Friday, March 07, 2014

Common Technology Terms & Meanings #2 - Communication Terms

Technology terms are a part of our everyday language but this does not mean we always have a firm understanding of their meaning or origin.  Having a better understanding of these terms can help you troubleshoot tech issues, set up new types of technology, and possibly save you time and money by allowing you to better communicate any issues you are experiencing.  The terms below are a continuation of our Common Technology Terms & What they Mean post and are focused on technology terms used in reference to communications.

Cloud - Often referred to as "storing or sharing files in the cloud" or "backing up to the cloud".  When this is said, what people mean is they are storing their files in a location other than their local computer or device and they are normally able to access those files from anywhere with an Internet enabled device.  Ultimately all data is stored somewhere, and storing it in the cloud is the same as any other location in the sense that it is written to some storage array or set of devices somewhere.  Storing files in the cloud does not mean your files are floating around somewhere randomly.  When you send files to the cloud they are sent to a clearly defined location specified by the software used to store the files.  These files are available only to you, someone with your credentials, or someone you have shared the files with.

Cookies - The term cookies refers to a small data file stored locally on your computer placed there by a specific website you visited.  There are many legitimate uses for cookies even though they can be abused.  Cookies are created to be used in the background and provide a seamless experience for the user as you revisit websites and set preferences.  An example use of a cookie is to remember which section of a website you prefer - the personal banking section instead of the business section or the USA version of a website rather than the international site.  Another use for a cookie is to remember your user id for a specific website so you only have to type in your password next time you visit the site.  Cookies can be very valuable as a time saver, but like anything else, they can be used against you.  There are malicious forms of cookies that can track certain types of data from your activities and report those back to whomever created the malicious code.  Using caution when you visit websites and deleting your cookies regularly can help protect you.  For instructions on how to delete cookies, read part 1 of our post explaining how to set common features in the three top desktop web browsers.  

IP -  Or Internet Protocol, is usually referred to in reference to an IP address.  An IP address is a numerical representation used to identify a particular device on a particular network.  A simpler explanation is to compare this to your home address.  Your home address is unique and is made up of a street name, a street number, a city, a state, and a zip code.  This address is unique in all the world so that items sent to you always get to you and not to anyone else by mistake.  An IP address is similarly unique for the network it belongs on.  There are public and private IP addresses, but whichever it is, it will be unique to that network.  A public IP means it is published to all the Internet and is absolutely unique there.  A private IP address usually falls in a category that starts with either 10., 172., or 192. as those are set aside for internal use only and are not used in public networks.  IP addresses allow network traffic to get to your device, and your device alone, without going to another device by mistake.  Just as a physical address can have the same street and street number as another physical address in another town, the town, state, and zip code differentiate it from any other house with the same street name and number making it unique.  

IP addresses started as 32-bit numbers for IPv4 and are most likely the format you have seen.  These numbers are represented like  The highest any IP number can be is but many of these are reserved and not for public use.  Whenever you see an IP address in a movie or television show that starts with 322 or some number higher than 223, it is actually an invalid address.  IP addresses are broken into three classes and each class holds different amounts of available addresses to assign to devices.  When you use a computer or device at home on your network, each device will have a private IP address assigned to it by either your wireless cable modem, wireless access point, cable modem, DSL modem, or other ISP device.  To view the IP address of your device:
  • On a Windows 8 machine open the Windows Powershell program.  On Windows 7 or Vista, type cmd in the search box of the start menu and press enter.  On any Windows version prior to Vista, go to the run box, type cmd, and press enter.
  • Once the command shell opens, type ipconfig.  This will show the IP settings for each network interface card in your device.
Typical results from running the ipconfig command:

VoIP -  Or Voice over Internet Protocol, is the term for routing phone calls over Internet lines rather than traditional phone lines.  Vonage is a very well known VoIP provider but there are also many others.  Skype was one of the original services to provide a VoIP experience that utilized computers to connect two people long distances apart using each individual's existing Internet connection.  The benefit to this was to prevent long distance telephone charges for making these calls.  Eventually apps for phones were introduced with the same capabilities.  There can be drawbacks to making VoIP calls however, as IP calls are harder to track down to a finite location than traditional phone lines.  This can create a problem for 911 operators trying to capture a person's location when the person on the line cannot share their location.   

LAN - Or Local Area Network, is a set of devices connected creating a private network.  LAN's are usually small in nature and are represented by the computers and printers you have at home.  Connecting the devices you have together allows them to access the same resources.  Connecting each device to a single Internet device, or to the same printer, makes better use of existing resources.  For a LAN to operate efficiently, each device on the LAN must have a unique IP address. 

WAN - Or Wide Area Network, is a set of devices connected creating a much larger network usually both public and private.  WAN's create private networks at individual locations, then span across public networks to connect to additional private networks.  An example of WAN implementation would be DMV.  Each DMV location has a private network to connect all the devices used by that DMV location to provide access to the same resources.  If a DMV employee had a computer that was disconnected from DMV's private network, they would not be able to access any customer's data.  Now consider all the other DMV's in your state.  Each of these locations needs to communicate with the others so that the same data is available in each location.  However, to be able to communicate with only private networks would be ridiculously expensive for each DMV considering construction costs.  What if a site moved to a new location?  The construction costs would incur all over again.  Instead, each site maintains its own private network and uses a public network provider to communicate to all other sites.  This incorporation of both public and private networks to connect devices and resources is what makes up a WAN.

Having a better understanding of technology terms is helpful in many ways but keeping up can be hard.  As new terms emerge, we will continue to provide explanations and examples to help you.  As always, stay informed!

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