Commentary: Quick tutorial on tech lingo

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As someone who runs a business, you may have learned many of your weaknesses the hard way. You learned to overcome your accounting phobia. You figured out that marketing isn’t just a college course (or heaven forbid, a major).You’ve even learned that there are difficult customers and difficult employees, and you can only fire the latter. The one thing you never expected, though, was that you would have to become bilingual in order to keep pace with today’s marketplace. Worse yet, the language you don’t understand was not offered in grad school. It is a language that is only spoken of in hushed tones by the uninitiated. It is a language both feared and hated by many. It is geek speak.

You’ve been through the drill. The computer guy (who is younger than your phone system) stands in your office and makes his official pronouncement. “You’re going to need a router that supports VPN and VLAN to connect your WAN, plus a 10/100 24-port Ethernet switch to run your LAN because your current 10 megabit 8-port hub can’t support your required bandwidth.” You nod as he concludes his unintelligible mutterings, while you think, “You should be safely locked up with all your other geek friends.” Interpreting your nods as comprehension, he actually switches to English and finally says something you clearly understand. “It’s probably going to cost about $4,000.”

Why is this stuff so hard to understand? Why can’t these guys speak in sentences with less than four acronyms? The harsh reality is that computer networks are here to stay, along with the techies that build, sell and support them. Life becomes better if you accept this as a necessary evil, and realize that you will never keep pace with their changing language unless you eat, sleep and breathe this stuff. (In other words, become one of THEM.) What you really need is an interpreter who fluently speaks both languages and can translate for you. Since this type of translator is about as easy to find as a comprehensible used car ad, I will try to help.

There are a few common computer network terms that are past the fad stage that would be good to know. I will attempt to explain the basic concepts behind some of these terms. If you do not understand these concepts by the end of this article, don’t worry. It just means I am one of them.

LAN

A LAN is a local area network. If you have two computers in your office, you have, well, two computers in your office. If you, however, connect those two computers together, you now have a computer network that is only connected in your local area (i.e. your office). A LAN can consist of two computers or two thousand. It can also have printers, scanners, fax machines and many other pieces of high-tech gear attached to it. The beauty of a LAN is that it allows multiple users to share printers, hard drives, scanners and anything else attached to the network. This can dramatically lower your outlay for computer equipment.

As you probably learned in preschool, sharing can be both good and bad. One of the downsides to a network is that anybody on the network can potentially see everything on your computer. This falls under computer security. We will have to save that discussion for another time.

WAN

A WAN is a wide area network. Say you have a LAN in your Colorado Springs office, along with one in your Pueblo office and another in your Yoder office (the big LAN). At some point in time, you may want to connect those offices together into one big network, or a wide area network. This allows greater speed and security when sharing files between locations. It allows you to see other computers just like they are in your local office. You could even sit at your computer in Yoder, look at a file stored in Colorado Springs and print it on a printer in the Pueblo office. A WAN can connect multiple networks together in different parts of the U.S. or even the world.

Hub

A hub is a small box that sits in the middle of a LAN that connects all the computers together. Just like cars drive on roads between cities, data moves over wires between each computer. Think of the hub as an intersection where all the traffic passes through (very quickly). Now picture that intersection with no traffic light. In such a scenario, collisions are going to happen. Each time two pieces of data collide in a hub, they are thrown out and the computers need to resend that data until it gets through.

Switch

A switch functions like a hub with one major difference. It has a traffic signal. Instead of multiple collisions, the data safely travels through the intersection and the computers do not need to keep resending it. Because of this, a network using switches instead of hubs tends to be faster and more reliable.

Router

While a switch or hub connects computers together within your local network, a router connects your network to the outside world. Any time two or more networks are connected together, you will need a router at each end in order to tell the data which route to take to correctly find it’s destination.

Obviously, I have only scratched the surface of computer terminology, but next time the computer guy starts babbling about networks, maybe your eyes won’t glaze over quite so bad. That does not, however, mean you still won’t wish him safely locked away.

Kevin Feldotto is VP of network integration for IT Communications. IT Communications is located at 1465 Kelly Johnson Blvd., Suite 230, Colorado Springs, Colo. Kevin can be reached by calling 719/598-9516, or via e-mail at kfeldotto@IT-Comm.net.