Most networks are a combination of hardware and software from a variety of vendors. This ability to combine the products manufactured by different vendors is made possible by the existence of industry standards.
Standards are guidelines that vendors adhere to voluntarily in order to make their products compatible with products from other vendors. In general those standards address:
More specifically, the standards define physical and operational characteristics of:
For example, standards make it possible to buy a network interface card manufactured by one vendor for a computer manufactured by another vendor with reasonable assurance that the card will:
When a vendor subscribes to a set of standards, it means that the vendor is agreeing to make equipment that conforms to the specifications of the standard.
Standards have, in fact, been responsible for the success and growth of both the computer and networking products industries.