Tony Walt
Tony Walt Chief Operations Officer

Trying to read an article about enterprise networking can be difficult if you aren’t familiar with the popular terms. But knowing key lingo can unlock useful insights with potential benefits for your business. That’s why we’ve rounded up 10 of the hottest (read: most important) network terms and provided a breakdown of what they mean.

woman taking notes working on laptop

Trying to read an article about enterprise networking can be difficult if you aren’t familiar with the popular terms. But knowing key lingo can unlock useful insights with potential benefits for your business. That’s why we’ve rounded up 10 of the hottest (read: most important) network terms and provided a breakdown of what they mean. It’s a mini glossary to broaden your understanding of the latest network trends and connectivity solutions. You’ll find a particularly high concentration of them in discussions about Software-Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN).

Fog computing

Just as fog, in weather, refers to a cloud that’s close to the earth’s surface, fog computing refers to cloud computing that is extended all the way to the edge of an enterprise’s network. Also referred to as fogging, fog networking, and sometimes Edge Computing (see below for a separate definition), it’s essentially a decentralised computing infrastructure which distributes data in the most efficient way between the end devices and cloud-computing data centres. The amount of data sent to the cloud is reduced. The goal? To decrease the risk of data latency, and to allow rapid access. You’ll see this network term frequently used in conversations about the rise of the Software Defined Network (SDN) and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Cloud

One of the most widely-used network terms, the cloud itself is a communications network used with cloud computing, as above. IT resources are made available remotely via a network connection, which often involves accessing data centres over a Wide Area Network (WAN) or the Internet. Increasingly, IT resources are being made available in the cloud. Products like Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and even Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) are gaining traction as they offer rapid, reliable, on-demand and scalable support to businesses. There are public, private and hybrid clouds.

VNF vs NFV

One is Virtual Network Functions, the other is Network Functions Virtualisation. At first glance, these two terms may seem interchangeable, and indeed, some IT professionals use them as such – causing widespread confusion. While the meanings are related, there are some important differences between them. Network functions are components of network infrastructure which are typically physical devices in the form of hardware. For example, a router or firewall. VNF replaces these devices with software, giving business networks an efficiency boost (and saving money). NFV, on the other hand, refers to the overarching concept of virtualisation; the push from the telecom industry for the virtualisation of networks (and the punting of Software-Defined Networking – SDN). VNF is a building block within the bigger picture of overall NFV.

Edge computing

Like the network terms above, edge computing and fog computing are often used to mean the same thing. However, while similar, they’re not identical. Where fog computing pushes processing and intelligence capabilities down from the cloud to the Local Area Network (LAN) level of an enterprise network, edge computing pushes them down into network devices such as  Programmable Automation Controllers (PACs). That way, rather than having a massive central server for processing, each device on the network is able to play its role, independently, in data processing. This takes intelligence to the literal edge of the network and reduces the number of potential points of failure.

Open ecosystem

This refers to the new type of networking environment that is emerging in response to the rise of SDN and NFV. Instead of a closed system, where legacy providers control every function and process, it’s a flexible setup: different aspects can be powered by different providers. For example, SD-WAN solutions that are network transport agnostic promote open ecosystems, and provide enterprise networks with the benefits of cost savings and improved performance .

OpenStack

This is a combination of open source tools that use virtual resources to build and manage public and private clouds. It’s essentially a cloud OS that controls computer, storage and networking resources through a data centre, and it’s managed through a simple dashboard. Users can quickly and easily provision resources via a web interface. You can read more about the wonders of OpenStack here.

OpenFlow

Also called OF, this is considered to be an enabler of SDN as one of its first standards. It allows network controllers, as separate entities, to interact directly with network devices such as switches and routers (both physical and virtual), for improved agility. This translates to more sophisticated traffic management, and means that switches from different vendors can be handled remotely using a single, open protocol.

Orchestration vs automation

Here we have yet another instance of “similar yet different” and “building blocks vs bigger picture”. Where automation is concerned with a single task (for example, configuring a server or halting a service), orchestration seeks to automate an entire process. Orchestration is about streamlining, or optimising, processes – and automation of individual tasks is an important part of that. Orchestration typically requires a higher level of input from the network administrator.

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