Computer Network Terminology: 7 Essential Terms to Know & Master

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Man with tablet surrounded by servers

All large businesses need stable computer networks to effectively communicate digital resources among stakeholders and thrive in the modern, global marketplace. Electrical engineers are integral to implementing the foundational infrastructure of these networks, thanks to their advanced understanding of routers, switches, access points, and more. With a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering degree, engineers can enhance their abilities and manage computer networking resources with greater skill. These resources are represented by the following examples of key computer network terminology.

What Is a Protocol Stack?

Transmitting data across a network requires both the sender and recipient to agree on what form the data will take. This means network equipment must follow the same protocols to communicate with one another. Larger networks often use networking components that have been split into layers. The goal is to maintain the data’s integrity during the transmission process. Examples of these networks include OSI and TCP/IP models.

A protocol stack runs simultaneously to implement a set of network protocols, which define each set of rules that it uses to connect. Protocols must be interoperable — with connections established vertically between network layers, and horizontally to either endpoint of data packet transmissions. These stacks enable electrical engineers to produce networks that offer seamless communication between network users.

What are Clients?

When businesses communicate data using remote computers or servers, client computers must facilitate the process by interacting with the server. This allows the server to retrieve files, external processing power, or other useful resources such as Internet/Intranet access.

Client devices are commonly PCs that are equipped with network software applications that can request and obtain information through a network. Mobile devices such as smartphones can also function as clients. Electrical engineers are responsible for developing network infrastructure that effectively interfaces with a particular client, whether the client is a PC or a mobile device.

What Are Servers?

Servers, broadly defined, are remotely hosted computer programs that accept and respond to requests from client computers. Dedicated servers are those designed to perform specific tasks. They differ from cloud servers because they enable administrators to completely customize technology environments. There are also several different types of servers, including the following.

Basic Dedicated Servers

Basic dedicated servers are the most lightweight hosting option available for two reasons. Firstly, they run on dedicated servers with basic operating systems. They are also equipped with the minimum amounts of RAM and hard disk space to operate effectively.

High-End Dedicated Servers

Engineers install advanced network infrastructure and upgrade to a high-end server when a basic server does not offer the resources a firm needs to operate optimally. High-end servers significantly improve communication speeds and the network’s overall performance.

Bandwidth Dedicated Servers

Bandwidth dedicated servers are designed to run processes that involve several data transfers. Examples of these processes include audio and video streaming.

Application Dedicated Servers

Application dedicated servers operate various online-hosted software applications. The hardware specifications may vary based on the scale of the application.

Database Dedicated Servers

Database dedicated servers are large-scale servers that operate using a large amount of processing power. Organizations that store and access massive volumes of data regularly rely on these types of servers.

Server Mirroring Dedicated Servers

Server mirroring dedicated servers enable businesses that need to protect their data to mirror their primary servers onto identical servers, duplicating all of the data, processes, and transactions. This process creates an accessible back-up for use in case of a catastrophic event where the primary server is destroyed.

What Are Internet Protocol Addresses?

The Internet Protocol address (IP address) is a string of numbers that identifies any equipment connected to a network. This address is the start and endpoint for transmitted data to any network device. Any device that can connect to a network, such as a laptop, printer, modem, router and smartphone, is assigned its own IP address. Because of this, there are several different types of IP addresses.

Private IP

Private IP addresses are useful for connecting devices that don’t require Internet access, as they are only communicating within a private network. One example of a private IP is a printer connecting to a home computer.

Public IP

Public IPs connect private IP addresses to the Internet through an Internet service provider’s shared public IP address. It is not uncommon for large businesses to have several public IPs.

Static IP

Static IPs are IP addresses that never change. These types of addresses are assigned to various network infrastructure devices, such as servers, firewalls, and routers.

Dynamic IP

Dynamic IPs change automatically using a DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) server. These addresses are only changed when there are conflicts within a network, like when a laptop with the same IP connects to the network.

What Are Passive, Active, Intelligent, and Switching Network Hubs?

A network hub connects multiple network devices. Passive hubs transmit data between devices. Active hubs concentrate and amplify a signal during a hub transfer. Administrators monitor data that passes through intelligent hubs. Switching hubs identify each data packet’s destination and forwards them to the correct location.

What Are Network Firewalls and Routers?

Routers are electronic devices that have a processor and digital memory, and can join multiple computer networks. Thus, they can form an even larger network, which can either be in a single location or spread over multiple locations. Engineers who build a small business network will need multiple routers, which will also provide networked devices and multiple end-users online access.

Firewalls are network security-driven software applications that monitor all of the data passing through a router, ensuring that only safe traffic passes through network ports. This enables an organization to guard against hackers, malware, viruses, and other forms of cybercrime. There are several firewalls engineers can use to protect networks.

Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFW)

NGFWs augment traditional firewall technology with more functional capabilities, such as anti-virus protection or encrypted traffic inspection.

Proxy Firewalls

Proxy firewalls intercede between two end systems. It evaluates client requests based on specific security rules and decides to accept or block transmission based on this evaluation.

Network Address Translation (NAT) Firewalls

NAT firewalls grant multiple devices that have independent network addresses Internet access through a singular IP address, while keeping individual IP addresses obscured.

Stateful Multilayer Inspection (SMLI) Firewalls

SMLI firewalls use network, transport, and application layers to filter sources against trusted sources.

What Are Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)?

VPNs are connections that mask IP addresses, thereby creating a private, anonymous network from a public Internet link. This type of untraceable security adds an additional layer of protection for sensitive data when an end-user is in a potentially non-secure setting, such as a public Wi-Fi hotspot. VPNs are commonly associated with portable devices that can access network information remotely, such as a laptop or a smartphone.

An electrical engineer must understand the resources, terms, and infrastructures discussed here to work in any position that requires computer networking proficiency. Completing a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering degree enables graduates to expand their understanding of computer networks, better qualifying them to pursue advanced positions in this field.

Gain the Tools to Build an Effective Network

At Ohio University’s Russ College of Engineering and Technology, graduates of the online Master of Science in Electrical Engineering program learn the skills to research, design, develop, and test new technologies and industry applications — and position themselves as leaders.

Recommended Readings

The Top 10 States for Electrical Engineers

How Electrical Engineering Has Shaped the Modern World

Satellites, Radar, and the Electrical Engineer


Cisco, Network Basics: What You Need to Know

Cisco, What is a Switch vs a Router?

Forcepoint, What Is a Firewall?

Lifewire, Introduction to Client Server Networks

Lifewire, What Are Ethernet and Network Hubs?

PC Mag, Dynamic IP Address

PC Mag, IP Address

Tech Times, Why Do We Use a Dedicated Server Hosting Instead of a Cloud Server?

Techopedia, Protocol Stack