Unit 2 Lesson 2 - Difference Between Computing System and Computing Network

One of my students asked me for a practical example or real world application of the difference between a computing system and a computing network. I struggled to do that in a way that would help him to understand.

I would appreciate your ideas!

@mbrunner An example of a computing system would be a group of computers in a science lab using algorithms to process complex problems. Or a group of computers used to process weather data.
An example of a network would be all the connected computers in a school building or office that share information.

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That was very helpful. Thank you!

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Hm, interesting. I never really thought about the difference.

So the difference between the two is primarily the task/purpose? As in, if you got a computer network to all share a specific task (ex: process weather data), then it becomes a computer system? My guess is there’s probably hardware/software things that help optimize a computer system/network for its purpose, but purely definition-wise, that’s the difference?

(Ok I decided to look at the actual lesson lol)

Ok now I’m a little confused because I feel like a computing system is a type of computer network (as in, it’s a subset of computer network), but the standard defines it as the opposite.


In olden times there was one and only one computer. Those days are gone. Even a simple website will most likely be on several computers working together.

What they are getting at with this lesson is this new idea that a task is often backed up by several computers working together. Think about cloud based computing. My own websites are on a single server, but is that server a real physical box? No, it is virtual. Several computers working together give me the illusion that I have a box sitting somewhere that is all mine. But it is actually a computing system.

A network is what we have all come to know. A bunch of computers that can communicate.

So which is a subset of which? I would say the computing system is a subset of computer network. Having said that it may not be a proper subset. Meaning I might set up a network of computers to run my email system and that entire network is also the system. And having said that I could have the components of a computing system spread across the globe. Think about SETI@home.

On the other hand one could argue that the vast majority of computers in the world form a single computer network. So any computing system is a proper subset of that single network.

Consider also that what we used to think of as a single computer often comes several to a box now. A single box with a high speed bus connecting individual computers into a single computer. Isn’t that really a computing system? Does the high speed bus also make it a computer network all by itself? Does it matter that the bus doesn’t run TCP/IP?

We perceive this as complex and nuanced because we are on the cusp of a huge change in how we talk about computations. We are confused by the idea that a computer is a physical box when most often it isn’t anymore.

Excuse me for bringing current events in. Remember that whole Clinton server is in Ukraine claim? Probably not true because it is unlikely there was a single physical box you could put in the trunk of your car and drive away with it. But many people found it to be reasonable based on older ideas of what a computer is.

It is okay to be confused because even us professionals can find it hard to categorically name things.

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Thanks so much for this!

Sounds like the standard about one being a subset of another may be oversimplifying. That’s ok as long as there’s no multiple choice exam question that does the same. :joy:

In the real world I have never heard anyone say computing system. There are servers.

So we might talk about the database servers or the email servers. We could say website servers knowing that that includes the subsets of front end servers, back end servers, database servers, and a load balancer or two. One physical computer box could even have more than one server running on it depending on load.

Virtual servers keeps the entire system from crashing when a single virtual server crashes. The physical computers are unlikely to crash. In times of high load you can spawn more instances of a certain type of virtual server to increase capacity.

This idea of several computers providing a computation service is the future. I am happy to see the curriculum changing to embrace it.