We make connections on networks every day, whether it’s your own network, or someone else’s. Whether visiting your favorite website, downloading a PDF, or printing a document, each requires a network to get you there. But with so many variations, it can become a bit confusing. This simple guide breaks down the ten most popular types of networks, and how they are used.
1. Campus Area Network (CAN)
The network for education.
Found in: Universities, large K-12 school districts.
Used for: Sharing information and resources across several buildings in close proximity to one another.
Consists of: A number of interconnected local area networks (LANs) to increase geographical reach.
2. Enterprise Private Network (EPN)
A companies personal network.
Found in: Various organizations.
Used for: Securely connecting shared computer resources across a number of disparate offices.
Consists of: Infrastructure built and owned by the business using it.
3. Local Area Network (LAN)
The most common type of network
Found in: Medium and large organizations.
Used for: Sharing information and resources within a building or between a group of buildings located near one another.
Consists of: A group of connected computers and low-voltage devices.
4. Metropolitan Area Network (MAN)
Similar to, but larger than, a LAN.
Found in: Towns and cities.
Used for: Sharing information and resources across an entire metropolitan area.
Consists of: A group of connected computers usually owned and operated by a single person or company.
5. Passive Optical LAN (POLAN)
The next generation design for LANs—and a money and space-saver.
Found in: Indoor network architectures, small campus networks, and multi-story buildings.
Used for: Upgrading legacy, copper-laden architecture, reducing complexity, and increasing performance.
Consists of: Rack-mount patch panels and cassette-style splitters that integrate with an Ethernet network.
6. Personal Area Network (PAN)
You probably use one every day.
Found in: Homes or small offices.
Used for: One person.
Consists of: A wireless modem, personal device (computer or mobile), printer, etc.
7. Storage Area Network (SAN)
A dedicated high-speed network of storage devices that is accessible to multiple servers.
Found in: Mostly large organizations (due to expense and management complexity).
Used for: Providing fast local network performance.
Consists of: Interconnected hosts, switches, and storage devices.
8. Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A service used to encrypt data-in-flight.
Found in: PCs, laptops, smartphones, and other mobile devices.
Used for: Obscuring the content of your traffic from your internet service provider or public WiFi provider.
Consists of: Downloadable software applications.
9. Wide Area Network (WAN)
The most basic example of a WAN? The internet itself!
Found in: A wide variety of locations around the world.
Used for: Connecting computers across long physical distances, even overseas (ATMs are another good example).
Consists of: It varies; WANs can connect using the internet, leased lines, or satellite links.
10. Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN)
Otherwise known as Wi-Fi.
Found in: Restaurants, hotels, hospitals, you name it.
Used for: Sharing information and resources within a building, or between a group of buildings located near one another.
Consists of: Wireless technology; unlike a LAN, no physical cables are needed to connect.
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