Tech Terms Explained: Modem, Router, Firewall


Technology can be confusing. You’re just trying to run your business, but sometimes it helps tremendously to know some of the tech terms that are being thrown about to help in troubleshooting what might be wrong. We’re thinking about adding this as a semi-regular feature to our newsletter and blog, so let us know what kinds of terms you want explained. This month, we explain the devices that get the internet safely and securely into your office: Your modem, router, and firewall.

Modem: This is the device that connects your internet service provider’s (ISP) unfiltered raw Internet connection to your office. Depending on the type of connection you have (Cable, DSL, Fiber, Wireless, etc…), this device will look different, but it will frequently have the name of the ISP stamped on it somewhere (TDS, GCI, ACS, Comcast, CenturyLink, etc…) and will have just a couple ports – one for your incoming Internet line and one that should be connected to your firewall/router. This device should be setup to bring the Internet into your building and do nothing else (as that will be the router and firewall’s job).

Router and Firewall: While technically speaking, routers and firewalls can be separate devices (and sometimes are in really large organizations), the functionality of both router and firewalls usually falls into a singular device – like a SonicWall firewall or other similar device. The router is the device that allows all the devices on your network to share the singular line provided by your ISP among all your office equipment. It makes sense to combine this functionality with your firewall in a singular device, as that then allows your firewall to filter and protect before the Internet traffic gets into your network at all. While technically you can connect your computer directly to your modem, it’s generally not a good idea as it leaves you with an unfiltered, unprotected connection to the internet – it’s best only done in testing and troubleshooting.

These devices rarely have to be touched one they’re all setup properly. However, when internet is down or excruciatingly slow, the “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” mantra is appropriate here and will fix it many times when the ISP says “It’s something on your end.” So start with the modem, pull the power plug to it, count to 10, plug it back in and count to 10. Then do the same thing with your router/firewall (power pull, 10 count, plug back in). Whatever you do, do not push any reset buttons or anything of the sort on the modem or router as that can cause much more trouble. If the power-cycle doesn’t fix things, give your ISP (or us) a call and make sure you’ve told them that you’ve power-cycled everything and it’s still not working.

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