How to tell the difference between IP Addresses, LANs and WANs

Networks are tough. I am a pretty visual person and it can be hard to visualize all the different IP addresses, VLANs, and subnets since they are all represented by a blue cable and black switches. Hopefully this little description will give you a way to conceptualize it better, for others, this might be old news.

Disclaimer – this is very boiled down. Network security and architecture is complex, this serves as a quick understanding of local networks and the internet.


IP Addresses

For simplicity, an IP (Internet Protocol) address represents a device. It can be “static” or dynamic (DHCP). A computer has an IP address, a printer has an IP address, a network switch has an IP address… and so on. Local network devices typically start with 192.168…(for the most part). 


LAN stands for Local Area Network. This is a type of network that is used to provide connectivity to computers locally. It allows for someone to access files or other machines on the network (think printing a document off of your home computer).

Imagine a building. To keep it simple, we will assume that on this network there are no subnets and all computers are connected to the Wi-Fi or a network cable. Every device has an IP address. There is one video server on this network. This server is doing the heavy lifting of recording and storing video footage from the cameras that are on the property. The video server has an IP address of

If all the computers are on the same LAN then they will be able to “talk with one another” without going out to the internet. In many cases, this is regarded as an “On-prem” solution. As a user, you could open up your web browser and type in the server’s IP address ( to pull up the footage. Assuming it has a web application, you would be able to see that server and the video it is processing. Pretty cool! 

Over the years, cloud applications have been taking the stage while On-prem solutions have been relegated. IT directors have moved their “on-prem” server to cloud hosted servers. We will communicate with those servers via the WAN (wide area network) also known as the internet. WANs are one way to connect multiple LANs to one another. 


WANs (wide area networks) connect LANs to one another. If you type into an internet browser, “” it will actually point you to an IP address on the internet. That IP address is represented with a name, known as a URL. It is an easy way to remember and search for servers on the WAN without needing to remember the IP address of each server. It also allows for security as well. Cloud based applications work using this method. The server still has an IP address; it just isn’t set up or hosted on another LAN. This of course is a very boiled down way of looking at LANs/WANs and how they relate to on-prem and cloud applications. Hopefully, this will give you a starting point to dig deeper into IP networking. 

It is a very large field of study that goes well beyond what we talk about here. If you would like to talk with our team about how access control will play a part in a network set up, don’t hesitate to call us. 

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