A network operating system is a specialized operating system for a network device such as a router, switch or firewall. It is a computer operating system (OS) that is designed primarily to support workstations, personal computers and, in some instances, older terminals that are connected to a local area network (LAN). The software behind a NOS allows multiple devices within a network to communicate and share resources.
The composition of hardware that typically uses a NOS includes several personal computers, a printer, and a server and file server with a local network that connects them. The role of the NOS is to then provide basic network services and features that support multiple input requests simultaneously in a multiuser environment.
Due to earlier versions of basic operating systems not being designed for network use, network operating systems emerged as a solution for single-user computers.
History of Network OS
Early microcomputer operating systems such as CP/M, DOS and classic Mac OS were designed for one user on one computer. Packet switching networks were developed to share hardware resources, such as a mainframe computer, a printer or a large and expensive hard disk. As local area network technology became available, two general approaches to handle the sharing of resources on networks arose. Historically a network operating system was an operating system for a computer that implemented network capabilities. Operating systems with a network stack allowed personal computers to participate in a client-server architecture in which a server enables multiple clients to share resources, such as printers. Early examples of client-server operating systems that were shipped with fully integrated network capabilities are Novell NetWare using the Internetwork Packet Exchange (IPX) network protocol, Windows Server 2003, and Banyan VINES which used a variant of the Xerox Network Systems (XNS) protocols.
Types of Network OS
Network operating systems are used to manage multiple computers on a single system. Every computer has an operating system for the individual device, but a network system is used as a central system for an entire grouping of computers. The types of network systems vary according to the specific demands of the system. So here are enlisted three types of Network operating system:
- Client-Server Systems
These are the most common types of network operating systems and they are frequently used in business, government, schools and other organizations that require a central server. The server houses all of the files for the network, and each computer is tied into the server. The client/server tends to be most expensive to implement and requires a large amount of technical maintenance. An advantage to the client/server model is that the network is controlled centrally, makes changes or additions to technology easier to incorporate.
- Peer-to-Peer Network Operating System
These networks are far less common as they involve storing the files on individual computers rather than a centralized network. This means each computer must share hard-drive contents with all other computers on the network. Collectively, the computers make the network possible. This model is more common when used by a single individual while connecting multiple devices. In this architecture, all devices are treated equally in terms of functionality. Peer-to-peer usually works best for small to medium LANs and is cheaper to set up.
- Cloud-Based Alternatives
While network operating systems are highly valuable in many businesses, they are not always necessary. Cloud-based storage and browser-based software have changed the way many businesses operate. Cloud-based systems are more effective and efficient in most cases. The only downside to the cloud systems is the need for connectivity. A stable connection to the cloud is mandatory for file access.
Features of Network OS:
The basic operating system features support like protocol support, processor support, hardware detection and multiprocessing support for applications
Security features like authentication, restrictions, authorizations and access control
Features for file, Web service, printing, and replication
Directory and name services management
User management features along with provisions for remote access and system management
Internetworking features like routing and WAN ports
Common tasks associated with network operating systems include:
- User administration
- System maintenance activities like backup
- Tasks associated with file management
- Security monitoring on all resources in the network
- Setting priority to print jobs in the network
Examples of network operating systems
True network operating systems are categorized as software that enhances the functionality of operating systems by providing added network features. A few examples of these network operating systems and their service providers are:
- Artisoft’s LANtastic- This is a simple, user-friendly NOS that supports most PC operating systems.
- Microsoft’s LAN Manager- This operates as a server application and was developed to run under the Microsoft OS. Now, most of the functionality of the LAN Manager is included in the Windows OS itself.
- Novell’s NetWare- This was the first network operating system to be released and is designed based on XNS protocol architecture.
- Banyan’s VINES- This uses a client-server architecture to request specific functions and services.
As Network Operating System controls and coordinates the use of the hardware among the various applications programs for various uses, we can say that it plays a very important role in the computer system.