Technically Speaking: Connecting a Network to the Internet
Articles and Tips:
01 Jan 1999
If you are planning to connect your company's network to the Internet, you must consider several critical issues as you decide what type of Internet connection to use. For example, you may have to figure out how to provide Internet access and still ensure your company's network is secure. You may also struggle with budget issues, such as trying to calculate the cost of purchasing and installing any necessary Internet hardware, software, and cabling, as well as the recurring fees from your telephone company and your Internet service provider (ISP).
This article discusses several options that allow you to connect your company's network to the Internet and helps you select the options that best meet your company's needs. This article also explains how you can determine which hardware and software each option requires. (See "Hardware and Software.")
The first step in connecting your company's network to the Internet is choosing the type of physical connection you want to use. Three basic connection options are available:
Dial-up Analog Connection. A dial-up analog connection is simply a standard modem connection using a regular telephone line, which can provide speeds of up to 56 kbit/s. Unfortunately, you may be unable to receive top speed under certain circumstances due to the physical limitations of telephone lines and various regulations imposed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Dial-up Digital Connection. The most common type of dial-up digital connection is an Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) connection. An ISDN connection has many advantages over a standard analog modem connection. For example, an ISDN connection uses digital lines, which eliminate random noise and offer guaranteed bandwidth availability. In addition, an ISDN connection provides speeds of 64 kbit/s or 128 kbit/s, depending on the level of service that is available in your area.
Another type of dial-up digital connection is an Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Link (ADSL) connection. Like an ISDN connection, an ADSL connection uses digital lines and provides faster speeds than a standard modem connection. In fact, an ADSL connection typically provides speeds of 256 kbit/s, depending on the level of service that is available in your area. Because ADSL is a relatively new technology, however, it is not yet available in many areas.
Dedicated Digital Connection. A dedicated digital connection provides all of the advantages of an ISDN connection and additional advantages as well. Unlike an ISDN connection or a modem connection, a dedicated digital connection is permanently established between sites and does not require dial-up service.
A dedicated digital connection is also available in a variety of configurations, such as a point-to-point connection, a frame-relay connection, an Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) connection, and a Digital Subscriber Link (xDSL) connection. Each configuration has different hardware and software requirements and provides different speeds, which range from 56 kbit/s to more than 500 Mbit/s.
The next step in connecting your company's network to the Internet is choosing the type of account you want to use. Of course, you may be somewhat limited by the physical connection option you have selected and by the account options your company's ISP offers. Depending on these limitations, you can choose one of the following account options:
Single-User Account. A single-user account is the type of account that most people choose for personal use. This account option is offered by national ISPs, such as America Online and EarthLink, and by local ISPs. A single-user account allows one user to access the ISP and provides one e-mail box.
Generally, the price for this type of account ranges from U.S. $9.95 to $39.95 per month, depending on the services you need (for example, the ability to access the ISP through a toll-free telephone number). You can set up a single-user account with your company's ISP if you are using a standard modem connection, an ISDN connection, or an ADSL connection.
Business Account. A business account allows multiple users to access the ISP concurrently and provides multiple e-mail boxes. In many cases, each user is assigned a separate username and password to log in to the ISP. This account option typically supports four to 10 users and two to five concurrent connections. The price for this type of account ranges from U.S. $19.95 to several hundred dollars per month, depending on the services you need. You can set up a business account with your company's ISP if you are using a standard modem connection, an ISDN connection, or an ADSL connection.
Dedicated Account. A dedicated account is the most flexible option, enabling any user on your company's network to access the ISP. This account option does not restrict the number of users who can access the ISP concurrently. The only limitation is what the bandwidth between your company and the ISP can support. A dedicated account also supports other services, such as your own e-mail server. As a result, this account option rarely provides individual e-mail boxes through the ISP.
To support an unlimited number of concurrent connections and to provide advanced services, a dedicated account requires you to purchase and install additional hardware--namely, a router, through which your company's network connects to the ISP. The price for this type of account ranges from U.S. $19.95 to several thousands of dollars per month, depending on the bandwidth and the services you need. You can set up a dedicated account with your company's ISP if you are using a standard modem connection, an ISDN connection, or a dedicated digital connection.
WEIGHING THE OPTIONS
When you are choosing between options, the most significant factors you must consider are the services your company needs and the number of users who require Internet access.
Many ISPs offer advanced services, in addition to basic Internet access. For example, you may be interested in the following services:
Your own e-mail server, which allows users to exchange e-mail with other users in your company and with users outside your company
Your own FTP server, which allows users to upload and download files through the Internet
Your own World-Wide Web server, which allows you to set up and maintain a web site for your company
Your own proxy or firewall server, which allows you to restrict users' Internet access and to prevent unauthorized users from accessing your company's network over the Internet
If you want to use any of these services, you should probably purchase a dedicated digital connection and a dedicated account from your company's ISP. Multiple users can then access these services through the ISP at any time.
After you have decided which services to implement, you must determine how many users require Internet access. To do so, you must count the number of users who currently need to access the Internet, and you must assess the future growth of your company. You must also determine how users plan to use the Internet. For example, activities such as transferring files and accessing databases consume much more bandwidth than simply browsing web sites. You must ensure that you have a connection fast enough to support the amount of traffic users might generate.
As a general rule, you should use a dial-up analog connection only if you have set up single-user accounts for a few users on your company's network. If you access the Internet through a modem on your home computer, you know the level of performance you receive when only one user is using the modem connection. Imagine how this performance would plummet if multiple users were trying to access the Internet through this modem simultaneously.
If your company has multiple users that require Internet access, the more cost-effective solution may be an ISDN or an ADSL connection. At a cost of U.S. $20 to $200 per month for unlimited Internet access by an unlimited number of concurrent users, these connection options are hard to beat.
The following scenarios should give you a better idea of how to choose a connection option and an account option based on your company's users:
Suppose that you needed to provide Internet access for only two users and that these users were planning to simply browse web sites a few times per day. In this case, you should install a shared analog modem that would allow one user to connect to the Internet at a time, and you should set up two single-user accounts with the ISP.
Suppose that you needed to provide Internet access for 100 users and that these users were planning to browse web sites, transfer files, and access multiple search engines. In this case, you should install a high-speed point-to-point connection, such as a T1 line, between your company's network and the ISP, and you should use a high-performance router to establish this connection. You should also set up a dedicated account with an ISP.
Connecting your company's network to the Internet has never been easier--or more frustrating. You have so many connection and account options that making a decision can be daunting. However, determining which services your company needs and how many users require Internet access can point you in the right direction. You can then find out which connection and account options an ISP offers.
Mickey Applebaum provides technical support on the Internet for The Forums (http://theforums.com).
Hardware and Software
After you choose a connection option and an account option, you must purchase and install the necessary hardware and software. Before starting a shopping list, however, you should ask your company's Internet Service Provider (ISP) to recommend hardware and software based on the connection option you selected. Because many ISPs favor particular brands, they can often provide better support for these brands.
Although you should choose hardware and software based on the recommendations you receive from your company's ISP, the following list will give you an idea of the hardware and software you need for the connection options mentioned in this article:
SHARED ANALOG MODEM CONNECTION
Hardware. An analog modem, such as Intel's NetModem/E or 3Com's Office Connect LAN Modem 56k.
Software. Software, such as Novell's NetWare Connect, that allows users to share a modem attached to a server.
SHARED DIGITAL MODEM CONNECTION
Hardware. A digital modem, such as 3Com's Office Connect ISDN LAN Modem or ITK Columbus' World ISDN.
Software. Software, such as Novell's NetWare Connect, that allows users to share a digital modem that is attached to a server.
DEDICATED DIGITAL CONNECTION
Hardware. A router, such as one from Cisco, 3Com, or Bay Networks.
Software. Software, such as Novell's BorderManager, that allows the NetWare server to act as a firewall and as a proxy cache.
* Originally published in Novell Connection Magazine
The origin of this information may be internal or external to Novell. While Novell makes all reasonable efforts to verify this information, Novell does not make explicit or implied claims to its validity.