Networking (and IT in general) is a rapidly developing technology, with new devices, concepts and features being developed practically every day. It’s easy to get confused by various terms, especially if you are new to the field or even new to a specific technology. When a new feature or technology is developed, the people who developed it naturally want to name it.
- They might pick a name that was used in some other, physical context,
like: Firewall, Secret Key, Handshake
- They might pick a name that distinguishes itself from an existing
technology, like: Virtual LAN (VLAN), Layer 3 Switch
- They might pick a term that conveys some concept of the technology,
like: Cloud Computing or Borderless Networking
- And finally, they might pick a term to be clever or as sort of a
joke: Bogon, Big-Endian/Little Endian
A few terms get defined in generally accepted standards documents, such as Internet Engineering Task Force’s (IETF) Request For Comments (RFC), or the Institute for Electronic and Electrical Engineering (IEEE). But many are invented by companies in order to better sell their products. They become “marketing terms,” whose definition can mean different things at different times. If the company is big enough, the term becomes accepted (I won't mention any particular one, but it rhymes with Cisco). Other companies, eager to capitalize on a new market, will use the same term in order to sell their products (e.g. “cloud-enabled”) even if they mean something different.
Eventually, there is general agreement on what terms mean. But when new terms are created, they can mean whatever the user wants it to mean. The term “cloud computing” is a good example. Everyone uses it, but there is no precise definition for it. The U.S. government tried to define it for their purposes, but also admitted “cloud computing can and does mean different things to different people.”
But with new terms being coined all the time, there are a lot of terms whose definition will remain “squishy” for some time. There is no definition police who make sure terms are used in the right way.
The bottom line is that many common terms we use in networking don’t have a precise meaning. When asking a question, it’s helpful to mention the context, that is, where the term was used so we can provide you with a helpful answer.