Two Flavors of Network – How Do They Compare?

Different sizes and types of businesses need different types of networks. Do you know what kind is right for yours?
For small to mid-sized businesses, the big distinction is between peer-to-peer and client-server networks. In a peer-to-peer network, all machines are created equal; they each provide their own “resources” – meaning applications, computing power, and so on. If you take one machine out of the peer-to-peer network, the remaining machines can carry on as if nothing happened. A typical configuration might be two or three desktop computers, each connected to the Internet and to a common printer and fax machine. If two users need to share or exchange files, they’ll usually email them to each other or post them to a common Web portal.
In client-server network, the server acts as the primary provider of resources to the other machines. For example, a file server provides data files to the client machine whenever the client requests it. In order to access email, the client machine must “talk” to the email server, and so on. Client-server networks tend to offer a more secure environment than peer-to-peer networks because the server can better control access to resources. They also tend to be more conducive to collaboration, because clients can share resources from a single location rather than having to swap individual (and often duplicative) copies of data on a one-to-one basis. However, if a server fails, every client will lose access to the resources it provides; therefore, you’ll need a backup server or a failover strategy.
In short, a very small startup may need nothing more than a peer-to-peer network. But in order to scale well and make sure the company can grow in an orderly, organized fashion, you’re probably going to need a client-server network eventually.