Peer-to-peer vs. server-based networks

Published: February 24, 2011

Applies To: Windows Small Business Server 2011 Standard

A network is either a peer-to-peer network (also called a workgroup) or a server-based network (also called a client/server network).

Peer-to-peer network

In a peer-to-peer network (see Figure 3), a group of computers is connected together so that users can share resources and information. There is no central location for authenticating users, storing files, or accessing resources. This means that users must remember which computers in the workgroup have the shared resource or information that they want to access. It also means that users must log on to each computer to access the shared resources on that computer.

Figure 3   Peer-to-peer network

In most peer-to-peer networks, it is difficult for users to track where information is located because data is generally stored on multiple computers. This makes it difficult to back up critical business information, and it often results in small businesses not completing backups. Often, there are multiple versions of the same file on different computers in the workgroup.

In some peer-to-peer networks, the small business uses one computer that is running a client operating system, such as Windows XP Professional or Windows 7, as the designated "server" for the network. Although this helps with saving data in a central location, it does not provide a robust solution for many of the needs of a small business, such as collaborating on documents.

Server-based network

In a server-based network, the server is the central location where users share and access network resources (see Figure 4). This dedicated computer controls the level of access that users have to shared resources. Shared data is in one location, making it easy to back up critical business information. Each computer that connects to the network is called a client computer. In a server-based network, users have one user account and password to log on to the server and to access shared resources. Server operating systems are designed to handle the load when multiple client computers access server-based resources.

Figure 4   Server-based network

Windows SBS 2011 Standard is installed and configured as the central server on a server-based network. Windows SBS 2011 Standard provides the central point for authenticating users, accessing resources, and storing information.