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Should I use a Peer to Peer or Domain based network?

This is a question we hear frequently.


 A peer to peer network is a configuration that was  popular in the early nineties with the release of Microsoft Windows for Workgroups. Peer to peer networks were easy to setup and required only a basic knowledge of computer networking. In Windows XP, this technology is often referred to as "File & Printer Sharing."

Many businesses resist establishing a domain due to their belief that a peer to peer network is quicker and therefore cheaper to setup. However, establishing a domain provides your business with a complete business solution that will serve your needs now and into the future. It provides you with a central location from which to manage your network - simplifying your network and therefore dramatically reducing technical support and associated costs.


The following are the basic differences between the two architectures:

The Peer To Peer Network

  • A peer to peer network does not require a server. However it is not uncommon for users to designate one machine as a server on the network, configured like any other workstation.
  • In a "peer to peer" network, each workstation on the network must be separately configured.
  • The management of the network is spread out amongst all workstations on the network. When a technical issue arises, it often has to be addressed on each workstation.
  • For each user to have access to each workstation, a user account must be created on each workstation.
  • Shared drives must be mapped manually from each workstation.
  • Shared printers must be manually connected and printer drivers installed on each workstation.
  • The user account names must exist and match on each machine where document sharing is required.
  • In a peer to peer network, company data and electronic mail is stored on various workstations throughout the network rather than being stored in one central location. The daily backup job if one exists is therefore not able to backup all company data because it is not in one central location. Backup becomes laborious and is often neglected.

The Domain Environment

  • The domain environment requires a server running the Windows Server operating system. The server is then configured as a domain controller.
  • The user accounts for the network are created in one place - on the server. The workstations on the network are then simply joined to the domain which allows staff members to utilize their user accounts.
  • The management of the network is conducted from one place - on the server. When a technical issue arises, it is typically addressed from one place (on the server) which often resolves the problem for the workstations on the network as well.
  • When a user logs in to the network, the server grants access to files and directories as defined by the business owner and/or network administrator. In addition, they are passed through a login script which maps common network drive letters throughout the network.
  • For a user to have access to a printer, they are simply connected to a print queue on the server. The print driver is only installed once on the server and the workstations are then connected to the print queue.
  • All data in the domain is then typically stored in one place - on the server. The daily backup then ensures that all data such as company files and electronic mail are backed up from this location on a daily basis.

From the above information you can see that although the initial outlay on hardware and software may be slightly higher establishing a domain based network, the long term and even short term costs will be significantly less if you take into account time. Coupled with the fact that data security and integrity are significantly better, for most businesses the domain model is the only one that makes sense.



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