Connecting your church office computer to a network.

Today I am going to look at setting up a computer network for your church office.

This is a general discussion and a “How To” will be posted titled “How to set up your church office network”. In fact I will create two “How To’s” one to create a local area network and another for connecting it to the Internet, But that is later.

The first thing about setting up a network is getting cables from each computer to a central point where we will locate a hub or Data Switch. In the old days a network was created by running a coaxial cable from the first computer, past all the other computers and a “T” adapter was used to connect that coax into each computer. Whilst this method certainly works – and COULD be used today, it is mach harder to manage and its harder to locate faults. It is also much harder to find network cards for your PC’s with the required BNC Connector. In this discussion I will deal only with an ethernet network.

So what is an ethernet network? – An Ethernet network is a method of connecting each PC together using twisted pair cabling. There are many different grades of ethernet networks and they are generally referred to as Category’s.

  • A Category 3 cable is not capable of very fast speeds and is therefore generally only used for telephone connections.
  • A Category 4 cable is a bit faster, but I have to admit – I don’t think I can ever remember putting one in – Cat 4 was replaced with Cat 5 very soon after it was released.
  • A Category 5 cable is fast enough for most data networks and in fact is quite capable of dealing with the speeds that your computer hardware and data switch is going to be able to handle in most cases. But if you really want to go the extra mile there is Cat 6.
  • A Category 6 cable is the fastest that is used in commercial installations today. cat 6 Cables can handle 1Gigabit of data per second (That’s 1,000,000,000 1’s and 0’s every second) and that kind of speed is still really only used in data centers and server rooms for large corporations.

For our purposes, a Cat 5 cable will do – (It can handle 100Mb/s or 100,000,000 1’s and 0’s each second). Now, to make all the PC’s talk they will need at least the following:

  • A Network Interface Card (NIC)
  • A cable from the PC back to a central location where it will plug into a Data Switch
  • A Data Switch – It needs to have enough ports for each PC.
  • Some network configuration done to enable them to talk to each other

The network cards can be bought from many places and there are usually heaps that are available 2nd hand, but I would recommend going out and buying new ones if you don’t have them already. When you buy them new, you know you will be getting current hardware that is most likely supported by the PC that you need to install them in. Also you are most likely to get software with the card to help with the installation – at least you will have the box so you know the exact make and model.

Once the card is installed you need to ensure that the drivers are loaded and that the PC has a network Neighborhood icon – or something similar. My “How To” will go into much more detail, but for now I will assume you have all of the network cards installed correctly.

A basic data switch is very simple and fairly self explanatory. There are ports on it that will connect to each PC and it will need power. The only thing to be careful about is that many data switches have an “Up-link” port. This port is also often linked to port 1. If it is, you can only use either the “Up-Link” OR the 1st port – not both. For this installation we wont need the Up-Link so if your Data Switch has one just don’t plug anything into it.

Once all your PC’s are connected to your Data Switch, and turned on, each light on the data switch should light up (Sometimes there is a link light – This light indicates that the Data Switch can “SEE” the PC but that does not mean data will flow. Read On.

Each PC will need to have an IP Address set to allow them to talk to each other.
Again, my “How To” will go into much more detail but for now, you need to set a unique IP address for each PC. Each address also has to be in a certain range. Let me explain.

In a simple network, all the IP addresses need to be close to each other but also unique.
For example, if you have 3 PC’s the IP addresses could be set like this;

  • PC1 – 192.168.1.1
  • PC2 – 192.168.1.2
  • PC3 – 192.168.1.3

Notice that each IP address is made up of 4 sets of numbers with dots in-between. In a simple network the first three numbers should be the same and the last number should be different for each PC. There are some more rules though:

  • The numbers must be between 1 and 254
  • don’t use 0 or 255
  • For a simple private network the first 2 or three numbers should be set to Private ranges. These are forbidden on the Internet and therefore ensures that your network wont be broken by some-one else’s network – They are;
    • 10.X.X.X
    • 172.16.X.X to 172.31.X.X
    • 192.168.X.X
    • 169.254.X.X

I have found that using 192.168.X.X is the best and if you need to setup a few networks you can just change the 3rd number for each network.

As well as an IP address, each PC will need to have a netmask set. This netmask is used by the PC to know how big the network can get. If you have a simple network, and all your PC’s have the same first 3 numbers for their IP Address then you can use 255.255.255.0 as the netmask. This netmask tells the PC that the network is limited to the last (4th) number in the IP address – Or put another way – You can add as many PC’s to your network as you can without changing the 1st three numbers, which equals 254 PC’s.

It also a good idea to set all of the PC’s into the same work-group. If you right click on your “My Computer” icon and select properties and then the “Computer Name” tab, you can click the “Change” button to set the work-group. Any name will do so long as they are all the same.

Once all your machines have a unique (but similar) IP address and a netmask, you can plug them into your data-switch and start sharing files.

By default most computers will not let other PC’s connect to their hard-drive so you will need to setup “network shares” on each PC which will let the other PC’s see only those files you want them to see.

To do that, you need to browse to the folder that contains the files you want to share, and right click on the folder icon. You should be able to select “Sharing & Security” (or something similar depending on your operating system” and turn the “Share this folder” setting on. You will also need to set the permissions to allow either everyone or only a particular user to access these files.

If you open your “My Network Places” and click the “Entire Network” you should be able to find your “WorkGroup” and inside that you should see each PC that you added to that work group. From here on in its just like browsing your own hard-drive.

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