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Ad-Hoc Network

I am trying to find a reliable and easy to use method to connect 2 - 5 laptop machines together with no available network. The machines will all be Windows XP or better, and they will all have builtin wired and wireless adapters.

The environment could best be described as a group of people in the same location (perhaps under a tent or in a building) , with no networking infrastructure at all. They would have very little networking experience and would not be able to manage complicated setups. They'll have power and cellular communication, and they'll stay there for 1 - 3 days and then move to another place. They'll be running a program that needs to connect to a central SQL Server Express database hosted on one of the machines. I know how to setup SSE for remote connections, so I don't need help with that.

I've tested an Ad-Hoc network with a couple of laptops here in my office, and it seems to work well enough. I can run the program on each machine, and connect to the "host". But I'm not sure if this is the most reliable method to use, or if there's something better. Reliability is probably the most critical factor at play, much more so that speed.

Any suggestions? Or would the Ad-Hoc type of network be suitable for this sort of thing?
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Scott McDaniel (Microsoft Access MVP - EE MVE )
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Scott McDaniel (Microsoft Access MVP - EE MVE )
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2 Solutions
 
John HurstBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
I've tested an Ad-Hoc network with a couple of laptops here in my office, and it seems to work well enough.

If it works, you might just stay with it.

Another approach might be a small router set up to hand out DHCP. Computers plug into it and automatically have a connection. From there, it is similar to the above ad hoc approach. The router makes it a bit more reliable overall (I think).
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Scott McDaniel (Microsoft Access MVP - EE MVE )Infotrakker SoftwareAuthor Commented:
I thought about a router. If I get one that is DHCP capable, then would it be a plug-and-play sort of thing? In order words, I power up the router and plug a Cat5/6 cable between the machines and the box, and they would essentially "see" each other?
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John HurstBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
I see this from two points of view:

1. If I get one that is DHCP capable, then would it be a plug-and-play sort of thing? <-- Yes. machines would connect and get an IP (192.168.1.x or some such).

2. they would essentially "see" each other?  <-- Maybe. Generally yes, but that depends on the computers and how they are set up. Also, I think the same principles would apply in the ad hoc setup. Networking (file sharing) is usually not a given.
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Scott McDaniel (Microsoft Access MVP - EE MVE )Infotrakker SoftwareAuthor Commented:
They won't be sharing files and such, only connecting to the same SQL Server Instance, which I'll setup to insure is available. If I'm not mistaken, users could then connect to that service if they know the right credentials.

I'm going to do some checking, but providing a router may be the simplest way to achieve what I want.
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John HurstBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
Then a small router should work very effectively for you.
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Fred MarshallPrincipalCommented:
I might suggest parsing the requirement / approach if only for aiding your thought process a bit.
I agree with the advice that John Hurst has provided you.

First, the computers need to be on a network.  This is where their connection method (wired or wireless) and their IP addresses com in.  So, DHCP is part of assisting the latter.  With normal settings they should be able to ping one another when this is all established.  
If there's to be no DHCP then there's no need for a router or DHCP server on one of the computers and no need for a gateway address.

Once "connected" as above, the computers need to be accessible to the degree necessary.  
Are they visible in "Network"?, etc.  Maybe if there's file sharing.  But you don't care about that it appears.
Can one access another to the degree necessary?  Here at least the SQL Server needs to be accessible and it appears you have that nailed down.

So, it *should be* straightforward.
In view of your requirements, you will have to decide if you'll use DHCP or not.  If not then you will have to have the IP addresses entered manually.  If you do that then the laptops won't work well in the broader mobile environment unless you 1) use Ethernet only for this setup and use manual settings there. 2) use wireless with DHCP for coffee shops, etc.
With a group of users who don't need to know these things then DHCP is recommended - so get a simple router.  Just about any commodity router will do.  I can't think of one that wouldn't.  And, by adding a router, you could use wireless as most of them have wireless built in (i.e. WiFi).  And then you'd not have to mess with Ethernet cables and you'd use DHCP for all the computers.  
Wireless both makes things simpler and more complex.
It's simpler in that there aren't any Ethernet cables or, at least, fewer of them.
It's more complex in that the wireless has to work on each computer:
- the wireless switch can't be set to OFF if it's on a laptop.
- If there's security then the wireless connections have to be made successfully and this can be a bit of a challenge unless you have already set them up and they are remembered on each computer.  Not unusual but it's something.
- Wireless connections are generally slower than wired - but these days not by enough to matter perhaps.
If the SQL Server computer is accessed by IP address then it should likely be set up manually.  That's fine as long as the address is outside the DHCP scope/range of addresses for everyone else.
If it's not accessed via IP address but, rather, via name service then it's possible that there could be a waiting time of 1/2 hour or more until things settle down.  Patience is a virtue in cases like this.
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Scott McDaniel (Microsoft Access MVP - EE MVE )Infotrakker SoftwareAuthor Commented:
Thanks both for your comments. I've got a meet with the users today or tomorrow and I'll see if any other requirements come about.
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Scott McDaniel (Microsoft Access MVP - EE MVE )Infotrakker SoftwareAuthor Commented:
Thanks to both of you for helping. We decided to go with a small wireless router, which seems to be ideal for this purpose.
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John HurstBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
Scott - Thanks for the update and I was happy to help. Good luck with the project.
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