Deciphering IT Network Jargon

If you’re in business you almost certainly have an IT network. You might not consider it a ‘network’ as such, but if you’re connected to the internet then at the very least, your modem, router and computer are a basic network. Most companies have a more sophisticated network than this – but for a lot of people the language used to illustrate it leaves them at best yawning – and at worst, completely out of their depth.

With some insight into the jargon around networks you can look at the business and IT relationship from a different point of view – and begin considering articles like this one on how you can save money across your network. But first you’ve got to understand:


“We need to isolate all the devices on the ground floor”

The ‘devices’ in question are components that are attached to the network. Your PC is a device, so is the department printer. Devices don’t have to be physically connected either, your phone that’s connected to the business Wi-Fi is, by virtue of its connection, now a network device. If it’s connected to your network, it’s a device.


“The new firewall is going to mean all networked devices are protected”

A firewall is either a piece of hardware or a programme that handles certain types of data as it attempts to enter your network. A lot of modern firewalls are an all-in-one security solution, so they are configured to prevent malicious programmes finding their way into your network. They can sometimes cause unforeseen issues, such as users not being access certain programmes, sites on the internet, applications, etc.


“Unplug the ethernet cable from the back of your machine”

Ethernet is the name given to the standard wired networking technology that connects almost every network in the world. If you’re wired into your network, it’s by an ethernet cable – if you’re not, you’re connected wirelessly. It would make sense for the world to operate without wires, but they’re significantly faster than current wireless technology.


“The problem is occurring as traffic hits the router”

A network router enables information to be distributed throughout the network, that includes data coming in to devices on your network, and data being distributed to the internet from those devices.


“We can’t run a real-time application due to high network latency”

Latency is a measure of how long it takes for a small amount or ‘packet’ of data to get from one network point to another. This is most often measured by sending data and measuring the time it takes to be returned to its start point. A number of factors increase the delay (thus creating higher latency) and can mean applications that require a quick transmission of data (such as the instantaneous transfer of voice or video data) can be hindered.

Data Packet

“The network is congested, we’re losing data packets”

This is a unit of data that is sent between devices. Far more packets are transferred in everyday operations that a lot of people might consider, for example: As you click to load a web page, your computer sends packets of data that request that web page’s information, the hosting server returns a number of packets which your computer and software compile to display as the expected web page.

Lost data packets are often unnoticeable, due to their tiny size and limited impact on the larger task – but when many are lost, data connections can fail.


A protocol is a set of rules that define how devices and applications communicate with one another over the internet. The most common you’ll hear in reference to networking are ‘TCP’ and ‘UDP’ – the former ordering and error-checking information – and the latter providing a faster transfer by doing away with the error-checking process. An IT team would need to differentiate between the two when setting up some network devices.


“The engineer needs to know the port number”

When a device or application is sending or receiving data it needs a port number that differentiates that traffic from anything else being communicated over your network. It is through the use of ports that particular business critical data can be prioritised over less important traffic.


“Which application are you having a problem with?”

A lot of non-IT people use the word ‘application’ and ‘program’ interchangeably – although IT professionals make a clear distinction. A program is a set of commands that a device understands and acts upon. On the other hand, an application is a piece of software that is designed to help a computer user to perform a particular task (and therefore the program that technically drives that task).

For example, Outlook is an application – the use of that application will result in many programs to communicating with devices across a network.

MAC Address

“We’ll need your MAC address for you to access the network”

Despite it carrying a similar name, the acronym ‘MAC’ has nothing to do with any specific brand of computer – and is instead a unique identifying code any potentially networked device is allocated. It stands for ‘media access control’ address – some people will refer to it as a more practical name of ‘physical address’ – as it is used to pinpoint one specific device over any size of network.

IP Address

Like a MAC address, an IP address identifies a device on a network – although they are different, an IP address is generally assigned to that device by the network itself – whereas, generally speaking, a MAC address is applied at the time of manufacture and isn’t changed by the network you join.

Making sense now?!

This list is far from exhaustive, but does represent a lot of the terminology that’s commonly used by IT departments. At some stage, most business departments become blinded by how often they use industry specific terms – if you’re not sure, ask for a simple explanation – if there’s one thing that’s fairly uncommon, it’s people from company business areas taking an active interest in IT!

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