As computing technology evolved and the concept of linking multiple computers together into a “network” that could share data came into being, it was clear that a model was needed to define and enable those connections. Enter the OSI model in computer network idea.
This model allows various devices and software to “communicate” with one another by creating a set of universal rules and functions. Let’s dig into what the model entails.
History of the OSI Model
In the late 1970s, the continued development of computerized technology saw many companies start to introduce their own systems. These systems stood alone from others. For example, a computer at Retailer A has no way to communicate with a computer at Retailer B, with neither computer being able to communicate with the various vendors and other organizations within the retail supply chain.
Clearly, some way of connecting these standalone systems was needed, leading to researchers from France, the U.S., and the U.K. splitting into two groups – The International Organization for Standardization and the International Telegraph and Telephone Consultive Committee.
In 1983, these two groups merged their work to create “The Basic Reference Model for Open Systems Interconnection (OSI).” This model established industry standards for communication between networked devices, though the path to OSI’s implementation wasn’t as clear as it could have been. The 1980s and 1990s saw the introduction of another model – The TCP IP model – which competed against the OSI model for supremacy. TCP/IP gained so much traction that it became the cornerstone model for the then-budding internet, leading to the OSI model in computer network applications falling out of favor in many sectors. Despite this, the OSI model is still a valuable reference point for students who want to learn more about networking and still have some practical uses in industry.
The OSI Reference Model
The OSI model works by splitting the concept of computers communicating with one another into seven computer network layers (defined below), each offering standardized rules for its specific function. During the rise of the OSI model, these layers worked in concert, allowing systems to communicate as long as they followed the rules.
Though the OSI model in computer network applications has fallen out of favor on a practical level, it still offers several benefits:
- The OSI model is perfect for teaching network architecture because it defines how computers communicate.
- OSI is a layered model, with separation between each layer, so one layer doesn’t affect the operation of any other.
- The OSI model offers flexibility because of the distinctions it makes between layers, with users being able to replace protocols in any layer without worrying about how they’ll impact the other layers.
The 7 Layers of the OSI Model
The OSI reference model in computer network teaching is a lot like an onion. It has several layers, each standing alone but each needing to be peeled back to get a result. But where peeling back the layers of an onion gets you a tasty ingredient or treat, peeling them back in the OSI model delivers a better understanding of networking and the protocols that lie behind it.
Each of these seven layers serves a different function.
Layer 1: Physical Layer
Sitting at the lowest level of the OSI model, the physical layer is all about the hows and wherefores of transmitting electrical signals from one device to another. Think of it as the protocols needed for the pins, cables, voltages, and every other component of a physical device if said device wants to communicate with another that uses the OSI model.
Layer 2: Data Link Layer
With the physical layer in place, the challenge shifts to transmitting data between devices. The data layer defines how node-to-node transfer occurs, allowing for the packaging of data into “frames” and the correction of errors that may happen in the physical layer.
The data layer has two “sub-layers” of its own:
- MAC – Media Access Controls that offer multiplexing and flow control to govern a device’s transmissions over an OSI network.
- LLC – Logical Link Controls that offer error control over the physical media (i.e., the devices) used to transmit data across a connection.
Layer 3: Network Layer
The network layer is like an intermediary between devices, as it accepts “frames” from the data layer and sends them on their way to their intended destination. Think of this layer as the postal service of the OSI model in computer network applications.
Layer 4: Transport Layer
If the network layer is a delivery person, the transport layer is the van that the delivery person uses to carry their parcels (i.e., data packets) between addresses. This layer regulates the sequencing, sizing, and transferring of data between hosts and systems. TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) is a good example of a transport layer in practical applications.
Layer 5: Session Layer
When one device wants to communicate with another, it sets up a “session” in which the communication takes place, similar to how your boss may schedule a meeting with you when they want to talk. The session layer regulates how the connections between machines are set up and managed, in addition to providing authorization controls to ensure no unwanted devices can interrupt or “listen in” on the session.
Layer 6: Presentation Layer
Presentation matters when sending data from one system to another. The presentation layer “pretties up” data by formatting and translating it into a syntax that the recipient’s application accepts. Encryption and decryption is a perfect example, as a data packet can be encrypted to be unreadable to anybody who intercepts it, only to be decrypted via the presentation layer so the intended recipient can see what the data packet contains.
Layer 7: Application Layer
The application layer is a front end through which the end user can interact with everything that’s going on behind the scenes in the network. It’s usually a piece of software that puts a user-friendly face on a network. For instance, the Google Chrome web browser is an application layer for the entire network of connections that make up the internet.
Interactions Between OSI Layers
Though each of the OSI layers in computer networks is independent (lending to the flexibility mentioned earlier), they must also interact with one another to make the network functional.
We see this most obviously in the data encapsulation and de-encapsulation that occurs in the model. Encapsulation is the process of adding information to a data packet as it travels, with de-encapsulation being the method used to remove that data added data so the end user can read what was originally sent. The previously mentioned encryption and decryption of data is a good example.
That process of encapsulation and de-encapsulation defines how the OSI model works. Each layer adds its own little “flavor” to the transmitted data packet, with each subsequent layer either adding something new or de-encapsulating something previously added so it can read the data. Each of these additions and subtractions is governed by the protocols set within each layer. A perfect network can only exist if these protocols properly govern data transmission, allowing for communication between each layer.
Real-World Applications of the OSI Model
There’s a reason why the OSI model in computer network study is often called a “reference” model – though important, it was quickly replaced with other models. As a result, you’ll rarely see the OSI model used as a way to connect devices, with TCP/IP being far more popular. Still, there are several practical applications for the OSI model.
Network Troubleshooting and Diagnostics
Given that some modern computer networks are unfathomably complex, picking out a single error that messes up the whole communication process can feel like navigating a minefield. Every wrong step causes something else to blow up, leading to more problems than you solve. The OSI model’s layered approach offers a way to break down the different aspects of a network to make it easier to identify problems.
Network Design and Implementation
Though the OSI model has few practical purposes, as a theoretical model it’s often seen as the basis for all networking concepts that came after. That makes it an ideal teaching tool for showcasing how networks are designed and implemented. Some even refer to the model when creating networks using other models, with the layered approach helping understand complex networks.
Enhancing Network Security
The concept of encapsulation and de-encapsulation comes to the fore again here (remember – encryption), as this concept shows us that it’s dangerous to allow a data packet to move through a network with no interactions. The OSI model shows how altering that packet as it goes on its journey makes it easier to protect data from unwanted eyes.
Limitations and Criticisms of the OSI Model
Despite its many uses as a teaching tool, the OSI model in computer network has limitations that are the reasons why it sees few practical applications:
- Complexity – As valuable as the layered approach may be to teaching networks, it’s often too complex to execute in practice.
- Overlap – The very flexibility that makes OSI great for people who want more control over their networks can come back to bite the model. The failure to implement proper controls and protocols can lead to overlap, as can the layered approach itself. Each of the computer network layers needs the others to work.
- The Existence of Alternatives – The OSI model walked so other models could run, establishing many fundamental networking concepts that other models executed better in practical terms. Again, the massive network known as the internet is a great example, as it uses the TCP/IP model to reduce complexity and more effectively transmit data.
Use the OSI Reference Model in Computer Network Applications
Though it has little practical application in today’s world, the OSI model in computer network terms is a theoretical model that played a crucial role in establishing many of the “rules” of networking still used today. Its importance is still recognized by the fact that many computing courses use the OSI model to teach the fundamentals of networks.
Think of learning about the OSI model as being similar to laying the foundations for a house. You’ll get to grips with the basic concepts of how networks work, allowing you to build up your knowledge by incorporating both current networking technology and future advancements to become a networking specialist.
Soon, we will be launching four new Degrees for AY24-25 at OPIT – Open Institute of Technology
I want to offer a behind-the-scenes look at the Product Definition process that has shaped these upcoming programs.
🚀 Phase 1: Discovery (Late May – End of July)
Our journey began with intensive brainstorming sessions with OPIT’s Academic Board (Francesco Profumo, Lorenzo Livi, Alexiei Dingli, Andrea Pescino, Rosario Maccarrone) . We also conducted 50+ interviews with tech and digital entrepreneurs (both from startups and established firms), academics and students. Finally, we deep-dived into the “Future of Jobs 2023” report by the World Economic Forum and other valuable research.
🔍 Phase 2: Selection – Crafting Our Roadmap (July – August)
Our focus? Introducing new degrees addressing critical workforce shortages and upskilling/reskilling needs for the next 5-10 years, promising significant societal impact and a broad market reach.
Our decision? To channel our energies on full BScs and MScs, and steer away from shorter courses or corporate-focused offerings. This aligns perfectly with our core mission.
💡 Focus Areas Unveiled!
We’re thrilled to concentrate on pivotal fields like:
- Advanced AI
- Digital Business
- Metaverse & Gaming
- Cloud Computing (less “glamorous”, but market demand is undeniable).
🎓 Phase 3: Definition – Shaping the Degrees (August – November)
With an expert in each of the above fields, and with the strong collaboration of our Academic Director, Prof. Lorenzo Livi , we embarked on a rigorous “drill-down process”. Our goal? To meld modern theoretical knowledge with cutting-edge competencies and skills. This phase included interviewing over 60+ top academics, industry professionals, and students and get valuable, program-specific, insights from our Marketing department.
🌟 Phase 4: Accreditation and Launch – The Final Stretch
We’re currently in the accreditation process, gearing up for the launch. The focus is now shifting towards marketing, working closely with Greta Maiocchi and her Marketing and Admissions team. Together, we’re translating our new academic offering into a compelling value proposition for the market.
Stay tuned for more updates!
Far from being a temporary educational measure that came into its own during the pandemic, online education is providing students from all over the world with new ways to learn. That’s proven by statistics from Oxford Learning College, which point out that over 100 million students are now enrolled in some form of online course.
The demand for these types of courses clearly exists.
In fact, the same organization indicates that educational facilities that introduce online learning see a 42% increase in income – on average – suggesting that the demand is there.
Enter the Open Institute of Technology (OPIT).
Delivering three online courses – a Bachelor’s degree in computer science and two Master’s degrees – with more to come, OPIT is positioning itself as a leader in the online education space. But why is that? After all, many institutions are making the jump to e-learning, so what separates OPIT from the pack?
Here, you’ll discover the answers as you delve into the five reasons why you should trust OPIT for your online education.
Reason 1 – A Practical Approach
OPIT focuses on computer science education – a field in which theory often dominates the educational landscape. The organization’s Rector, Professor Francesco Profumo, makes this clear in a press release from June 2023. He points to a misalignment between what educators are teaching computer science students and what the labor market actually needs from those students as a key problem.
“The starting point is the awareness of the misalignment,” he says when talking about how OPIT structures its online courses. “That so-called mismatch is generated by too much theory and too little practical approach.” In other words, students in many classes spend far too much time learning the “hows” and “whys” behind computerized systems without actually getting their hands dirty with real work that gives them practical experience in using those systems.
OPIT takes a different approach.
It has developed a didactic approach that focuses far more on the practical element than other courses. That approach is delivered through a combination of classroom sessions – such as live lessons and masterclasses – and practical work offered through quizzes and exercises that mimic real-world situations.
An OPIT student doesn’t simply learn how computers work. They put their skills into practice through direct programming and application, equipping them with skills that are extremely attractive to major employers in the tech field and beyond.
Reason 2 – Flexibility Combined With Support
Flexibility in how you study is one of the main benefits of any online course.
You control when you learn and how you do it, creating an environment that’s beneficial to your education rather than being forced into a classroom setting with which you may not feel comfortable. This is hardly new ground. Any online educational platform can claim that it offers “flexibility” simply because it provides courses via the web.
Where OPIT differs is that it combines that flexibility with unparalleled support bolstered by the experiences of teachers employed from all over the world. The founder and director of OPIT, Riccardo Ocleppo, sheds more light on this difference in approach when he says, “We believe that education, even if it takes place physically at a distance, must guarantee closeness on all other aspects.” That closeness starts with the support offered to students throughout their entire study period.
Tutors are accessible to students at all times. Plus, every participant benefits from weekly professor interactions, ensuring they aren’t left feeling stuck on an educational “island” and have to rely solely on themselves for their education. OPIT further counters the potential isolation that comes with online learning with a Student Support team to guide students through any difficulties they may have with their courses.
In this focus on support, OPIT showcases one of its main differences from other online platforms.
You don’t simply receive course material before being told to “get on with it.” You have the flexibility to learn at your own pace while also having a support structure that serves as a foundation for that learning.
Reason 3 – OPIT Can Adapt to Change Quickly
The field of computer science is constantly evolving.
In the 2020s alone, we’ve seen the rise of generative AI – spurred on by the explosive success of services like ChatGPT – and how those new technologies have changed the way that people use computers.
Riccardo Ocleppo has seen the impact that these constant evolutions have had on students. Before founding OPIT, he was an entrepreneur who received first-hand experience of the fact that many traditional educational institutions struggle to adapt to change.
“Traditional educational institutions are very slow to adapt to this wave of new technologies and trends within the educational sector,” he says. He points to computer science as a particular issue, highlighting the example of a board in Italy of which he is a member. That board – packed with some of the country’s most prestigious tech universities – spent three years eventually deciding to add just two modules on new and emerging technologies to their study programs.
That left Ocleppo feeling frustrated.
When he founded OPIT, he did so intending to make it an adaptable institution in which courses were informed by what the industry needs. Every member of its faculty is not only a superb teacher but also somebody with experience working in industry. Speaking of industry, OPIT collaborates with major companies in the tech field to ensure its courses deliver the skills that those organizations expect from new candidates.
This confronts frustration on both sides. For companies, an OPIT graduate is one for which they don’t need to bridge a “skill gap” between what they’ve learned and what the company needs. For you, as a student, it means that you’re developing skills that make you a more desirable prospect once you have your degree.
Reason 4 – OPIT Delivers Tier One Education
Despite their popularity, online courses can still carry a stigma of not being “legitimate” in the face of more traditional degrees. Ocleppo is acutely aware of this fact, which is why he’s quick to point out that OPIT always aims to deliver a Tier One education in the computer science field.
“That means putting together the best professors who create superb learning material, all brought together with a teaching methodology that leverages the advancements made in online teaching,” he says.
OPIT’s degrees are all accredited by the European Union to support this approach, ensuring they carry as much weight as any other European degree. It’s accredited by both the European Qualification Framework (EQF) and the Malta Qualification Framework (MQF), with all of its courses having full legal value throughout Europe.
It’s also here where we see OPIT’s approach to practicality come into play via its course structuring.
Take its Bachelor’s degree in computer science as an example.
Yes, that course starts with a focus on theoretical and foundational knowledge. Building a computer and understanding how the device processes instructions is vital information from a programming perspective. But once those foundations are in place, OPIT delivers on its promises of covering the most current topics in the field.
Machine learning, cloud computing, data science, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity – all valuable to employers – are taught at the undergraduate level. Students benefit from a broader approach to computer science than most institutions are capable of, rather than bogging them down in theory that serves little practical purpose.
Reason 5 – The Learning Experience
Let’s wrap up by honing in on what it’s actually like for students to learn with OPIT.
After all, as Ocleppo points out, one of the main challenges with online education is that students rarely have defined checkpoints to follow. They can start feeling lost in the process, confronted with a metaphorical ocean of information they need to learn, all in service of one big exam at the end.
Alternatively, some students may feel the temptation to not work through the materials thoroughly, focusing instead on passing a final exam. The result is that those students may pass, but they do so without a full grasp of what they’ve learned – a nightmare for employers who already have skill gaps to handle.
OPIT confronts both challenges by focusing on a continuous learning methodology. Assessments – primarily practical – take place throughout the course, serving as much-needed checkpoints for evaluating progress. When combined with the previously mentioned support that OPIT offers, this approach has led to courses that are created from scratch in service of the student’s actual needs.
Choose OPIT for Your Computer Science Education
At OPIT, the focus lies as much on helping students to achieve their dream careers as it does on teaching them. All courses are built collaboratively. With a dedicated faculty combined with major industry players, such as Google and Microsoft, it delivers materials that bridge the skill gap seen in the computer science field today.
There’s also more to come.
Beyond the three degrees OPIT offers, the institution plans to add more. Game development, data science, and cloud computing, to name a few, will receive dedicated degrees in the coming months, accentuating OPIT’s dedication to adapting to the continuous evolution of the computer science industry. Discover OPIT today – your journey into computing starts with the best online education institution available.