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A complete guide to network operating systems

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A Network Operating System (NOS) is software that manages network resources and enables communication among various connected devices. It serves as the backbone in computing infrastructures, providing effective management of data, applications, and users.


The origin of network operating systems traces back to the mid-1970s with the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD), a derivative of UNIX, which introduced sophisticated network management functionalities.

The evolution of UNIX, facilitated by its open-source nature, led to the development of customized variants, enhancing interoperability.

Early network OS innovators include Microsoft’s Windows NT, offering a durable framework for business settings. NetWare by Novell was the premier choice for local networks during the 1980s and 1990s, thanks to its superior file management features. Sun Microsystems’ Solaris contributed improvements in scalability and security.

Key Features

Network operating systems incorporate several critical features to enhance network management and performance:

  • The graphical user interface, initially optional or absent, has become a significant element, providing network administrators with an intuitive and efficient means to configure, monitor, and resolve network issues.
  • Multitasking capabilities enable network operating systems to manage numerous tasks concurrently, optimizing network performance. This crucial feature ensures efficient resource distribution and quick responses to requests.
  • Real-time operations, crucial for environments demanding precise data processing within strict timelines.
  • Management and integration of TCP/IP protocols are essential for network communication. TCP/IP serves as the foundation of network communications, facilitating data transfer between devices. Efficient protocol management is vital for seamless connectivity and communication throughout the network.

Components and Architecture

Network operating systems are engineered to coordinate and manage network resources effectively. Their primary task is to ensure seamless operation among all devices and services.

  • Network protocols are critical for communication among different systems. Network operating systems support various protocols to streamline data exchange, especially TCP/IP, the global standard for internet communications.
  • File systems are pivotal in data and storage resource management. They organize, safeguard, and store files to enable swift and dependable access to vital user and network application information.
  • Hardware compatibility is a significant attribute of network operating systems. These OS are constructed to operate across diverse hardware platforms, encompassing high-performance servers and embedded devices.

Examples of Network Operating Systems

Below are some contemporary network operating systems:

Microsoft Windows Server

Distinguished as the predominant network OS, Windows Servers are celebrated for their robust features, dependability, stability, and superior security. They are tailored for business management, data storage, networking, and application hosting.

Unix OS

Originating at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories in the 1960s, Unix OS is a versatile, reliable, multi-user, and multitasking system, employed across web servers, desktops, and laptops.

Cisco Internetwork OS (IOS)

Cisco IOS, a proprietary network OS suite for service providers and corporations, integrates into various Cisco Systems routers and switches. It delivers extensive routing, switching, networking, and telecommunications functions.

Junos OS

Based on FreeBSD, Junos OS drives Juniper Network’s devices, such for switches and firewalls, enhancing availability, adaptability, and operational efficiency.

Open VMS

OpenVMS, a server operating system, operates on diverse chip architectures. It supports multisite cluster setups and is engineered for high-stakes environments.


Network operating systems play a pivotal role in the governance of computer communications and resources. Their advancement and variety fulfill the stability, security, and efficiency requirements of contemporary enterprises.


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