Introduction:

Information Technology (IT) is an important part of any business. Companies normally have a lot of computers that are able to communicate between each other. These computers are able to communicate because they are on a 'computer network'. Although most people have heard about computers networks, they don't know or maybe even don't care what it is and what it actually does. But it is good to have a basic knowledge of what a computer network is, especially when there are problems with it.

In this online exercise on computer networks, we will look at the English vocabulary that is used when talking about computer networks in an office/work environment. We will also look at the names of the different devices (electronic machines) that are used on a computer network and how they work together.


Exercise: How a computer network works

Read the following conversation between Juan and Peter. Peter is explaining to Juan how the computer network at their office works.

From the context, try to guess what the meaning of the words/phrases in bold are. Then do the quiz at the end to check if you are right.

Juan:'I know that it sounds stupid, but how is it possible that I can open the same word document on any of the workstations in the office. It doesn't matter which computer I'm on here, I can still open it.'

Peter:'That's because all the computers or workstations in the office are connected to each other in a network. For our office, this network is called a LAN which is an abbreviation of 'Local Area Network'.'

Juan:'So every computer I use in the office can access or open any file or document on my computer?'

Peter:'No, they can't. You can only open files and documents from any computer/workstation you use here, when the file or document is saved on a server and not on your computer. A server is basically a powerful computer on the network which is dedicated to doing one thing, like storing files, or connecting to the internet or running an application etc... All the computers or workstations that people use at their desks can connect to these servers. Any application or file which people want to be shared or used by multiple computers are stored or put on to a server. If you don't want to share a file with anybody, you can save or store it to the local drive of your computer or laptop. A local drive is the hard drive on your computer. But is does mean that you can't open the file from another computer and if the computer breaks, the file is lost. So it's better to save it to your own personal folders on a network drive. This is like a local personal drive for each user of a network, but all files are stored on a file server, a server dedicated to saving/storing files. It is backed up regularly. So even if the file server breaks down, there will always be a copy of all the files or documents stored on a different file server.'

Juan:'So how does my computer access and open the word document on the file server?'

Peter:'Well, your computer is connected to the LAN or office's computer network by an ethernet cable at the back of the computer. The ethernet cable is used to send and receive all the data from the computer to the server, other computers, the internet etc...'

Juan:'Like emails or web pages?'

Peter:'Yes, when you open a document on a server, the ethernet cable sends the request to the file server and the file server sends the data in the file to your computer through the ethernet cable to your computer. This data comes to your computer in what is called packets. For example, when a file server sends a word document that is on a network drive to your computer, the document is not sent all together, but is divided into small parts which are then sent one by one. When these small parts or packets reach your computer they are reassembled or joined back together and make the document. Data is sent on computer network in packets to make the network run quicker.'

Juan:'It sounds complicated. But how does the file server know where to send the document or any type of data?'

Peter:'Well, every computer, server, printer etc... has its own unique address. This is called an IP address. So, that's how a file server knows where to send a word document.'

Juan:'So, there's a direct ethernet cable from all the computers on the LAN network in the office to the file server?'

Peter:'No. In most offices, schools etc..., there are too many computers or servers to connect an ethernet cable directly between each one. In our office there are 213 workstations/computers and 13 servers. It would be impossible for each computer to have 225 different ethernet cable. Each computer or server only has one ethernet cable. Those cables connects directly to a device called a switch. A switch is electronic box that is used to direct the data traffic on the network to the correct IP address. All data is sent from a computer or server to it first. It's like a postman, when it receives the data (like an email, file, update) it reads the IP address of where it wants to go to (which is contained in the data) and sends it to the computer, server, printer on the network with that IP address.'

Juan:'Makes sense. But what happens if I want to send an email to somebody outside the company?'

Peter:'Well, the email is divided into packets and these packets are sent from your computer through the ethernet cable to the switch. When the switch reads the IP address in the packets of data and knows that it's not for a computer or server on the LAN network, it sends the packets to the router on the LAN network. A router is another piece of hardware or device on the network that is used to send or receive data traffic from a LAN network (like in our office) to or from computers or servers from outside the LAN network (like the internet, other companies or other offices).'

Juan:'So if I open a web page from the internet on my computer here, the data of the web page comes to my computer from the internet through the router, then the switch, then the ethernet cable and finally to my computer?'

Peter:'Basically, yes. The router is the first place on the LAN network that receives data from outside of the LAN network. The router often has a firewall on it to make sure that any data it receives doesn't contain a virus or words or material which have been banned or prohibited by the company. Some companies ban their staff from accessing some websites and it's this software or program on the router that stops the web page.'

Juan:'Thanks Peter for explaining it.'



Quiz: Essential computer network vocabulary

Below is a definition/description of each of the words/phrases in bold from the above text. Now fill in the blanks with one of these words/phrases in bold. Only use one word/phrase once and write it as it is in the text. Click on the "Check Answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

When the answer is correct, two icons will appear next to the question. The first is an Additional Information Icon "". Click on this for extra information on the word/phrase and for a translation. The second is a Pronunciation Icon "". Click on this to listen to the pronunciation of the word/phrase and to do a pronunciation speaking test.

1. Computers, mobile phone, servers, cables and switches are all types of    

         

Hardware:
(noun) 'hardware' is the name in information technology for everything that is physical (can be touched with your hand). So, not only are computers, mobile phone, servers called 'hardware', but also keyboards, mouses, speakers, cables and hard drives are also called 'hardware'. Things/objects in information technology that can not be physically touched with your hand that perform/do functions and activities (e.g. computer applications, programs, operating systems) are called 'software'. 'hardware' can also be used as an adjective, e.g. 'there is a hardware fault, the computer's hard drive is broken'. In Spanish: "hardware".

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Hardware:

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2. When a copy of all the data and files of a computer is saved/stored on a different computer, it is    

         

Backed up:
(phrasal verb) 'to back something up' means to copy and save/store on a different machine all the data, files, settings and applications of a computer or server. In most companies it is common to 'back up' all the data on servers every day. This is done to make sure that no data (or little) is lost if there is a problem or failure of a server. Most of this data is stored/saved on servers that are dedicated to doing 'backups' and are called 'backup servers'. 'to back up' is a transitive phrasal verb (it has an object), e.g. 'they have backed the servers up'. In Spanish: "hacer una copia de seguridad".

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Backed up:

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3. A powerful computer that is used on a computer network to store/save other computers' data and files, is called a    

         

Server:
(noun) A 'server' is a powerful computer on a computer network that is dedicated to doing one type of activity or function that other computer use. In a computer network in an office/company there are normally a lot of 'servers' that do different function. For example, a 'file server' stores all the files of the staff's computers on the network, an 'application server' runs a application that the staff use on their computers and a 'print server' is dedicated to connecting the computers to the printers on the network. In Spanish: "servidor".

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Server:

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4. A device/machine on a computer network that is used to move data between the different computers and servers, is a    

         

Switch:
(noun) A 'switch' is a device/machine that is used to connect all the computers, printers, servers etc... on a computer network or LAN (local are network) together, so they can transfer/move data between each other. All the ethernet cables (that transport data) from the computers, servers, printers etc... on a network/LAN are directly connected to a 'switch'. The 'switch' remembers the different addresses of the computers or servers and sends the data to the correct one. For example, if you want to open a word document on a server, your computer sends a request to connect/open to it. This request reaches the 'switch' and it reads the request (which contains the address of the server) and then sends it to the actual server. A 'hub' performs a similar function to a 'switch', but is less efficient. In Spanish: "conmutador de red".

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Switch:

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5. A type of computer network that is normally used in an office or school, is called a    

         

LAN:
(noun) 'LAN' is an abbreviation of 'local area network'. This is a type of computer network (where different computers, servers, printers etc... are connected together) that is used in small geographical location, e.g. a building, office, school etc... Another type of computer network is WAN, which is an abbreviation of 'wide area network', which can cover a country or even the world, e.g. the internet or a multinational company's computer network. In Spanish: "LAN".

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LAN:

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6. A cable that is used to transport data from one computer to another on a computer network, is called a    

         

Ethernet cable:
(noun) An 'ethernet cable' is the name for the type of cable that is used to transport data from computers, servers, printer etc... on a network/LAN. The 'ethernet' is the way how computers, servers etc... on a LAN can communicate. In Spanish: "cable ethernet".

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Ethernet cable:

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7. Computer applications and programs are both types of    

         

Software:
(noun) 'software' are the objects/things in information technology that can not be physically touched with your hand that perform/do functions and activities (e.g. computer applications, programs, operating systems). Everything that is physical (can be touched with your hand) is called 'hardware', e.g. 'computers, mobile phone, servers, hard drives etc...'. 'software' can also be used as an adjective, e.g. 'there is a software fault, the file data has been corrupted'. In Spanish: "software".

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Software:

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8. A 'hard drive' or place on a computer where applications or files are stored/saved, is also called a    

         

Local drive:
(noun) A 'local drive' means the 'hard drive' or 'hard disk' of a computer. It's the place on a computer where applications, data or files are stored or saved on the actual computer. Applications, data or files are not always stored on the 'local drive' of the actual computer, but on a server on the network/LAN. This is called a 'network drive'. In Spanish: "unidad local".

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Local drive:

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9. The 'small parts' which an email is divided into to be transported on the network, are called    

         

Packets:
(noun) When data (like an email, web page, update etc...) is sent/transfered from one computer (or server) to another through a network, it is sent not whole (all together) but separated into small parts. These small parts or chunks are called 'packets'. When these data 'packets' arrive at the computer or server they are reassembled or joined back together, so you see the whole web page etc... The reason data is separated into 'packets' when it travels on a network is because is it quicker and more efficient for the network to move it like this. In Spanish: "paquetes".

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Packets:

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10. When a person's files and applications are stored on the computer network and not on their local drive/computer, they are on a    

         

Network drive:
(noun) A 'network drive' is also called a 'remote drive'. It is place on a server or something connected to a server on a computer network. 'network drives' are very common in companies because it not only means that you can access these files or data from more than just one computer, but because it is less likely that you'll lose the file (they are backed up every day) than if it is stored on the computer's 'hard/local drive'. 'network drive' are commonly used for 'shared folder', where a department or a team have access to the same files. In Spanish: "unidad de red".

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Network drive:

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11. The name of the software that stops viruses from entering into a computer network, is called a   

         

Firewall:
(noun) A 'firewall' can either be software (an application) or hardware (a dedicated machine/device) that controls what data (emails, web pages, updates etc...) can enter the LAN (local area network) from outside. It is normally configured/set to stop viruses or stop access to certain types of websites (e.g. sports). On a LAN the 'firewall' is normally a piece of software (an application) on the router (the device/machine where all data enters and leaves from the LAN). In Spanish: "barrera de control de accesos".

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Firewall:

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12. The 'computers' on computer network are often called    

         

Workstations:
(noun) A 'workstation' is basically a computer in a work/office environment that is connected to a network (LAN). It is a technical word/term and is generally only used in IT departments. It is more common to say 'computer' than 'workstation'. In Spanish: "estacion de trabajo".

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Workstations:

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13. A device/machine where all the data entering a computer network goes through, is called a    

         

Router:
(noun) A 'router' is a device/machine used to connect a LAN (local area network) to other networks and servers/computers outside of it. For example, if a computer on a LAN wants to connect to the internet, the request to open/access a web page goes from the computer to the network switch and then to the 'router', where it leaves the LAN. Because the 'router' is the place where all data traffic enters the LAN, it often has a 'firewall' application installed on it to control what can enter. In Spanish: "enrutador".

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Router:

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14. The unique name/address that every computer in the world has, is called an    

         

IP address:
(noun) Every computer, server, smart phone or printer that is connected to the internet or a computer networks has a unique 'IP address', An 'IP address' is basically a computer version of a house address. It is used so that data (emails, updates etc...) can be directly sent to it without the data getting lost on its journey. An 'IP address' is made of four groups of numbers (e.g. '72.012.0.209'). In addition to having an 'IP address', the machines/devices on a LAN or computer network have an additional type of network address called a 'Mac address'. In Spanish: "dirección IP".

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IP address:

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Practice

Now that you understand the new vocabulary, practise it by creating your own sentences with the new words/phrases.