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I need some help in building a network between hundreds of computers spread across multiple buildings of my college. Yes, I'll be doing this as a part of my college project.

Please see this image, it will give you enough idea of what I'm trying to achieve.

alt text

All the computers in all buildings should be able to connect server.

Once network is up, there will be a set of services over intranet and network use will be moderate. Well, say there will be an email server and a http server. My point is, I cannot afford much of performance loss.

It feels easy to connect computers inside 1 building to each other, however, I'm clueless as to how to connect all of them to server. I mean, just 1 cable won't be enough to connect 1 building to server, right?

How should I go with it ? I am not expecting detailed configuration. Just heads up will do.

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It seems to me that if you are doing this as part of your "college project" that the coursework you had would give you some general direction (possible technologies, network topologies, etc.) on how one might implement such a network. – Corey S. Jan 13 '11 at 17:42
If the college doesn't already have something like this, I'd think that there's no one already on staff to do it. Which would be weird and awful, to my mind, but hey, maybe it's a very new or very old, very small school. – mfinni Jan 13 '11 at 17:48
@Corey S. well, no, its something that I wish to do on my own for my college. It doesn't have anything to do with my course :) – Omie Jan 14 '11 at 6:39
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Hooo boy. Where to start...

You probably want switches in each of the distant buildings, you don't want to have to run a new line from the central building every time you expand a different building.

Then, you need to work with facilities and/or contractors to get cables strung between buildings. There's probably existing buried tunnels/pipes with other wires, I hope? At least simply for the phone system, electrical, etc? You should run the cables through there.

Then you connect the uplinks of all the remote switches to you central server room.

That's the abstract. You'll need to get into a lot of specifics. These days, GB and 10 GB ethernet is so cheap and commonplace, that might be good for the uplinks, as opposed to some type of fiber (SONET, FDDI - I don't even remember if those are the most common local campus links for between buildings.) But for redundancy, you'd want some sort of loop, so that every building has two paths to go through if one is cut. If done with ethernet, this usually implies implementing spanning-tree protocol.

If this stuff is making your head spin, you need to figure out if you can realistically do a good job of this in the timeframe allotted. You may want to seek the guidance of a local professional if there's no one at the school to give you help; someone might want to donate (or offer at a reduced rate) their design services to the school. A beginner shouldn't be doing all of this, to my mind.

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+1 for seeking professional help -- You do not want to try building out a multi-building infrastructure on your own if it's your first one. You'll inevitably make mistakes, and they're usually expensive ones. – voretaq7 Jan 13 '11 at 17:47
Also check out any local laws. There's some places where putting a cable that will conduct any electricity between buildings will be against the law unless done by a qualified electricity. In such cases fibre is a valid option (light vs electric signals) – Niall Donegan Jan 13 '11 at 19:21
I've requested college management to seek professional help. – Omie Jan 14 '11 at 6:29

With the information you've provided your options are pretty much wide open. Here's my top 4:

Option 1 - WiFi This has the benefit of being easy & relatively cheap: Simply deploy a bunch of WiFi hotspots acting as repeaters to extend the range of an 802.11 WiFi network until all your buildings are covered.
You may need to invest in WiFi access points that let you bridge back to Ethernet, but those are pretty commonly available these days (pretty much any Netgear device will let you do it, I'm sure others will too).
As a bonus using WiFi means your open-air space will have a usable network.

Option 2 - Wireless Microwave (point-to-point)
Like option 1, but with more expensive hardware & requires a line-of-sight between buildings.
Microwave links can be very reliable if set up properly, and unlike the 802.11 network your bandwidth won't be dragged down by the range extension & multiple clients mucking up the SNR. It's a preferable solution if you're doing stuff that's bandwidth-intensive or latency-sensitive (like VOIP).

Option 3 - Cable (Cat5, Coax or Fibre) from building to building.
If your buildings are all in the same general area and you've got competent folks around you can simply run network cable (cat5 or cat6 shielded) from building to building, (ring or star topology is the best way to go) to extend your network. This requires lots of cable, and is subject to distance limitations which may make you have to switch to coaxial or fibre in order to make it work.
Bandwidth may be an issue here -- Gigabit over copper will do for a lot of applications, but if you need more than that you would have to run multiple lines as a trunk, or use coax/fibre for the inter-building links (both of those should be fat enough to handle anything reasonable).

Option 4 - VPN Tunnels
This is really a great option if your buildings are geographically distant but each one has an internet connection -- Simply set up VPN tunnels back to the network you need to reach. Note that VOIP and bandwidth-intensive stuff may kill this option.

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Also all good answers. – mfinni Jan 13 '11 at 17:49
Hi ! Thanks for the fast response. I'd prefer CAT5. There are cables inside buildings already. Buildings are close to each other too. I just wish to know which topologies and which devices [and at which places]. I've fair knowledge of networking and I can build small scale networks. – Omie Jan 13 '11 at 18:00

mfinni has a good basic pla for you. As for a specific technology to consider to conect the buildingscheck this product out. I used it with great success to connect two buildings without worrying about zoning laws, power issues etc. It simplified my life.

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The term to search for here is "free space optics", there are quite a number of suppliers. – Joris Jan 13 '11 at 21:58

Adding to cwheeler33 and voretq7.. If you do wifi I recommend you look into 5ghz stuff, much less congested and more reliable. Also, definitely look into directional antennas. Powerline may be a solution, if not between buildings then maybe inside of them.

Also check if you can re-use existing cables to run vdsl or ethernet over (telephone cable, defunct power lines (careful!), coax or other things from another era). If it's private ground and you can get the required permission, you may shoot cables at a high floor between the buildings, or run cable through sewers/ducts.

Don't be afraid to mix and match technologies, ethernet (and TCP/IP) is pretty good at weird stuff.

As for the topology, let the availability of good link options (and their required bandwidth) set the options here.

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