Wizard Talk For People Who Don’t Know How To Computer #1

by Aly Clayton and Brian Pedersen

This post was crying out for an animated .gif, and this is what we found. Thanks Susan Eisenberg and your wordpress.com site!

I work at a technology company but I only have a very vague idea of what a server does. As a Service Coordinator, my job is typically about communication, organization, and quick responses – so I don’t usually need to have an in-depth knowledge of firewalls or backup solutions or whatever-the-heck-MPLS-is – but sometimes it’d be helpful to understand more.

When my own stuff breaks, I usually just stare at it blankly for a while and then go find one of these guys to work their technology magic and make it work again. They’ve been trying to educate me a little, but sometimes they get carried away and suddenly the words coming out of their mouths just sound like tech jargon and gibberish.

As the team tries to teach me, we’ve found that I have a much easier time understanding if things are explained with metaphors about neighborhoods – and apparently networks and neighborhoods have a lot in common!

Here’s one exchange Brian and I had, as an example:

Aly: Okay, wait, what’s email backpressure?

Brian: The term is used analogously to describe the build-up of data behind an I/O switch if the buffers are full and incapable of receiving any more data; the transmitting device halts the sending of data packets until the buffers have been emptied and are once more capable of storing information.

Aly: Whoa. Whoa. Calm down, Tech Wizard. You lost me at I/O switch. Can you explain it to me using houses as an example?

Brian: Nope. But I can explain it using a post office.

Aly: Perfect. Go.

Brian: Let’s first start out by thinking that your email server is a post office. It receives emails from the local community (your users) and sends them to other post offices (other email servers) as well as the other way around. Now let’s say that the amount of mail the post office can send/receive is based on how many people you have working (CPUs) and how much mail you can store in the post office warehouse at one time (Disk Space).

Backpressure is when the post office is running out of warehouse space or the people are overloaded with tasks to do that you can’t accept any more mail at this time. So the first thing that it will do is cut itself off from the other post offices so that it can still let the local community send mail to each other. If the warehouse fills up more and the people are still overworked then the post office will shut down completely. To resolve Backpressure we normally need to free up space in the warehouse for more mail.

To help prevent backpressure it is a good idea to clean out your inbox from time to time as the warehouse stores all of the mail that you haven’t archived or deleted in your outlook.


So now I understand a little more and hopefully – if you’re like me and your eyes immediately glaze over at the mention of Exchange servers or PTPP – you understand more, too!

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