What are network services?

Natasha Ong
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4 min read

In a nutshell:

(You'll come across a lot of new words when learning networks - but we'll go through them one by one!)

Networks are digital lifelines connecting devices for data sharing and online collaboration. Think of a network as the internet's highways!
Components of a network: Cables are data highways, routers are traffic cops, servers store information, and switches direct data. Wireless access points act as magical doors, while firewalls guard against online threats.
Azure offers services for establishing virtual networks, subnets, firewalls, and virtual private networks (VPNs).

What does network mean?

In the world of computing, a network is the lifeline connecting a web of devices like computers and servers.

  • These interconnected pathways come in all sizes, from cozy home setups to the vast global internet.
  • They're the magic behind seamless data sharing, letting you collaborate, access resources from afar, and chat through emails and video calls.

Roads and highways are a core part of how we're all connected physically, and we can see the road when we're outside.

In comparison, networks are such a core part of how we're all connected over the internet, but they feel so 'invisible' - we can't see the connection lines!

It's a reminder of how technology has woven itself into the fabric of our lives, often working its magic behind the scenes - out of sight, but never out of mind.

Networks are important for both our homes and businesses. Business networks need to be more complicated compared to home networks because they are larger and have more demands. For example, just using a single Wi-Fi router isn't enough for business networks - they have many more users and devices, and need extra equipment and Wi-Fi hubs to handle this. Businesses handle more data, need better security, and need to make sure employees can access their network remotely at all times.

Fun fact: while we don't see them, there are huge cords under the sea so that data can travel quickly around the world. This is why websites hosted on servers in other continents can still be accessed on our laptops at home. Isn't that amazing?

Components of a network

If you're learning to be a car mechanic, it's probably important to learn the different parts of a car in detail. Otherwise, it'd be pretty hard to understand why something's wrong with your customers' cars!

To understand how networks work, it's essential to grasp the key components that make it all possible, from cables and routers to servers and firewalls.

  1. Cables: Think of cables as the highways that connect all the devices in a network. These can be physical wires or even invisible signals (like Wi-Fi) that carry data from one place to another. Just like roads allow cars to move, cables enable data to travel between devices.
  2. Routers: Imagine a router as a traffic cop for your network. It directs data to the right destination. It's like the central hub that manages the flow of data in and out of your network, making sure your data goes where it's supposed to.
  3. Servers: Servers (as you would be quite familiar with by now!) are the data warehouses of a network. They store and manage all the information you might want to access. When you browse the internet, for example, you're often getting data from servers. Think of them as giant libraries where books (data) are kept.
  4. Wireless access points: These allow devices like your smartphone or laptop to connect without needing physical cables. It's like a magical door that lets you enter the network from anywhere in your home or office. An everyday example of a wireless access point is your home Wi-Fi router! Many home routers come with a built-in wireless access point, so they're combined into a single device. In larger network setups, you might have a standalone router and a separate, dedicated wireless access point. In this scenario, the router manages the network, and the wireless access point focuses solely on providing wireless connectivity. This configuration allows for better coverage and more control over your wireless network.
  5. Switches: Switches are like the post office in a network. They help direct data to the right device within the network. So, when you send an email from your computer to a friend's computer, switches ensure it gets to the right place.
  6. Firewall: Think of a firewall as the security guard of your network. It protects your network from unwanted visitors and keeps it safe from online threats. It's like a filter that decides who can enter and who should stay out.

Now, imagine your network like a city: the cables are the roads, the router is the traffic cop, servers are the libraries, wireless access points are the magical doors, switches are the post offices, and the firewall is the security guard.

Together, these components make sure your data flows smoothly, safely, and efficiently throughout your network.

So, when you use the internet, your router helps you connect, servers provide the websites and information, switches ensure your data reaches the right place, and the firewall keeps your network safe from harm.

What is physical networking? What is virtual networking?

Physical networking (also called on-premise, or traditional networking) is the traditional, tangible approach to networking. Virtual networking is the more flexible, software-driven method. And you've guessed it - virtual networking is a cloud computing service.

Physical Networking

Setting up a network using physical equipment, connecting computers with cables, routers, servers, wireless access points, switches, firewall... the list goes on!

Physical networking like building a road with bricks and mortar, where the path is fixed and doesn't change easily. Physical networks are well-suited for traditional setups where the physical infrastructure is readily available.

Virtual Networking

Creating a network using just cloud services and the internet. No need for physical equipment; you can set it up and change it easily. It's like drawing a road on a digital map, and you can reroute it anytime you want.

Most businesses use a hybrid approach between the two, so their virtual network is an extension of their existing on-premises network. This helps their cloud resources communicate with each other and with their on-premise computers.

Virtual networking is all about creating a powerful, digital network in the cloud, like what you'd find in Microsoft Azure. Businesses find virtual networking exciting for some great reasons:

  • Customisation: Virtual networking is customisable because it lets businesses design, configure, and adapt their digital networks to suit their specific needs. This tailored approach means different departments and teams within a business can have their own sections of the network, each configured to work optimally for its tasks. This makes a network that's highly efficient and keeps everyone happy!
  • Security: Virtual networking uses different security measures to ensure that only authorised personnel can enter the network. This robust security is vital in today's digital landscape, where protecting sensitive information is of paramount importance.
  • Communication: Virtual networking acts as a superhighway for communication within the business and with the outside world. Just as a well-planned public transport system reduces traffic, virtual networking streamlines communication pathways, making it easy for different parts of the business to exchange information. This swift and direct communication is vital for decision-making, collaboration, and staying connected with partners and clients.
  • Adaptability: Virtual networking is like a shape-shifting superhero - when new challenges or opportunities arise, you can adjust your network to meet them. Whether it's accommodating a surge in online customers or expanding your digital services, virtual networking offers the flexibility to scale up or down as needed. This helps business remain agile and capable of growth in today's fast-paced digital landscape.

Are there any virtual networking services in Azure?

There sure are! Azure provides the tools you need to establish and control your network in the cloud, ensuring that your digital resources can communicate securely and efficiently.

These services include the setup of virtual networks, the configuration of subnets, setting up firewalls, and creating virtual private networks (VPNs).

Sound technical? No worries, let's go through them bit by bit.