What is Computer Networking?

Computer networking is the complete process of creating and implementing computer networks using hardware, software and protocols. A computer network itself consists of two or more computing devices that are connected by wires such as Ethernet cables, fiber optic cables or wireless signals for the purpose of sharing information quickly.

Generally, the type of network being established determines how far apart devices on the network can be and the type of connectors needed. Learn more about computer networking as we explore the following questions:

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What is a Computer Network?

Today’s traditional computer network is made up devices such as network switches, routers and controllers. A network switch connects devices to the network. A router sends and receives data to and from the network and connects a local network to the internet. A network controller optimizes performance according to input business objectives.

Modern computer networks, on the other hand, also include connections to everyday devices such as cameras, doorbells, audio/visual systems, thermostats, etc. These smart devices have the capability of connecting to the internet and make up what is commonly referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT).

Computer networks are the bedrock of IT communications, with the earliest examples being the room-sized computer networks from the 1960s. As technology advances and the list of IoT devices grows, computer networking and the need for professionals who can set up and maintain these networks will continue to be crucial. Only smooth-running and secure computer networks can ensure the seamless transfer of information we’ve come to expect of our connected devices.

How Does a Computer Network Work?

Computer networks allow a collection of devices to share data and resources with each other through wired or wireless connections. Network configurations are flexible and unique to each situation in which they’re used. That being said, every network requires two basic things: 1) a network adapter, which allows a computer to interact with the network, and 2) a centralized hub that devices can connect to in order to access the network.

For example, the internet modem provided by your internet service provider is how your personal computer connects to the internet (acting as your network adapter). The wireless router that you connect your laptop, smartphone and printer to using WiFi is how additional devices are able to access your internet connection (acting as your centralized hub).

What Do Computer Networks Do?

Computer networks are generally used to allow devices within the network to transmit, exchange or otherwise share information and resources with one another. Networks may be set up to connect the devices within a home or business environment, all the way up to connecting a nationwide or global enterprise.

Regardless of the scale, computer networks can be leveraged for a many purposes, such as:

  • Digital communication via email, instant messaging, etc.
  • Connecting devices such as printers, scanners and photocopiers
  • Sharing files via wireless communication
  • Sharing and operating software on remote workstations

What Types of Computer Networks are There?

The different types of computer network types are reflective of the purpose and geographic area they’re intended to cover.

Here are the most common computer network types, ordered from smallest range to widest range:

  • Personal area network (PAN) – A network (wireless or non-wireless) in which an individual’s device is the center of the network with other devices connected to it

  • Local area network (LAN) – A network that covers a limited area, such as a home, office or school

  • Campus area network (CAN) – A network that covers a set of buildings that are closer together, typically a government agency, university, corporation or organization

  • Enterprise private networks (EPN) – A network used by a company to connect its various sites in different locations in order to share resources

  • Metropolitan area network (MAN) – A series of LANs within a metropolitan area, typically a city, that is sometimes connected to a wide area network (WAN)

  • Wide area network (WAN) – A network that covers a large geographical area, typically with a radius of more than a kilometer

  • Global area network (GAN) – A network that reaches world-wide, connecting networks all over the globe (the internet, for example)

What is the Future of Computer Networking?

Companies and organizations are undergoing a significant paradigm shift post-pandemic as they work towards fully digitizing their businesses. As a result, modern-day networks are becoming increasingly critical components for business continuity and consistent user experience. With an increase in available IoT devices and increased traffic as more businesses do more online, data and traffic volume management has become a growing concern.

Computer networks are evolving in numerous ways in order to meet these needs. Some trends include automating traffic routing and operations for greater business agility, automating network performance for improved outcomes, performing automated security analysis to protect against threats and scaling networks by virtualizing aspects of network infrastructure.

Computer networking is trending toward a future that is heavily automated, relying on bots and other automation technology for efficient and effective network deployment and management. Being able to identify operational inefficiencies and solve for them using automated technology may be invaluable skillsets for those thinking about pursuing a career in computer networking today.

How Can I Build a Career in Computer Networking?

To pursue a career in computer networking, you’ll need to know how to design, install, configure and troubleshoot computer networks, and DeVry University can help you get started. Learn more about taking the first steps toward a new career by pursuing an Undergraduate Certificate in Networking Essentials, or a Bachelor’s Degree in Network and Communications Management.