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A LAN is exactly what the name implies: a physically small network, typically characterized by high-speed transports, low error rates, and private ownership, which serves the data transport needs of a geographically small community of users. Most LANs provide connectivity, resource sharing, and transport services within a single building,
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although they can operate within the confines of multiple buildings on a campus. When LANs were first created, the idea was to design a network option that would provide a low-cost solution for transport. Up until their arrival, the only transport option available was a dedicated private line from the telephone company or X.25 packet switching. Both were expensive, and X.25 was less reliable than was desired. Furthermore, the devices being connected together were relatively low-cost devices; it simply didn t make sense to interconnect them with expensive network resources. That would defeat the purpose of the LAN concept. All LANs, regardless of the access mechanism, share certain characteristics. All rely on some form of transmission medium that is shared among all the users on the LAN, all use some kind of interrupt and contention protocol to ensure that all devices get an equal opportunity to use the shared medium, and all have some kind of software called a Network Operating System (NOS) that controls the environment. All LANs have the same basic components, as shown in Figure 4-14. A collection of devices such as PCs, servers, and printers serves as the interface between the human user and the shared medium. Each of these machines hosts a device called a network interface card (NIC), which provides the physical connectivity between the user device and the shared medium. The NIC is either installed inside the system or, less commonly, as an external device. In laptop machines, the NIC is a PC card that plugs into a slot in the machine, shown in Figure 4-15. The NIC device implements the access protocol that devices wanting to access the shared medium use on their particular LAN. These access schemes will be discussed shortly. The NIC also provides the connectivity required to attach a user device to the shared network.
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Figure 4-14 Typical LAN components.
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Figure 4-15 A PC-card Network Interface Card (NIC).
Topologically, LANs differ greatly. The earliest LANs used a bus architecture, shown in Figure 4-16, so-called because they were literally a long run of twisted pair wire or coaxial cable to which stations were periodically attached. Attachment was easy; in fact, early coax systems relied on a device called a vampire tap, which poked a hole in the insulation surrounding the center conductor in order to suck the digital blood from the shared medium. Later designs such as IBM s Token Ring used a contiguous ring architecture such as that shown in Figure 4-17. Both have their advantages and will be discussed later in this chapter. Later designs combined the best of both topologies to create star-wired LANs (see Figure 4-18), also discussed later.
LAN Access Schemes
Local area networks have traditionally fallen into two primary categories characterized by the manner in which they access the shared transmission medium (shared among all the devices on the LAN). The first, and most common, is called contention, and the second group is called distributed polling. I tend to refer to contention-based LANs as the
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