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The telegraph was perfected in the 1850s. Decades later, the telephone became a household fixture in the early 20th century. But even with the radio and the telephone becoming household fixtures in most modern homes, the whole world and particularly the United Kingdom was not exactly moving at a frenetic pace. Phones made it easier but there is a significant delay when it comes to accessing information.
A person has to be on both ends of the line to communicate. This system is far outmoded when compared to Information Technology that has swept the globe. A person can access information 24 hours a day, all year round. This enhances the decision-making process. It radicalised the way people do business. However, these things could not have been possible without networking technology.
As compared to what is happening today
It has to be pointed out that even as late as the middle part of the e 20th century, it was still very expensive to communicate across continents. Calling overseas is not a practical proposition unless the call is extremely urgent. During those days, many households in Europe did not even own a telephone.
But after the invention of the Internet in the latter part of the twentieth century, the world began to enter the Digital Age. As a result the way people communicate to each other went into overdrive. It can be argued that people are now living in a networked society.
Before going any further it is important to have a clear understanding of what a network is all about. A basic definition of a network is to have two or more computers that are linked together so that information can be exchanged between them. The development of computer networks is the answer to the urgent need of the modern day workplace to have the ability to receive and send information quickly and efficiently.
Robert Thierauf explains it this way, “Today’s worldwide marketplace provides not only more customers, suppliers, and competitors but also increased complexity for the decision-making process.
The speed of communication simultaneously makes the environment less stable and predictable and reduces the available time for examining business information, knowledge, and intelligence” (p. 65). There is therefore a need for a more sophisticated IT infrastructure that can help managers make the right decisions.
Shifting needs, rapid changes in technology and the increasing sophistication of the hackers are the major reasons why developers and creators of a company’s IT infrastructure are focused in creating systems that both efficient and secure. The number one challenge for modern management information systems is the creation of a seamless IT architecture that can ensure an error free e-business.
This is extremely difficult to do for an organisation that relies on internet and telecommunication networks in order to conduct businesses in multiple locations all over the world (Stevens, p.20). The solution is the creation of a highly-reliable, easy-to-use and secure Intranet as well as Extranet technology.
The Intranet is basically a network that is limited to internal usage within the company. This is its limitation because the system can only be used by the employees and all the staff that works in the said organization. However, the upside to this arrangement is the significant savings that it can bring when it comes to their communication needs. Aside from that the flow of information is significantly enhanced.
An Intranet will allow for the creation of a system that can handle large volumes of information and yet the company need not hire a hundreds of employees to maintain it. An airline company for instance can have an Intranet that is managed by a staff of just 16 IT professionals (Times Online, p.1). In the case of one airline company the use of the Intranet allows for the creation of cost-saving methods that enhanced the profitability of the said organisation. One study revealed the following:
cabin crew and check-in staff carry out a range of activities from booking annual leave to obtaining the weather reports needed for each flight. Engineering staff can get the details needed to maintain the aircraft … The crews come in , use the self-service terminals to print off everything they require, such as fuel reports, go to the aircraft and fly (Times Onine, p.1).
This is an efficient system indeed. However, it is severely limited when it comes to coverage because it has no use to their customers. Most of the time an Intranet is comprised of computer terminals and computer networks within the company headquarters. It can be accessed from a satellite office, from a remote location, however, it is still a closed system because only employees and staff can use it. This is the reason why the Extranet was developed.
If a company decides to use an Extranet then it has to be protected from hackers and corporate spies (Flouris & Oswald, p.68). Aside from security, there is also the need to create a user-friendly system that does not require extensive study in order for a customer to be familiar with it.
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This will enable the company to create facilities that consumers can easily access. A business enterprise can create a website that can be accessed using a computer or even a hand-held devices such as newly-designed mobile phones that can access the World-Wide-Web.
This means that customers can purchase items online, make reservations, and browse company information in the comfort of their homes or through the use of mobile devices. They can make adjustments to their schedules as quickly and as efficiently as possible. This is an added reason as to why consumers will use the services of this company.
Physical Aspect of Networking
Due to the recent technological breakthroughs, consumers are demanding for more innovative products and services. With regards to the Internet and the high demand for multimedia services there is a need for an infrastructure that would be able to deliver high volume data at a much faster rate.
In this regard it is not only computer hardware and software that must be pushed to the next level but also the components that go into network construction. One of the most important parts of a networking system are the cables, it is used to transfer data back and forth, between servers and computers alike.
In the 21st century there are two major types of cables that has become the standard for reliable networking and these are: 1) copper cables; and 2) fibre optics. Copper cables have been around for quite some time now and have proven to be a very reliable component in any network. On the other hand the use of fibre optics is relatively new but already many are convinced that this is the future of networking as it pertains to IT infrastructure.
A basic definition of a network is two or more computers that are linked together so that information can be exchanged between them. The following are the basic components of a network: a) a sending device; b) a communication link; and c) a receiving device (Habraken, p.31).
A sending device ca be a computer or server and the receiving device can be another computer, server or equipment such as printers etc. The communication link is where communication signals are transmitted. And the common types of link include copper wire and fibre optics.
Copper became the preferred material for the manufacture of metallic cables because it is a better conductor of electricity and is relatively economical (Building Industry Consulting Service International, p.1). There are four major groups of copper cables and these are: a) multicore; b) twisted pairs; c) quads; and d) coax (Building Industry Consulting Service International, p.1).
According to Habraken, “Although a number of different cable type can be used for LANs, copper-based twisted-pair wire has really become the standard … It is fairly inexpensive and easy to work with because it is flexible, it bends around corners” (p. 31). A twisted pair copper cabling is ideal for the following connections:
- Telephone sets to PBX common equipment
- Telephone sets to key systems common equipment
- PCs to the wiring closet of a LAN
- Homes to the nearest telephone company equipment (Dodd, p. 83).
However, there are limitations. According to experts, “The electrical properties of copper cabling create resistance and interference. Signals weaken the farther they are transmitted on copper wires. The electrical property of copper cabling is the key factor that limits its transmission speeds” (Dodd, p. 83).
This is the upside and the downside to using copper cables. The property that made copper cables a popular component in many network is the same property that made it undesirable.
As a result, “…copper cables are limited to 100 meters for almost all applications above 100 Mbps” (Trulove, p. 142). Furthermore, with regards to the metallic aspect of copper cables, it cannot be placed just about anywhere. It cannot be placed near elevator shafts or power lines. Also, there must also be “…adequate consideration of grounding and bonding” (Trulove, p. 34).
These limitations is really problematic in the 21st century where there is a need for greater interconnectivity and the 100 meter limit is a serious problem when talking about creating a network in other places aside from the city. This is the reason why fibre optics are now used as the better alternative.
In the 19th century an Englishman named John Tyndall was able to demonstrate that light can be bended (Sterling, p.4). This is a major breakthrough because in the past, conventional wisdom dictates that light travels through a straight line.
But Tyndall demonstrated that light could be bent around a corner as it travelled in a jet of pouring water, “water flowed through a horizontal spout near the bottom of a container … when Tyndall aimed a beam of light through the spout along the water, his audience saw the light follow a zigzag path inside the curved path of the water” (Sterling, p. 4).
Thus, Tyndall was credited with the discovery of a principle that would lead to the manufacture of fibre optics.
In the computer world the only language that can be understood by computers and servers is one that involves 1 and 0. Fibre optics technology was designed having this idea in mind. Steven Karris described how fibre optics works inside a typical network and he wrote, “Fibre optic cable transmits light pulses.
A laser at one device sends pulses of light through this cable to the other device. The presence of light pulse is translated into a logical 1 and its absence into a logical 0 at the receiver end” (p. 6.2) This explains why fibre optics are so efficient and can able to handle the transmission of large volumes of data at a faster rate compared to copper cables.
There is simply more that a fibre optic can do compared to the old copper cables. The following list shows what is in store for those who may want to shift from using copper cable to fibre optics:
- Secure – does not emit electromagnetic signals; therefore the only way to tap into it is by physically breaking the cable and apply listening devices spliced into the break. This method is easily detected;
- Small size – ideal for constructing a network underneath the city where underground conduit is at capacity;
- High bandwidth – fibre optics are designed to handle upgrades in IT such as high speed transmissions and the use of terabit routers; and
- Low attenuation – since fibre optics does not have metallic components, there is also less interference. For TV this mean a strong signal and quality feed. For computers and LAN this means a much faster movement of data from one point to the next. Furthermore, there is less fading or weakening of signals even over long distances (Dodd, p.85).
Nevertheless, even with the above-mentioned benefits from the use of fibre optics, there is a number of downside that must be considered before deciding to use this new technology. The first major setback is the cost of installing fibre optics.
According to experts, “Specialized equipment is required to install fibre cables within buildings, test and splice fibre and to convert electrical signals to light pulses and vice versa” (Dodd, p. 85). Moreover, fibre optics is not as flexible as copper cables. This has something to do with the material used to manufacture fibre optics.
For optical fibre communications the material required to create this medium is fused silica. Specialists working in this field assert that although other fibre materials are adequate, only high-quality glassy melt of silica-dioxide has the purity needed to make excellent fibre optics that can guarantee almost zero loss in terms of signal strength (Downing, p. 101). This explains why fibre optics can be limited in the area of flexibility when comparing to the sturdier metallic cable such as copper.
The use of networking technology to enhance the efficiency of an organisation is already beyond doubt. However, it is not easy to build and maintain a management information system. It is a tremendous challenge to build a system that can become obsolete before the year ends.
In the past, this mode of doing business, the need for constant innovation and upgrades is prohibitively expensive it is not practical. No one builds a warehouse and expects to tear it down after a year. But when it comes to networking technology and computers these changes and upgrades are just part of the cycle of doing business. Those who will not invest in security upgrades and other system enhancements may find their organisation vulnerable to external threats.
Gene Spafford, head of Purdue University’s IT department said that, “The only system that is truly secure is one that is switched off and unplugged, locked in titanium-lined safe, buried in a concrete bunker, and is surrounded by nerve gas and very highly paid armed guards. Even then, I wouldn’t stake my life on it” (Mason & Newcomb, p. 73). The hyperbole was meant to put in context the extreme difficulty in developing a tamper-proof and fail-safe system.
On the other hand the comment made by Professor Spafford can also serve as a starting point for designing a highly functional MIS and this means designing an architecture that balances the need for security and accessibility. A server unplugged and hidden in vault may be a secure system but it is worth nothing to a business enterprise. Thus, a company must invest in securing their systems from external threats.
The impact of a successful intrusion into the company’s data servers can be fully understood upon consideration that in the past the only way to gain access to the company’s secrets is to employ a corporate spy or to bribe an employee of the targeted business enterprise. If this does not work the last resort would be to hire someone that can break-in and steal a hard copy of blueprints and other valuable data.
Today, a professional hacker can achieve the same results without being phsically present and risk capture. They can mine it for valuable data with minimal risk of detection. All this can be done in a remote location and possibly executed using wireless technology. If the system has a porous security system then almost nothing can be done to prevent this from happening.
A vulnerable system is not acceptable in the fast-moving and highly connected business world. A company can lose more than money, it can lose its reputation. A customer need only to experience one incident of unreliable service before deciding that the risk of using a particular system is not worht the risk. This is why it pays to invest in upgrades. The cost of doing so can be easily offset by reducing the number of people that has to be employed to manage a business enterprise.
It is almost impossible to envision a 21st century without networking technology. Information technology is very useful but without the capability provided by networking technology data cannot be effectively stored, accessed and sent to intended recipients. However, it is an expensive proposition and one that requires constant upgrades.
Nevertheless, business organisations can no longer afford to go back to the good old days dominated by telegraphs, radio and telephones. Today, personal computers and mobile devices are indispensable tools for work and play. The rapid interconnection and communication is only possible to the use of networking technology.
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