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LAN vs WAN: What are the differences?

This article explains the differences, including advantages and disadvantages of LAN and WAN networks.

LAN = Local Area Network

Local Area Network connections are intended for local areas such as a house or office building and are designed to connect a handful of clients to each other. Each computer in a LAN network is connected to a central server which acts as a go-between within the LAN and beyond.

Advantages of a LAN network:

Speed: Due to the minimal number of users, LAN networks provide very fast connectivity with users. This means that information such as files can be shared extremely quickly.

Cost: LAN networks are cheap to run. They require a lot less hassle than WAN networks and only require very simple infrastructure. Not only that but costly resources such as printers can be shared by all of the computers. This means that better quality printing can be made available to everyone because one or two expensive, high specification printers can be purchased instead of several cheaper, lower specification models.

Setup: The setup of a LAN network is very easy in comparison to a WAN network and will often utilise existing older communications wiring.

Access: Files can be saved with a central backing store, meaning all users files can be saved in one place and accessed by everyone, from any computer within the network.

Backup: Files in a network can be backed-up at regular intervals meaning that a user can easily retrieve anything that is mistakenly deleted.

Disadvantages of a LAN network:

Size: Range is very limited with LAN network and will deteriorate quickly the further out you go.

Security: If a virus gets into one users computer, it can easily spread throughout the network. If the dedicated file server fails, then all shared files will become inaccessible to the network.

WAN = Wide Area Network

Wide area networks cover a large geographical area and are made up of several LAN’s through several links.

WAN’s facilitate communications between branches of an organisation, which can allow employees to work remotely. For example, a company may use a WAN to allow its employees to work within a local network from home using their internet connection. Generally, a WAN will be used within public infrastructure such as phone and cable lines.

Advantages of a WAN network:

Flexibility: WANs allow for free movement meaning people can access them from many different locations and are not restricted to being in one physical location. WANs are available from house to house, city to city and country to country. This is probably the biggest advantage of WAN networking. It allows for multiple communities to connect with ease.

Support: Most WAN networks are accessed via a network service provider, which usually includes support for access to the network. This can be very useful for anyone having issues with connectivity for example.

Disadvantages of a WAN network:

Setup cost: This is probably the most significant disadvantage of a WAN network. Having a private WAN can be expensive because the technology required to connect two remote places is usually very advanced and has incredible range which means it requires a lot of power and connectivity to work.A private WAN will also require a full-time team of supervisors and technicians to maintain the network.

Security: Unfortunately, this is an unavoidable problem for WAN networks. Security may be an issue if people have access to information from the computer of other users.


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