What is Local Area Network

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By Vijay Singh Khatri

A Local Area Network (LAN) represents an assemblage of many devices. All of them remain connected with each other in a single physical location, for example, an office, a building, or home. A LAN can be of large or small size depending on the number of users having access to it. The size of a LAN can vary from one or two users in a home network to thousands of users in a business network, school, or office premises.

No matter whatever the size of the LAN is, its quintessential characteristic is described as an implement that helps connect numerous devices located in a single, confined area. In addition to LAN we have the following networks namely:

  • Wide Area Network (WAN)
  • Metropolitan Area Network (MAN)

MAN is concentrated across wide geographical areas. At times, a WAN or MAN comprises a collection of numerous LANs in unison.

Components of a LAN

Typically, a LAN consists of switches, routers, cables, access points, and several different components such as cables or ADSL modems that allow devices to establish a connection with normal servers, web servers, and many other LANs through WANs. Apart from these components a typical LAN also includes network devices such as load balancers, firewalls, and network intrusion detectors.

With the emergence of and advancement in digitalization, more and more virtual LANs have been developed. They let network administrators carry out a logical grouping of network nodes. They also come to the aid of network administrators to make partitions to networks without the requirement for any major changes in the basic infrastructure.

For instance, a standard office has departments like network, accounting, sales and marketing, IT support, administration, and many more. The computers of each of these departments may have a logical connection with the same switch. However, they may be segmented to function as separate entities.

Types of LANs

LANs are usually of two distinct types namely:

Client/server LAN

It comprises numerous devices or clients that are connected with a central server. The responsibility of the server lies in managing the following aspects.

  • Application access
  • Device access
  • File storage
  • Network traffic

Any of the clients may behave as a connected device meant for running or accessing several applications on the web. The connection between the clients and the central server is established with the help of cables or through wireless setups.

In general, several application suites can be preserved within the central LAN server. These applications also help users to gain access to databases, sharing of email documents, printers, or any other services that are administered by the central LAN server.

A network administrator or an IT administrator decides on and maintains the read and write access of the application suites. Client/server-based LANs are used by medium-size enterprises, large businesses, and government and educational institutions.

Peer-to-Peer LAN

There is no central LAN server in peer-to-peer networks. Also, unlike a client/server LAN, this type of LAN is incapable of handling huge workloads. So they are usually smaller in size. A peer-to-peer LAN functions in such a way that each device constituting the LAN shares the workload equally.

The sharing of data and resources by the devices takes place via wired or wireless connections set up with a switch or router. A majority of home networks belong to the peer-to-peer type of LAN.

Basic Layouts of LANs

The layout of a LAN is also called LAN topology. It depicts the physical and logical means by virtue of which any interconnection between network segments and devices can be established. The classification of LANs is done in two ways. These include:

  • Physical medium to transmit a signal.
  • A logical method through which data transfer and communication automatically happen between devices without any physical connection.

A LAN may also assume the topology of a logical network. This includes the following:

  • A twisted pair Ethernet classified as a Bus topology
  • A token ring classified as a Ring topology

Physical topologies of a LAN include connections made in the forms given below:

  • Bus
  • Circular
  • Hybrid
  • Mesh
  • Point-to-point
  • Ring
  • Star
  • Tree

Each of them is made from various configurations of links and nodes.

How to Add Security to a LAN?

Most of the problems encountered by LANs are related to security. Several strategies are designed and deployed to make a LAN connection secure. Most commonly a firewall is installed after a single access point, for example, a wireless router.

In addition, standard security protocols like WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and WPA2 are adopted to ensure the password is encrypted while allowing incoming web traffic to enter the network.

There are also a few specialized authentication policies that can be put into effect. Through these policies, network administrators can do inspection and selection of the network traffic to prevent any unauthorized access.

Security can be maintained for certain access points with the help of technologies like VPNs. The security of an internal LAN can be supervised through the installation of antivirus or other anti-malware software.

The Process of Designing a LAN

  • Firstly, the unique network requirements need to be ascertained. Before building a LAN, the number of devices that are going to be connected to it also needs to be determined.
  • This in turn helps you find out the total number of ports that are required. With the help of a switch, it is possible to increase the number of ports with a simultaneous increase in the number of devices added to the LAN.
  • To connect devices wirelessly, a router is needed. This router is used to broadcast messages to a wireless LAN. Furthermore, the router helps set up an Internet connection so that devices connected to the LAN can access the Internet.
  • A precise measurement of the distance between hardware devices on the LAN should be done to find out how much length of cables is needed. For pretty long distances switches can be used to connect the cables.
  • The setup of a LAN necessitates the following connections between devices.
    • Between the router and power source
    • Between the modem and router
    • Between the switch and router
    • Between the devices and open LAN ports existing on the router using Ethernet
  • Following the completion of these connections, a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol server needs to be included in the overall LAN framework. The server is essentially a computer that enables each of the connected devices to obtain their corresponding IP addresses easily. Next, the following two capabilities are also activated.
    • Network Discovery
    • File and Printer Sharing
  • To install a WLAN, first, the computer needs to be connected to one of the LAN ports of the router through Ethernet.
  • Then the IP address of the router needs to be entered into the web browser that is currently in use.
  • Log in to the computer needs to be done as network administrator when username and password are prompted.
  • The “Wireless” section present in the settings part of the router needs to be opened.
  • The network name in the “SSID” field needs to be changed.
  • Next, the “WPA-2 Personal” option needs to be enabled as authentication or a security option.
  • Under the “Pre-Shared Key” option a password needs to be created.
  • During this time the following actions need to be done.
    • Enabling the wireless network
    • Saving the changes made
    • Restarting the router
    • Connecting devices to the wireless network
  • The information about all these devices needs to appear on the list of devices available in the network and within the range.

Problems Encountered by a LAN

A LAN may encounter a common problem wherein the adapter is disabled or displays an error. This is usually the result of using a faulty network adapter or caused by malfunctioning of VPN software.

Generally, these problems can be solved by:

  • Updating the driver of the network adapter
  • Resetting the network connection
  • Checking the AutoConfig dependency services of the WLAN

What is a Virtual LAN?

A Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) consists of an assembly of devices that are logically grouped in different physical LANs. The configuration of a virtual LAN is made to communicate with devices that are linked by the same cable. This helps network administrators to execute the simple configuration of a single switch network.

The main aim behind such a configuration is to complement the functional needs and security of the systems without the requirement of any extra cables or without carrying out any major change to the existing network infrastructure. VLANs are classified as:

  • Protocol VLAN
  • Static VLAN
  • Dynamic VLAN

VLANs are used to split up traffic arriving at the same physical network into two parts. It is more like two separate LANs. Each of them is supported by a router and Internet connectivity just at the same location. In VLANs, virtual division occurs with the use of the software. No physical hardware other than a router is necessary.

The most important function of a VLAN is network management, in particular, when it comes to extensively stretched LANs. Through the subdivision of the network, easier and more effective management can be done by administrators. It is to be noted that VLANs and subnets are two completely different entities. Subnets are also used to subdivide a very long network and bring in added efficiency.

The Connection Between a LAN and the Rest of the Internet

A LAN usually gets connected to a large network such as the Internet in the form of an autonomous system (AS), which is an extremely big network backed by its routing protocols and policies, with simultaneous control over specific IP addresses. Thus an Internet service provider (ISP) is a perfect example of an AS.

Imagine a particular LAN as a minor network. It sets up a connection with a relatively larger network which in turn has collaboration with several other extremely big networks, each of which consisting of many LANs. Does that sound confusing?

This is the structure of the Internet. Two physical devices with connections to two separate LANs located miles apart gain the ability to communicate with one another through the transmission of data between innumerable network connections.

Significance of LAN in Businesses

Some of the most noteworthy benefits of a LAN in businesses and enterprises are:

  • LANs diminish the cost of overall hardware installation and bring in effective pooling of resources.
  • LANs give rise to increased storage capacity by assembling all data within a central server. Therefore, a lesser number of storage servers is required, and also the operational efficiency of the network is increased.
  • LANs result in optimized flexibility by which data is made accessible to users to any device and from anywhere through an uninterrupted Internet connection.
  • LANs help set up smooth systematic communication because of which real-time transfer and easy access of messages and files are possible to and from any device that is located anywhere.

Fundamental Characteristics of WLAN

The fundamental characteristics of WLAN include:

  • High scalability
  • Robust network management system
  • Efficient control of role-based access
  • Streamlined high capacity load balancing
  • Effective indoor as well as outdoor coverage options
  • Thorough performance measuring abilities
  • Powerful mobile device management
  • High-quality web content creation
  • Comprehensive application filtering
  • Roaming redundancy option
  • WLAN application prioritization
  • Efficient network switching capabilities and firewalls


Thus it is evident that to ensure absolute security of a network, real-time monitoring of all activities happening within the network is essential. Multiple LANs can be linked together for creating WANs and MANs that are occasionally submerged in massive datasets. Platforms supporting traditional analytics cannot perform these actions. Therefore, LANs are required.

LANs come to the aid of data scientists and network operators to monitor, review, and view an enormous reserve of data in real-time to do the following:

  • Diagnose issues
  • Minimize problems
  • Carry out performance optimization
  • Enhance user experience (UX), and
  • Maintain unbroken network reliability

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