Network engineering 🌐

How network engineering works and how to build your own

April 5, 2022

The modern world runs on vast connected computer networks built, configured, and maintained by network engineers. These tech experts, while living in the shadows, support businesses, government agencies and nonprofits by playing one of the most critical parts.

This article will develop on the role of network engineers, and explain part of their work.

What is network engineering?

Network engineers create, and maintain complex architectures to develop communications in businesses, countries, and for customers.

Some of their work includes:

  • Deploying and maintaining firewalls to defend their infrastructure and prevent hackers from accessing the servers on the network
  • Implementing multi-factor authentication protocols to secure the network once more
  • Expanding already existing systems like mobile banking or electronic health record sharing
  • Ensuring the bandwidth is sufficient, particularly for businesses that might use video conferencing services
  • Maintain data centers and the corresponding cloud services
  • Gather data generated by the different computers on the network to improve efficiency
  • Enhancing the performance of physical and virtual networks

These are by no means set in stone and the discipline is constantly evolving. The first networked computer systems date back to the late 1960s. 60 years later, the field has evolved and keeps evolving regularly with new protocols that support more bandwidth, more connections and are more secure.

In the 1980s, network engineers were supposed to install wired telecommunications to businesses in order for them to share data between offices. In the 2000s, companies began integrating the Internet into their operations. Today, network engineers carry far more complicated tasks than simply connected wires and switches.

In short, network engineering covers the different aspects associated with communications, at different scales, in businesses, countries, and for customers.

Why do we do it?

As our society keeps moving online, and our digital needs keep on increasing, having a strong, sturdy architecture is more important than ever. Understanding network engineering gives you access to the world around you,

Network engineering powers the world around us and is responsible for deploying the computer technology that powers :

  • Wireless networks
  • Optical networks
  • Private cloud servers
  • Secure Wi-Fi networks
  • 5G architecture
  • Municipal networks
  • Large-Scale Virtual Private Networks or VPN

Without it we would still be using mail and asking the business next door for help.

Network engineering also conveys a secondary, just as important, matter. Security. As networks develop and grow in size, they become more prone to attacks as vulnerabilities appear. This becomes a balancing act between security and the growing demand for high efficiency networks.

In itself, the internet is just a bunch of nodes connected together. How well it works depends largely on the network engineer’s skills as they have to strengthen the connection between certain nodes and secure others.

How do you get started in making your own?

As the space is very broad, we’ll look at one aspect of the network engineering world. More specifically, servers. Devices that communicate with other computers known as clients. The server provides resources for powering services across a network of computers, among those are data processing and different applications.

Let’s look at the hardware:

  • CPU. The Central Processing Unit is a device that is intended to execute and manage web server tasks. If you’re planning on doing a very simple setup, you could consider a Celeron unit; it’s cheap and can run lightweight projects. For more demanding things, consider going for a more expensive Ryzen or Xeon processor. These can run complex applications effortlessly.
  • Motherboard. This component is the server’s backbone, sometimes called the system board. It provides the bridge for all the computer’s components to interact. Consider HP, Dell, and Asus for quality motherboards.
  • RAM. Random-Access Memory is a component that temporarily stores data for processing. This is a very important component that can make all the difference in how fast your server is. DDR4 RAM is highly recommended as it has multi-channels for faster speeds and parallel processing.
  • Hard Drive. This is where your files will be stored on your system. In terms of space, it all depends on what you plan on storing on it. If you want to use the server as an archive, you will need a lot of storage. An SSD drive will also provide speeds that are 20 times superior to what a traditional hard disk can.
  • Cooling. Running a server often means it has to run 24/7, this generates a lot of heat. Without proper cooling, your server will quickly break down. Consider a sizable fan. There is an option for water cooling but this is pretty much reserved for enthusiasts, a fan will work great.
  • Chassis. This is a metal casing that will house all the components of your server. It has different slots for all the components we’ve listed. In terms of brands, the cheap alternatives are Supermicro, Athena and Rosewill.
  • Power Supply. For simple tasks, consider at least a 300 watts unit. For heavier use, consider units of more than 500 watts.
  • Graphics Card (Optional). Processors have an integrated graphics driver designed to render video. These work well with most applications. However, heavier tasks such as gaming, mining and streaming require a lot more power. If you plan on doing computationally heavy tasks, consider a dedicated graphics card.
  • DVD Drive (Optional). This is all a matter of personal preference, nowadays, most computers don’t come with a dvd drive. Consider getting one if you plan on using the server for music albums, movies or installing custom images via DVD. Note that most of these can be done online through downloads and you might not need a dvd drive.

Network engineering is an incredibly vast and complex field that has evolved tremendously in the past 50 years. The domain isn’t going to stop evolving as 5G is around the corner. We’ve looked at how to build the hardware behind one of the central elements of every network: a server. For specific applications on what you’re building, try and find guides on the web. The space is quite hard to learn but proves itself to be quite rewarding.

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