ExecuSpeak Dictionary: IP Address

PHILADELPHIA ( MainStreet) -- There is a reason the computer geek of any good detective show makes sure we know he's got the IP address. Without that essential bit of information, we're all in the dark as to the what, when and where of the (alleged) crook's Internet activity. "IP address" is shorthand for Internet Protocol address. It is the unique address of a computer, or other machine or gadget, on the Internet.

Every device linked up to the Net has its own identifying information. Just like there are no two identical phone numbers, no two identical Social Security numbers, no two identical snowflakes, there are no two identical IP addresses for any piece of equipment connected to the Internet. It's a bold statement, and a basic truth: if it's connected to the Internet, there's an IP address.

Who assigns these numbers? Well, there are two ways numbers get assigned: by people and by machines. The tech savvy would say: static or dynamic.

"Static" is the techie's way of saying some equipment numbers never change (static as in stationary, not moving, not changing ... nothing to do with noise on the line). Some equipment numbers change depending upon circumstances, and they call that "dynamic" (as in moving, changeable ... nothing to do with levels of enthusiasm). IP addresses assigned by an administrator -- a person -- are generally static, since people are not going to want to spend their day making and recording changes. Dynamic IP addresses are generally assigned by software, and the software is keeping the records. If a computer on a private network wants to go out to the Internet, the private network's software assigns that computer a temporary address so it can search and/or send and/or receive.

What about IP address conflict? If and when that happens, neither computer can get onto the Internet until the conflict is resolved.

What about the future? Rumor has it that refrigerators, alarm systems and thermostats will all be hooked up to communicate with grocery stores, homeowners and property managers. GE ( GE) has been testing smart refrigerators and microwaves for years now. Apple's ( AAPL) iPhones and iPads increased the rate of adoption of smartphones and tablets and pads. Honeywell ( HON) and others have thermostats that can be controlled remotely via the smartphones and computers.

As there are more and more devices connected to the Internet, are we in danger of running out of numbers? Theoretically? Yes, but fixes are ongoing. Instead of getting involved in a discussion of IPv4 (32 bits) versus the newer IPv6 (128 bits), though, the important thing to know is that the new system has IP addresses with more numbers and the people behind the curtain are working on it. Of course this is grossly simplified, but what's under discussion is IP address and not the technology itself.

Carol Heiberger is the author of ExecuSpeak Dictionary. Her industry experience includes positions with Ford, Bell Atlantic (now Verizon) and a large energy utility. Her clients have included government entities, not-for-profits and businesses of every size. She has served as the COO of a start-up CATV/ISP company, director of operations and as an adjunct assistant professor for an MBA program. Her volunteer work includes service as a SCORE business counselor and on the loan committee for a microlender. Her education includes an MBA from Wharton. ExecuSpeak Dictionary is the result of her experience in industry and consulting and teaching. She can be contacted at Carol@execuspeakdictionary.com.

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