already exist, then one is tasked with maintaining and expanding this network on an ongoing basis. To this end we will discuss the basic elements of a network.

  1. Desktops and Laptops (Workstations)Desktops and Laptops are at the core of any network. They are what the majority of users (read: employees) spend the majority of their day interacting with. Even if you are an internet business, you will still have workstations for application development, graphic design, customer support, etc.
  2. ServersServers are beefy computers – nothing more, nothing less. They are not magical. If you can work with a desktop or laptop you can work with a server. Servers simply have more RAM, more processors, more hard drives, more fancy cards. These servers are generally utilized by a large number of employees within the company (or individuals without).
  3. Storage ArraysStorage arrays allow for creating large pools of disk space – more than traditionally fit inside of a desktop, laptop, or even server.
  4. Router, Firewall, Switch, Cabling
    1. A router is the first jump to your network. Depending on the size of your network you may or may not have an independent router. Oftentimes these are integrated into a combination router/firewall/switch. In any case, a router’s job is to route information to the correct location.
    2. A firewall allows you to control the traffic that enters your network and the traffic that leaves your network. You can define what kind of traffic is allowed on your network and by whom.
    3. A switch serves as a central connection for the many different computers and networkable devices you have on your network.
    4. Finally there is the cabling that connects it all together. This cabling runs from each individual workstation into a switch, which in turn has a cable to the firewall, which in turn has a cable to the router, from whence your Internet Service Provider (ISP) takes control.
  5. Printers, Faxes, Copiers, and ScannersThese peripherals connect either directly to a workstation or server or can be connected via networking cables. They are then available for users to utilize for all their printing, faxing, copying, and scanning needs.
  6. Removable Storage DevicesGenerally used for backing up information and taking it to a safe location this would include the nearly extinct floppy disks, the more common CD-ROM and DVD’s, the ever popular tape, and finally the relatively new removable hard disks.
  7. Unified Communications System – At the most basic level you will need phones, but beyond this there is a plethora of choices regarding whether to use individual POTs lines, a PBX, analog/digital/IP, and so on.