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Technology and equipment

In fitting out the resource centre you will need to consider:

  • Hardware - computers
  • Software - the programme running on the computers
  • Communication connections - internal and to the Internet
  • Other equipment and furniture

Computers

How many computers make a Community Resource Centre or Telecentre? This is one of the most common questions asked; and the answer is: "How many do you need and how many can you afford?" Which takes us back to the idea of researching a business or project plan.

The second most frequently asked question is "What sort?" ... and by this time you can probably guess the answer!

Just as there is no such thing as a "typical" community resource centre, there is no such thing as a "good" number of terminals - it all depends on demand, space and finance. The best sort depends on what you want to do and what you can afford. You may have to rely on donated equipment; link to those listed on Inforurale?

Network or stand alone computers?

If you have more than one computer, consider networked computers:

  • you can share expensive peripherals
  • you can share and transfer data easily and quickly
  • it's easier to work out procedures for backup of data

Networked computers

There are two ways in which these can function:

  • a simple peer to peer network, where each computer on the network can see all the others and share printers, modems and other peripherals
  • a server network, where one computer is dedicated as a server which which can perform a range of functions: for example, it can act as a central store of shared data and act as an intranet web server.

There are also several ways of physically linking computers together. The most common is called Ethernet, and this can be implemented in two different ways:

  • Computers can be linked by wires which go from one computer to the next like a daisy chain - technically the cable used is called BNC.
  • Computers are individually connected in a hub and spoke arrangement. The cable used is called shielded twisted pair often referredt o as CAT 5 cabling

Pros and cons - daisy chain

Pros:

  • the network is "passive" and requires no power supply
  • cheap and easy to install

Cons:

  • the connections are delicate and can malfunction easily
  • a break in the network will affect all computers further down the chain
  • it is difficult to move computers around

Pros and cons - hub and spoke

Pros:

  • each computer is connected individually to a hub, so any malfunction affects that computer only
  • the connectors are like large BT phone connectors (RJ 45s) and are robust
  • computers and peripherals can be easily unplugged and moved
  • higher speed than daisy chain
  • intelligent hubs can optimise the traffic on the network and speed it up further

Cons:

  • hubs need a power supply (the whole network goes down in a power cut)
  • more expensive than daisy chain (allow £50-70 per computer)

Making your computers talk across the network

There are various protocols you can use over an ethernet network to enable you computers to communicate with each other. If you are setting up from scrtach you will probably choose TCP/IP protocol. This is the language of the Internet: it will enable you to run an internal web server (or an intranet) on your network, and will allow you to establish a seamless connection with the outside world.

Where to buy?

Consider carefully - cheapest is not always best. What good deal can you get locally? Think about support and maintenance. Is there a local supplier who would give you a good price, support the equipment reliably and cheaply - and perhaps even loan you a machine in return for promotion?

Remember that technology is changing fast, so go for the latest you can afford and plan to upgrade within two years if possible.

What questions to ask your computer supplier

  • What happens if something goes wrong?
  • What about upgrades and spare parts?

What other equipment should we have?

This will depend on what kind of services you are offering as well as what is available elsewhere.

Think about the type of phone you'll need. Can it be combined with a fax machine or answering machine? Or are you planning to answer for several organisations and divert calls?

Think small as well as big; not everything has to be online and high tech - do people need a guillotine for cutting paper? a long-armed stapler? a laminator? a binder? an audio typing machine?

What about furniture?

There are now guidelines on workstations and chairs that you should adhere to; your local authority should be able to help you with this. Or check with the Health and Safety Executive - 0742 892346