Peer-to-peer networking

Introduction to peer-to-peer architecture

In contrast to client-server networks there is no dedicated server in peer-to-peer architecture . Thus each computer in such a network is part server and part client. This means that each computer on the network is free to share its own resources. A computer which is connected to a printer may even share the printer so that all other computers may access it over the network.

Disadvantages of peer-to-peer architecture

Peer-to-peer networks have many disadvantages:

  • this system is not centralised, making administration difficult
  • lack of security
  • no link in the network is reliableTherefore, peer-to-peer networks are only useful for a small number of computers (generally about 10), and only suitable for applications that do not require a high level of security (it is not advisable in a business network containing sensitive data).

Advantages of peer-to-peer architecture

Nonetheless, peer-to-peer architecture does have several advantages:

  • reduced cost (the costs involved in such a network are hardware, cabling and maintenance )
  • well tested simplicity

Installing a peer-to-peer network

Peer-to-peer networks do not require the same levels of performance and security as dedicated server networks require. One can therefore use Windows NT Workstation, Windows for Workgroups or Windows 95, as all of these operating systems contain all the functionalities required for a peer-to-peer network.

Setting up such a network involves standard procedures:

  • Computers are located in the user's office
  • Each user is his own administrator and sets his own security
  • Connected using simple and straightforward cabling

This architecture is generally sufficient for environments with the following specifications:
  • Less than 10 users
  • All users are located in the same geographic area
  • Security is not critical
  • There are no major expansion plans for the company nor the network in the near future

Administering a peer-to-peer network

The peer-to-peer network addresses the needs of a small company but may turn out to be inadequate in certain environments. The following items should be addressed prior to choosing a type of network: this is what is known as "Administration":

  • User management and security management
  • Making resources available
  • Maintenance of applications and data
  • Installing and upgrading user applications

In a peer-to-peer network there is no administrator. Each user administers his own computer. However all users may share their resources as they wish (data in shared folders, printers, fax adapters, etc.).

Security concepts

Minimal security policy involves protecting a resource with a password. Peer-to-peer network users set their own security, and as all shares may be found on all computers it is difficult to control things centrally. This also poses a problem for global network security, as some users do not secure their resources at all.

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