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Local-Area Networking of Personal Computers Proliferates with Developments in Software.

Local-Area Networking of Personal Computers Proliferates with Developments in Software

International Data Corporation reports that by 1985 the dollar value of personal-computer shipments in the United States will surpass that of mainframes. It's a boon for the personal-computer industry. At the same time, growth in the use of PCs in the company environment presents a new set of problems and opportunities. For example, even though use of a PC can increase an individual manager's productivity, major productivity increases will come from the ability to network PCs so that information and resources can be shared throughout an entire organization. The use of local-area networks (LANs) provides a good solution to PC resource sharing, because it gives users access to distributed microprocessing resources while allowing them to retain control over their individual programs and files.

For smaller companies, where there is no prior computer installation, PC LANs can provide an economical solution to information sharing. Rather than purchasing a dedicated PC for each individual user, a "multi-user' system can be established whereby individual workstations (terminals or PCs) can be tied together into a local-area network. Using the LAN to share data processing capability provides considerable savings per user, while it boosts overall company productivity. For small companies with limited DP requirements, this can be an extremely economical solution.

Big Companies Need a Host

Among larger companies, however, with broad DP requirements, mainframes or minis are necessary, and are most often already installed complete with distributed data processing power to serve multi-terminal stations. In most cases, minis are connected in the form of a star topology, serving several network stations, while mainframe systems often allow for centralized computer processing power to be distributed to a number of terminals, either through an established LAN or other interconnecting devices.

For these larger organizations, the question is how to integrate PCs into an existing network. Issues to consider include networking software and selection of a LAN system that offers the appropriate standards and topology for the user's requirements. Codex, for example, is developing LAN systems that can link PCs to mainframes and minis. Such systems require different topology and data transmission speeds than those required by systems that are only PC oriented.

Whenever a number of terminals or PCs are networked, the issue of information security becomes important. Software already exists that allows access to data files based on user name and password.

Users Need to Be Classified

However, as the number of PC users grows, there will be a need to establish classes of users with access only to classes of files related to their areas. Because this data can reside not only in PCs, but also on mainframes and minis, such data transport will require connectivity to various dissimilar devices, calling for such software capabilities as protocol conversion and terminal emulation.

Such file transfer can be especially useful in larger organizations, where individuals working on a specific task can "call up' and retrieve information that pertains to the task. Ideally, the networking software would allow for partial file transfer, as there can be a need to download only selected portions of data bases.

But even with file-transfer capability, there are additional problems to overcome. For example, while file-transfer programs can help to transfer data to PCs, they do not allow for integration of the transferred data to a user's personal application session.

One way to solve this problem is by designing a custom file-transfer program that can be integrated with individual PC application programs (for example, Lotus 1-2-3 or dBase II). This is a very expensive solution, however, because it requires the creation of a custom file-transfer program for every PC application package that's acquired. A problem, yes, but also an opportunity for innovative software vendors.

In addition to security and file-transfer systems, issues of network management, diagnostics and control grow in importance as data networks become larger and more heterogeneous. For example, lack of accurate network management, diagnostics and control could be costly in terms of both time and money. In case of a link failure or congestion occurrence in a large network, it would be necessary to search segment by segment to detect the problem. With a central coordinating center for network management, diagnostics and control, problems can be detected and solved quickly.

Another element to consider in networking PCs is the ability to boot across the net, so that diskless workstations can be established. Implementation of this feature is related to the function of some network management and diagnostics programs.

Another current trend in PC LAN networking is the utilization of multi-tasking network operating systems, which allow the deployment of various sophisticated network services software programs. For example, the Unix operating system provides broad multi-user multi-tasking capability in the PC environment and offers users an extra degree of flexibility. New versions of MS-DOS can also serve multitasking purposes.

Projections indicate that 45 percent of the installed PC population of Fortune 1000 companies will be interconnected by the end of this year. Such an expanding market should give prospective vendors an incentive to develop good networking software solutions.

Software Needs to Be Versatile

We can expect that the underlying trend in developing PC network software, as in other data systems, will be to improve performance and to reduce costs. Giving users reliable control over their PC programs and access to general information, without limiting the user to a particular piece of hardware, is the bottom line in PC software networking.
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Article Details
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Author:Von Taube, E.
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jan 1, 1985
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