Compatibility of Components From Different Manufacturers

Compatibility of Components From Different Manufacturers

If your knowledge of putting together networks is minimal, there is a bewildering array of options out there; different manufacturers, wireless, different standards of cable and more. There’s some confusion about what will and will not work together to make a coherent network, so we’re going to dispel some myths.

First, nearly all networking done today uses the TCP/IP protocol, save for people who need to connect to old, legacy systems that have not been upgraded. To qualify that statement, by old, we mean positively ancient in computer years. The odds that you’ll be connecting to something with other than TCP/IP connectivity is negligible; in all likelihood, if you’re laying in a new network, you’d probably be extremely likely to go out of your way to avoid anything other than TCP/IP.

What this means for compatibility is that it’s mostly a non-issue. TCP/IP is the fundamental protocol underlying the Internet, and every computer on the planet is theoretically capable of operating on it. This doesn’t mean there aren’t compatibility issues to be sidestepped with judicious research and forethought, but the fundamental issue is that everything should work with nearly everything else.

Your network will have a configuration (a topology) that will determine where cable gets run, and where routers get placed. Think of routers as switching stations for railroads and you’ll get a good idea of what they do. Your main connection to the rest of the Internet (and your broadband connection to any off site locations on your network) will have an entry point on your network – a network gateway. It will also likely have firewall servers and a few other security apparatuses. Your in-business network will go to and from the Internet through this gateway, and will work, by and large, transparently.

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Within your network, there will likely be servers handling specific functions for your business; in a Microsoft shop, there will be an Exchange server, and probably a couple of database servers for business applications, and shared file repositories. In a Linux or Macintosh shop, there will be servers handling email and servers handling similar functions, but with different protocols.

By and large, your servers and their bandwidth limits (how quickly they can access memory and hard drives, how many requests they can handle per minute) will determine what your internal network architecture looks like. It will probably involve several routers and running cable for faster connections to the data analysts, and somewhat slower connections to the office workers.

However, it’s entirely possible to build a network configuration that has Macintosh, Linux and Windows systems all working together in one ecosystem where each one does what it needs to do. You needn’t worry about whether the hardware for the network itself is incompatible; by and large, it’s fairly standardised. You will want to talk to your network services vendor about specific recommendations for hardware, including manufacturers, models, and ‘future proofing them’. The truth of the matter is that most network hardware gets replaced about every five to seven years, and these upgrades get staged mostly to avoid business disruptions.