In this issue, we will discuss creating a local area network (LAN) for the local church. A LAN enables users on other computers connected to it to access data on every other computer connected to it. Managing files and sharing printers is faster and easier and thereby much more convenient when connected to a LAN. The benefits are certainly worth the effort, and it's not nearly as complicated or expensive as you might suspect.
First, let's list the equipment we need:
1. Two or more computers
2. One Network Interface Card (NIC) installed in each computer (many new computers come with one already installed nowadays, but older computers will need a vacant expansion slot for the card)
3. One hub or router, with a sufficient number of ports for the number of computers you have
4. One RJ45 Category 5e (AKA, Cat5) cable for each computer, with sufficient length to reach between individual computers and the hub or router
Before we continue, you must decide whether you want your LAN to access the Web via a broadband, i.e., high-speed, connection (if available in your area) or not. If broadband isn't available in your area, sharing an Internet connection is not an option for you. You will have to use separate dial-up connections from a regular modem on each computer for Internet access, though you can still make good use of your LAN. Nevertheless, I recommend you go with the router so you'll be prepared when broadband access finally is available. If you're sure you don't want broadband Internet access, EVER, a hub will do the job for about $80.00, but if you want broadband Internet access, or if you think you will eventually acquire it, go with the router. It costs about $120.00 and includes a built-in firewall, which a hub does not have.
Although you can use a hub while accessing the Internet, sharing an Internet connection will require specialized software. Windows Millennium Edition (ME) users, DO NOT use ME's Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) feature, because it has a bug that will cause you infinitely more trouble than good! (I speak from personal experience!) Using ICS software will also necessitate dedicating one of your computers as a server, which will require it to be turned on to maintain the Internet connection. Without it, none of the other computers on your LAN can access the Internet. The only alternative to dedicating one computer to be a server on a hub is paying another monthly fee to rent each additional Internet Protocol (IP) address you need, usually about $5.00 per IP address. Though a bit more expensive in the short-run, using a router is much more cost-effective in the long-run.
Okay, let's assume you want to share broadband Internet access across your LAN while paying for only one IP address. Now, let's go step-by-step through the installation and set-up process:
1. Take all of your Cat5 cables and plug one end of each into every computer's NIC and the other end into the numbered ports on the back of your router. If you install the NIC yourself, don't forget to install the drivers from the disk provided in the package; you will also want to note which computer is connected to which port for easier identification during any future troubleshooting you may need to do.
2. Connect your cable modem or Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) to the WAN jack on the back of your router, then plug your router's power cord into an electrical outlet.
3. Follow the instructions in your router's manual to configure it properly.
4. Contact your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to give them the router's IP address; you can find it in your router's manual, or you may note it during the configuration process.
5. Once your ISP activates the router's IP address, the router will dynamically assign a new, temporary IP address to every computer on your LAN each time that computer connects to your LAN.
Now that your LAN is physically connected, you must establish its software connection before you can share data across it. On each computer connected to your LAN, start Control Panel, then double-click the Network icon. Click the Configuration tab and make sure the following networking components are installed: Client for Microsoft Networks; an Ethernet or LAN card adapter; TCP/IP protocol; NetBEUI protocol; and File and printer sharing for Microsoft Networks service. If one or more of these components is missing, click the Add button, select the appropriate icon for the component you need to install, click the Add button for that dialog, choose the corresponding manufacturer (unless you are using an operating system produced by someone other than Microsoft, select Microsoft in all cases except for the adapter; here you must choose the maker of your LAN card), then click OK on each dialog. Also, be sure to select Client for Microsoft Networks in the Primary Network Logon box in the middle of the dialog window.
Next, click on the Identification tab and type in the pertinent information in the fields displayed there. If you haven't named your work group/network, name it now with something descriptive, such as Anytown FUMC. Next, click on the Access Control tab and select which type of access you want to allow. I recommend Share-level access control. Finally, click on the File and Print Sharing button, then choose the option(s) you want to allow. Click OK on each dialog window and choose Yes to restart your computer so these changes will take effect.
Once the computer has restarted, you will need to open Windows Explorer, right click on the drive(s) or folder(s) to which you want to allow access, and choose Sharing... from the menu. At the dialog window, click on the Shared As radio button and type in a name for the Share Name and choose what type of access you want to allow. I recommend using either the name of the person or the office that normally uses that particular computer to distinguish it from all others on the network. Note, however, that you won't need to enable sharing on any folders if you enable it for the drive on which those folders reside. Furthermore, each computer must connect to the LAN through a log-in process using the Share Name and a password when the computer first boots before it can access either the Internet or any of the other computers on the network.
Now, you will be able to browse the drive or specified folders of every computer on your LAN with file and printer sharing enabled, so long as that computer is running and remains connected to your LAN. To browse your new network, double-click the Network Neighborhood icon on your desktop or select it in Windows Explorer to choose the computer you wish to explore. Now, you can share files with your co-workers without ever leaving your desk! That's all there is to setting up a LAN in your local church.
I have one caution to those who choose the hub option though. Since it doesn't come with a built-in firewall like the router, go to http://www.zonelabs.com and download their firewall program, Zone Alarm. It's FREE for personal and/or non-profit use, and it's one of the highest rated firewalls available. I'll share more about this in the next issue's article.
If you have any questions about anything in this article or past articles in this series, or if you have a suggestion for a future article in this series, please contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, you can check out my web site at http://www.geocities.com/mlwhite700 or http://www.angelfire.com/al/mlwhite700 for even more computer stuff and ministry matters.
Next issue: Addressing Online Security issues in the local church.