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What are the Different Types of Network Hardware?

By Carol Francois
Updated May 16, 2024
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There are five different types of network hardware: signal managers, cables, adapters, interface units and data centers. Network hardware is a general term for the physical devices and units that are required to create a computer network. A computer network is a system of multiple computers that are interconnected in order to create efficiencies and maximize resources.

Signal managers are a broad category of network hardware. This type of equipment includes routers, switches, hubs and gateways. The purpose of this equipment is to move the signals along the network to the correct location.

Information is transmitted along a network using information packets. The header of the packet provides the recipient address, among other information. The signal managers read the header and moves the packet to the nearest stop in the network. As it moves along, the header information is read again, and the packet is routed to the next location, until it reaches the final destination.

Cables provide connections between the signal managers. They come in a wide range of sizes, thickness and colors. Up to 25% of all network problems are cable-related.

The cables used to create a network are low priority item. The ethernet cables that connect individual workstations to a network backbone can run for miles and the temptation is to purchase the cheapest cable available. Keep in mind how far you would have to go and the total cost to troubleshoot and replace this type of cable. Invest wisely in the original set up to avoid excess cost later on.

Adapters are used to allow technology to work together, regardless of manufacturer. These units are central to the network hardware and are often the tool that cables plug into. Interface units perform a similar function, but on a broader scale. Instead of connecting cables, the create bridges among different hardware.

Data centers are the heart of all network hardware. This technology includes servers, firewalls, storage centers and specialized management tools. All network hardware is designed to maximize the effective use of these tools to provide resources to a wide number of users.

The infrastructure and software used to manage the data centers plays an important role in the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the network. The size, breadth, and depth of the application, users, and infrastructure are all essential to the system performance and support required. Special attention to design and hardware management should be part of any implementation project.

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Discussion Comments
By JessicaLynn — On Jul 09, 2011

@Monika - Your story is totally taking me back! I remember in college I set up a wi-fi network for myself and my roommates using a router and some software. I also had to buy a special antenna to plug into my PC!

I remember having to set up all the equipment and perform the software installation on all of our computers. My roomies were so flummoxed by technology they refused to even try! It took a little while but eventually I got our apartment wireless. It was another few months before we realized the importance of password protecting our network though.

By Monika — On Jul 08, 2011

I remember when I was in high school networking home computers was this amazing new concept! My family only had one computer but a good friend of mine had a very tech savvy dad who networked their house.

They had a computer in each bedroom, one in the living room, and one in the basement. They networked them all together using cables! At this point in time either wi-fi didn't exist or the concept wasn't very widespread. I thought the concept of networking was just amazing. All the computers, on the internet, all at once! Who would have guessed such a thing was possible?

Now I don't know anyone that uses cables to network their home computers together. Pretty much everyone I know has an at-home wireless network.

By Mammmood — On Jul 08, 2011

@hamje32 - I think that using network monitoring hardware is a 24-7 endeavor. I hear that there are companies willing to outsource the process for you.

They will monitor your network around the clock with dedicated hardware and software solutions; the stuff they use, from what I understand, is advanced, and probably beyond the budget of most small businesses.

I think it’s a good idea to give them a shot if you don’t have the time or resources to monitor your network properly.

By hamje32 — On Jul 07, 2011

@MrMoody - There are certainly many pieces to the puzzle of the network hardware configuration. I think the most important pieces of network security hardware are the routers and the firewalls.

The firewalls act as filters to monitor traffic as it comes into the network and leaves it. The routers direct the signal but they also have some firewalls built into them.

Speaking of routers, I recommend that when you set up your network, be sure to use encryption. Some people don’t set up encryption in their wireless network, and this allows anyone to jump on their Internet connection. It could also lead to liabilities if those people do something illegal on your connection to the Internet.

By MrMoody — On Jul 06, 2011

I have a wireless network at home. The wireless network hardware I use are routers (though I had never called them signal managers until now) and the network adapters that are built into the computers.

Actually one of the computers has a blown Ethernet port on its motherboard; so I had to buy an external PCI card with an adapter so it can receive the wireless signal. This is similar to the old PCMCIA adapters that are used in laptops, but the technology has been adapted to the desktop as well.

I have two desktops and one laptop that connect to the wireless network. Everything works fine, except now and then I have to reset my modem when there is a glitch in the Internet connection.

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