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Network Computing - Is It Simply a Different Form of Client/Server?

By Dale Elizabeth Corey,

The key to understanding client/server architecture and client/server systems is the distinction of where the presentation, presentation logic, application logic, data manipulation, and data layers are distributed among the client PC and one or more servers. The key to understanding Internet-based computer architectures and network computing systems is grasping the use of multi-tier solutions. Internet-based computer architectures distribute the five layers (mentioned previously) amongst web, application, and database servers. Because the client PC does not implement any of these layers (the Web browser implements the presentation and presentation logic layers downloaded from a Web server), it can be considered that network computing is NOT a form of client/server. Knowing the headaches that can arise with software installations and client/server architecture, Internet-based computer architecture and open-source Internet technology is said to deliver inter-operational efficiency and plug-and-play convenience.

Client/server systems are defined as a "solution which the presentation, presentation logic, application logic, data manipulation, and data layers are distributed between the client PC and one or more servers" (Whitten, Bentley, Dittman, 2001). Clients are classified as either being "thin" or "fat". "Thin" clients act as terminals and only present the interface to the user (typically, these clients do not have hard drives). "Fat" clients are personal or notebook computers with powerful processors, memory, and storage capacity. Servers are classified as database (for shared databases and command/services execution), transaction (for ensuring business transactions either succeed or fail), application (hosts application logic/services), messaging (email/workgroup), and Web (hosts Internet or intranet Web sites).

There are three distinct classes of client/server architectures - distributed presentation, distributed data, and distributed data and application. Distributed presentation is typical of older legacy systems using character user interface where it is desired to present a graphical user interface to run on a PC. The server handles the application logic, data manipulation, and data layers. The client handles the presentation and presentation logic layers. Distributed data is known as "two-tiered" client/server computing because there is a server (i.e. Oracle or Microsoft SQL Server) that handles the data and data manipulation layers and the client handles the application logic, presentation, and presentation logic layers). Distributed data and application client/server systems are known as "three-tiered" client/server computer because there are two servers (one that handles application logic and one that handles data and data manipulation) and the client handles the presentation and presentation logic layers.

Internet-based computing architectures consist of network computing systems. Network computing systems are considered "multi-tiered" because there are three types of servers that enable the client to implement a client-side Web browser that uses content downloaded from a Web server. The Web server handles the presentation and presentation layers implemented in the client-side Web browser. There is also an application server for application logic and a database server for data and data manipulation. Network computing systems can be utilized for Internet, intranet (secure internal network for integrating desktop, work group, and enterprise computing), and extranet (external systems connecting to internal company information) services.

References:
Kersnar, Scott. (2001, March). Web Versus Windows: Does the mortgage industry need to jump from client-server to Internet technology? Or is the ASP solution not everyone's solution?. Mortgage Technology.

Whitten, Jeffrey; Bentley, Lonnie; Dittman, Kevin. (2001). Systems Analysis and Design Methods. New York, NY. McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

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