What is a Computer Network?
We can think of a computer network as an electronic orchestra consisting of all the ‘things’ that our organization uses to share, store, and process information, provide services, and perform work. The “members” of that orchestra include a variety of very different things. The word “network” immediately brings to mind the usual cast of suspects - servers, storage devices, switches, firewalls, routers, printers, and desktop computers. We might also think of things like smart phones, desktop phones, and tablets. Today’s network, however, includes many other things that we might not think of – fax machines, postage machines, robotic manufacturing machines, heating and air conditioning systems, lighting systems, security systems, and even things like entertainment systems, refrigerators, toasters, and coffeemakers! In a network, all of these devices are connected to each other and talk to each other to perform the work we ask them to do and to make our tasks – and our lives, easier.
Technology Used in Computer Networks
There are multiple ways to connect to a Network – traditionally, devices were connected and communicated through a copper wire, but today devices may communicate by light through fiber optic cable and infra-red signals, or by radio signals through wireless access points, Bluetooth connections, and even satellites!
What is Network Support?
In a broad sense, Network Support has to do with everything that keeps your organization’s computer network running, productive, and up-to-date. It assures your devices are healthy, and your hardware, software, and personal devices are compatible and working. It assures that there is no congestion - that the network “freeway” is wide enough for all traffic to get through and move quickly. It also means supporting the people who use the equipment, you, the “end user.” This last part is the most important part of network support, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves… Specifically, Network support includes everything from regular maintenance tasks, to the testing and troubleshooting of problems to the design and development of new features to increase your functionality and productivity.
Computer network support specialists, also called technical support specialists, are the people who accomplish these tasks. They analyze, troubleshoot, and evaluate computer network problems, and play an important role in the routine maintenance of their organization's networks, such as performing file backups and system updates. A network support specialist may be part of the organization's internal IT support team or provide service as part of the technical support staff of a third-party network technology provider. River Run stands ready to support your organization’s Information Technology initiatives.
The Human Factor in Computer Network Support
“End user” is a useful term for Network Support Specialists, but at RR we believe the most important thing to remember is that “end users” are people. Most of us don’t understand the computers we are using, any more than we understand the cars we are driving. Just like we trust our “auto mechanic” to help us with problems, we must trust our network support team, too.
Trust is even more important with a computer network because of the wide variety of things that can go wrong on a daily basis. In many ways, Information Technology is a practice just like medicine is a practice. (With the exception that human beings are infinitely more valuable than computers!) We know so much about the human body and science, but there is so much we don’t know. A lot is unpredictable. There are many organic systems and there is a huge gap of knowledge on how the systems interact. It is the same in the computer world. In the Information Technology industry, there is a term that we use – “In The Wild”. When a computer system or an application is created, it is tested under a number of circumstances. But it can’t be tested under every circumstance. When that computer system or program is finally released to the public, it is said to be “In The Wild.” We can’t predict everything that will happen when that computer system or application comes in contact with other systems, or applications that it was never tested with. That alone introduces a large degree of inexactness and experimentation in troubleshooting. To succeed, a Network Support Specialist must be a good researcher and rely on the basic rules of logic.
In the end, Network Support is all about serving people. The real goal of the Information Technology Professional is to serve people. Our responsibility is to help them master the technical equipment they own. At River Run, we understand that being a good technical support specialist means first and foremost liking people! We want to serve them. We believe that everyone is intelligent - We are all good at something – we just have different areas of expertise! We all need each other, and we have to treat each other respectfully. If we follow these simple guidelines, computer support specialists will deal with our “end users” in the right way.
High Quality Network Support
The best way for an Information Technology Specialist to provide support is at the individual level. At River Run, our job is to get an accurate description of the problem, listen attentively to the person, take what they are saying seriously and have them describe it as carefully as possible, and then observe what is going on. Sometimes people will omit important details – perhaps they might be embarrassed, or because they don’t recognize that it is important, or even because they didn’t notice it. We have to pay attention to everything in our surroundings, not just what is on the screen in front of us. We observe the problem, gather all the details, and then research the problem and solution. And yes - the internet is one of our greatest tools for diagnosis!
At the organizational level, Ideal network support will pay attention to every aspect of service. React quickly when things happen, but be proactive by preventing problems in the first place. That’s where network monitoring comes in. It keeps your finger on the pulse, or lifeblood of an organization - preventing traffic congestion, making sure systems are running at full speed, that storage space is not full, and that patches and updates are being applied on a regular basis. In today’s industry, network monitoring is as important as anything else that we do.
Computer Network Security
Since computers first existed, network security has been important, but the importance of security has magnified exponentially over the past decade. Today River Run considers Security to be our #1 motivator when planning and maintaining a network. Data can be stolen with USB drives, CDs, and smart phones. It can be sent out by email, internet connections, wireless sniffers - in fact, it has recently been discovered that information can be decoded from screens you can’t see, just based upon the sounds the monitor makes – most people don’t even know that screens make sounds!
Although it is important to keep your valuable data from leaving your organization, it is also important to protect your network so that nothing gets in. Firewalls are important, but they are not enough. They only stop the traffic you tell them to stop. Things can get into your network without your knowledge, just based upon some innocent “click” you made on your favorite web site. Security is a Cold War. It is constantly progressing and escalating. There is no such thing as a silver bullet or a one-time fix. Every time you come up with a new measure, attackers are trying to defeat it. The older your equipment and applications are, the longer they have been on public display. Each day that passes gives an attacker more time to study the characteristics of the type of hardware and software you are using, and find its weaknesses. This is why it is vitally important to upgrade older hardware and software on a regular basis. For this reason, River Run takes an aggressive approach to network security.
For more information on Network Support, consult with a River Run Network Specialist by calling 414-228-7474.
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