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Below are some terms that are often not understood, misunderstood, and misused. In trying to explain technology terms, one immediately confronts the “chicken and egg” dilemma: to understand one term, you have to understand another. I have tried my best, but some things are just a problem in this regard. Therefore, you may find find that you must bounce up and down the pages.

Network: This is the commonly used term for the 4 pairs of twisted wires making up the cable that connects computers and other devices within a specific area, which is called a local area network or LAN. The standard for this wiring has been cat5, but now cat6 is also being used since it is of a quality that gigabit signals can be transmitted. The technologies that use these wires is called ethernet. Network also refers to the group or “network” that communicate with each other in predefined area (also called a “Local Area Network” or LAN). A network outside of a LAN is a “Wide Area Network” or WAN. These two can be joined using a firewall.

DNS: This stands for “Domain Name System”. Your email address for instance, is a domain name. This system converts human names for addresses into a digital format: ###.##.###.##. Servers are used to assign the IP addresses and mapping them so that the addresses can be found on the internet.

IP: This stands for “Internet Protocol”. There are standards for transmitting data and voice over the internet which includes size of the data packets and encoding – this has now been generically referred to as “IP”. An IP address identifies the end devices, or nodes, participating in a computer network. Every computer, for instance, has a unique number associated with it – the IP address may be public or private. (Very few computers have public.)

MAC Address: This is the “Media Access Control” address for devices used on a computer network. You can think of this address as a serial number for the device.

Firewall: This is a device that controls access into and out of a network. Sets of rules are used to govern access and traffic. Software for spam filtering, virus protection and content filtering are installed on firewalls. A firewall can also perform router functions.

Router: This device can forward traffic from one type of network to another. Your internet cable, for instance, goes through a router that connects the internet signal to the network in your office or home. You can think of a router as the traffic manager of the network.

Switch: A switch connects network segments and may contain a router.

Server: This has become a near meaningless term, although everyone continues to use it for lack of a a better one. A “server” was once a computer dedicated to providing (serving) other computers (clients) with a specific application, like email or shared files. Now one machine can be used to perform multiple server functions including servicing other servers. (See Virtual Server below.)

Virtual Server: We use VMWare which is licensed software that allows one computer, configured with an adequate amount of memory, speed and storage, to provide multiple functions for the users on a network. Most businesses require multiple “serving” functions: DNS, file storage, email, etc. With virtual servers it is possible to use one piece of hardware instead of a server for each function as is typically done. It is also easier to backup – one machine instead of many. This is definitely a “Green” way to go.

Remote Desktop: This is a term to describe software that allows the user to work on a computer that is physically remote from the computer they are in front of. They can do so, so transparently, that the user finds it hard to know that the computer is not sitting next to them.

Client: This is usually the term for a computer work station that depends upon a “server” for application software and data, or just data.

Thin Client: This is a computer workstation that does not have any computing power and depends upon a server to provide the applications and data to allow a user to proceed to use the work station in a “session”. When the work is done, the user exits and another user can sign into the work station to use it. (It is “thin” because of the lack of a hard drive and they need little processing power.)

VPN: This stands for “Virtual Private Network”. It is a way to have a secure link between two locations.

FTP: This stands for “File Transfer Protocol”. An FTP is a protocol for transferring data between independent systems.

VoIP: This is an acronym for “Voice over IP”. This is a technology for transmitting Voice using an Internet Protocol. Instead of using the two wire protocol used by the legacy analog telephone systems we are all familiar with, this technology uses local networks and the internet for transmitting phone calls. The telephones contain a computer chip which allows the phone to connect to the network and the internet. Great technology for small and large businesses.

SSD: This is an abbreviation for “Solid State Drive”. Hard drives have spinning disks, also called platters where data is written, stored and retrieved. These spin at very high speeds with arms that move in and out writing and reading encoded data. Hard drives are fragile because of the moving parts. A solid state drive has no moving parts so they are less prone to damage and they run cooler. SSDs are completely made up of transistors. The advantage of SSDs is that they have no moving parts and are very fast. Currently SSDs are slightly more expensive, but because of the advantages we routinely recommend SSD to all of our customers when they purchase new computers. We do so because SSDs provide the highest performance increase for the money.

The Cloud: The “cloud” has become a catchall term. It is basically a term for a variety of services obtained from a provider that is at another location. Services such as file storage, backups, applications, etc. can be obtained for a monthly fee instead of purchasing a current version. By using cloud services the services are not location dependent and thus can be accessed from anywhere.

Operating System (OS): The operating system of a computer is the software that processes and coordinates hardware and software of the computer. There are a three major OS: Windows, Apple OS, and Linux. While there are many similarities in the different OS, there are definitely differences. Linux is one that developed out of the “open source” community. Thousands of developers from all over the world created it as a free alternative to Windows. It is an OS preferred by many for personal computers and is used in smart phones, some pads, etc. The Apple OS can only be used with Apple hardware.

Flash Storage: Flash storage is a type of “read only” data storage that has no moving parts and does not need power to keep the data stored. As storage capacity on chips has increased, it is now possible to store very large amounts of data on portable storage devices known as thumb drives, flash drives, or jump drives. They are great for taking files with you on a small device or for making backups that can be stored in a safe place.

Malware: This is a blended word made up of “Malicious” and “Software”. It is software that is designed to get into computers to do damage, to commit a crime, to find and use information (your contacts information for instance), to take over your computer, to hold your data ransom, etc. There are a many types of malware called viruses, worms, spyware, adware, etc. They all are designed to get into your computer and then do a specific job.

As you encounter words and phrases you do not know, just go to “Wikipedia”. You will usually find definitions that are easy to understand. But they also take the definitions deep into technical areas for those who want it.


The information shared here should not be used as a substitute for what can be found in books, articles, etc. written by experts. This was written to help you see through the fog of information technology jargon so that you can ask better questions and improve your understanding.