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  • Writer's pictureJoe Chris

Networks Part 1: Hardware Components

What is a network?

Whenever you connect two or more devices together, we refer to that as a network. There are many ways to design a network (referred to as network architecture) from connecting two computers directly to each other with no other computers able to access the network to connecting every device in your home to almost every other device in the world (the internet).

In the music studio, outside of the obvious Internet access application, there are a multitude of uses for networks and understanding the components and architecture of your set up will allow you to optimize it and design it specifically for your needs.

Parts of a network (modem, switch, router, etc.)

To connect two computers directly together, you can use a crossover Ethernet (LAN, short for “local area network”) cable. Theoretically, this allows for a faster transfer of files than using external hard drives or transferring data over your Wi-Fi network. So in use cases such as moving large amounts of data, like when migrating to a new computer, this would be ideal. However, if you wanted to create a network larger than two devices or access the Internet, the architecture is a little more complex.

Most studio/home/small business networks are fairly similar. They usually consist of at least a modem, a router, a switch, and the devices trying to communicate to one another.

The next step above two devices communicating with directly with each other would be two or more devices communicating with each other on the same network. And what do we mean when we use the phrase “the same” network and how can there be multiple networks? When we call something a “network” we are usually referring to a collection of IP Addresses (aka Layer 3 addresses).

So to connect two or more devices on the same network, you would have to use either a hub or a switch. Now, hubs are not the best option, especially for a studio. Hubs work by repeating the incoming signal to all other devices connected to it, and the device itself has to discriminate whether or not to receive the message. This takes up network bandwidth. The other big issue is they can only send and receive one message at a time. Doing more can result in data collision, which corrupts your data and means you have to resend the information. Because hubs don’t have any intelligence, they are not considered “smart” and are primarily just hardware units (aka layer 1 devices)

A switch on the other hand is smart, and deals with the MAC addresses of the devices, which makes them considered to be layer 2. Unlike hubs, switches can learn which ports are connected to which ports, so when you send data from Host A to Host D, it will not send the same data to both B and C at the same time. This cuts down on the bandwidth utilized. Switches also can send and receive multiple lanes of data simultaneously without data collision, meaning your data transfers are far more secure from corruption. Lastly, you can purchase switches in a variety of ports and speeds. You need at least a gigabit switch to use with VE Pro, but there are faster speeds available.

Switches are great for connecting many devices on the same network, however what if you ran out of ports or have a second network of connected devices to another switch – you would need an additional device to connect them together. This is a router. Routers connect switches together, but also are your means of connecting your LAN to the Internet via a modem (and the internet is essentially just a larger network of networks consisting of modems/routers/switches etc.). Routers also deal with and assign IP addresses to the various devices on your system (so they are considered layer 3 devices).

!! What are layers and why do I need to know them?

For the most part, you probably won't need to know this to run and operate your studios network. But the TCP/IP protocol is how we standardized communication across devices. In it, there are five layers (actually seven, because though we use TCP/IP which has five. we use a separate model – OSI - to describe the layers with layers 5+6 being inside of layer 7 in TCP/IP.) that describe how things are connected to one another. Each layer handles a specific aspect of communication. Again this is not 100% essential to know, but knowing what each device deals with can help with troubleshooting network issues down the line.

A modem (short for modulator/demodulator) can be thought of as the networking equivalent of an AD/DA converter: that is it converts (or demodulates) the Internet signal sent from your internet service provider (ISP) from analog signals into digital signals so your computer can understand it. It also modulates the signal back from digital to analog to send outgoing messages from your network over the internet.

All of this allows you to create a hardwired LAN network with Internet capabilities. To add Wi-Fi, you would connect a wireless access point (or WAP for short) to the router. These days however, most routers do it all – that is they are a router, a switch, a WAP, and sometimes even a modem. The amount of ports on a router is often very limited. This is why most people use a switch. In this case (which is probably the most common use case for switches) you can think of it as working similarly to a USB hub. That is as an extension device that expands the one Ethernet port from your router into many.

One last piece you may often see included in network diagrams is a firewall. A firewall blocks unwanted traffic from entering your private network. It is a barrier between your LAN and the public Internet and is the main component on a network to prevent the hackers and harmful and malicious activity from entering your LAN - keeping access to your Internet connected devices to only those who have permission. Firewalls not only control what can enter your network, but also what can leave. Firewalls are a very important key to your network security. Some firewalls are directly on the end computer (host firewalls), others are a hardware/software hybrid placed between the router and modem (network firewall). A lot of routers also have one built in as well. In the example below, a network firewall is used, though it is a good idea to have host firewalls on each of the computers as well.

This covers the basic architecture of networks. In part 2, we will look at different ways to configure and arrange these devices for different use cases - such as getting your composing computers and servers onto a private network to optimize performance. Stay tuned!

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