The structure of any network directly has an impact on its functioning. Consider a metaphor for a transportation network (roads, highways, railroads). If any of these links were to go down unexpectedly, the capacity to deliver food, clothing, and goods would be severely hampered to its "end users" (its residents).
Similarly, considering the networks in business, it is safe to say that they are extremely crucial.
System administrators need network management tools to keep tabs on a large organization's network devices, and network topology is a valuable tool for this purpose. But what is it? How does topology work in a network? How can businesses harness it for better network management?
Let’s find out!
What is network topology?
Network topology is the physical and analytical arrangement of nodes and links in a network, often represented in the form of a diagram or a map.
Network topologies define the layout of networks and the relative placement of traffic flows. Using network topology diagrams, admins can efficiently place each node for successful data transmission.
The network's architecture significantly impacts its ability to perform its intended functions, maintain connectivity, and prevent outages. The question, “What is network topology?” may be addressed with an understanding of the two groups in the network topology.
Physical: The physical network topology refers to the connections (wires, cables, etc.) of the network's construction. The physical network is concerned with setup, maintenance, and deployment.
Logical: The logical network topology is an overarching understanding of the network construction, including which nodes are connected and how data is transmitted across the network. The topology of a logical network includes physical, virtual, and cloud components.
Effective IoT security, network monitoring, and management require a solid understanding of both the physical and logical topology of a network to ensure that a network is efficient and reliable.
Why is network topology important?
The performance of a network is significantly affected by its topology. A well-chosen and regularly maintained network topology improves performance metrics such as energy efficiency and data transfer rates.
A network topology diagram is a visual representation and interactive tool for network architecture and design. These illustrations are essential for several reasons, but most importantly, for their ability to visualize physical and logical layouts so administrators can identify connections between devices when troubleshooting.
The type of network topology depends on the network construction. Several network configurations are available, each with advantages and disadvantages; some are more optimal than others under certain conditions.
Types of network topology
Building a local area network (LAN) topology can make or break a business. Whatever your network's scope and goals, you can choose from various network topologies, each with advantages and disadvantages.
1. Star topology
The most common is the star topology, where every node is directly linked to a single central hub via coaxial, twisted-pair, or fiber-optic cable. This central node is a server. It controls data transmission and works as a repeater to minimize data loss. Repeaters are computer network components that regenerate or amplify inbound signals before retransmitting them.
Pros of star topology: Star topologies make managing an entire network convenient from a single location. It’s a robust and secure network design since each node is individually connected to the central hub; if one fails, the rest of the network continues operating as usual. You can also add, delete, and modify devices without taking the network offline.
Cons of star topology: If the central hub fails, the rest of the network stops working. The configurations and technical specifications of the central node limit the bandwidth and performance of the network as a whole. This makes star topologies expensive to set up and run.
2. Ring topology
Nodes in ring topology are set up in a circle (or a ring). The data can move through the ring network in either direction since each device has exactly two neighbors.
Pros of ring topology: Ring topologies are usually cost-effective and easy to set up. The complex point-to-point connections between the nodes make identifying flaws or wrong configurations easy. Additionally, only one station on the network can send data at a time. This lowers the chance of packet collisions and makes ring topologies efficient at errorless data transmissions.
Cons of ring topology: Since data can only move in one direction between nodes on each ring, it takes the whole network if one node goes down. Further, the whole network has to be taken offline if you want to change how it works or add or remove nodes. And while that's not the end of the world, planning network downtime can be laborious and expensive.
3. Mesh topology
A mesh network is a complex structure comprising point-to-point connections where the nodes meet. Mesh networks can be either full or partial. In partial mesh, the nodes only have two or three connections, while in an entire mesh topology, all nodes are interconnected.
Mesh topologies look like a web; they have two ways to send data: routing and flooding. When data is routed, the nodes use logic to find the shortest path from the source to the destination. When data is flooded, the information is sent to all nodes in the network without using logic for routing.
Pros of mesh topology: Mesh topologies are dependable and stable. The network is less likely to fail because of all the node connections. For instance, if one device goes down, it can't take the whole network down.
Cons of mesh topology: Mesh topologies require a huge amount of work. Once deployed, each link between nodes needs a cable and configuration, which takes time to set up. As with other topologies, cabling costs add up quickly, and it would be an understatement to say that mesh networks need a lot of cabling!
4. Bus topology
In a bus topology, all the devices on a network are set up along a single cable that runs from one end of the network to the other. This is often called a "line topology" or "backbone topology". The direction of data flow on the network is the same as the direction of the cable.
Pros of bus topology: Bus topologies are a valuable and inexpensive option for smaller networks because they have a simple layout that lets all devices connect with a single coaxial or RJ45 cable. Adding more nodes by connecting cables is easy if more nodes are needed.
Cons of star topology: Unfortunately, they’re less safe than other topologies because they only use one cable to send data. If the cable breaks, the whole network is gone. It can take a long time and a lot of money to fix.
5. Tree topology
As the name suggests, the core node serves as a network trunk in a tree topology, and other nodes radiate outward in a branch-like pattern. The tree topology is a combination of both the bus and star topologies. A tree topology features a parent-child arrangement with its nodes. Two linked nodes only share one mutual connection because the ones attached to the central hub are linked linearly to other nodes.
Wide area networks frequently employ the tree topology structure to accommodate numerous dispersed devices.
Pros of tree topology: Combining components of the star and bus topologies makes it easy to add nodes and make the network bigger. It's also simple to figure out what's wrong with the network because admins can test each branch for performance problems on its own.
Cons of tree topology: The health of the root node affects the whole network in a tree topology. If the central hub fails, the connections between the node branches break, but the connections between branch systems stay the same. Furthermore, when you add more nodes to a tree topology, it can quickly become hard to manage and cost a lot of money to do so. This is because the network layout is hierarchical and linear.
Hybrid network topologies
Hybrid topologies integrate two or more different topological structures. For example, the tree topology combines the bus and star patterns. Hybrid architectures are most popular in organizations where each department has a network topology according to their demands and network consumption.
The fundamental benefit of hybrid architectures is their flexibility, as there are few network construction limits that a hybrid configuration cannot support.
Mapping network topologies
Topology diagrams are helpful when you’re beginning to design a network. They let you observe how the information will travel, allowing you to forecast possible bottlenecks. Visual representation facilitates the creation of an efficient network design while also serving as a helpful reference point for troubleshooting.
A topology diagram teaches you about your own network's operation. It can help you see which equipment or nodes require monitoring, updating, or replacement.
Example of real-time network mapping and inventory Image source: Auvik
This process should begin with a list of all network devices. This list includes routers, firewalls, and servers. You should then determine the network topology, which will aid in drawing the network topology diagram. It is vital to ensure that the devices are positioned in the regions that make the most sense for data exchange, after which lines can be drawn from the network devices. These lines are a representation of the connections between the network nodes.
Tip: Try to keep the diagram simple and easy to understand. Avoid having too many lines crossing each other. When designing the diagram, pay attention to scalability and possible adjustments.
After creating a preliminary sketch of the overall input, we can use diagramming tools to help visualize it. A template for a network diagram may be included in the software. The network nodes can be labeled, and the lines can be color-coded for a clear diagram.
Benefits of mapping network topology
A well-defined network topology makes it easier for network administrators to enhance planning, troubleshoot issues, strengthen security, and allocate network resources.
Improved planning: Network topology offers a thorough insight into utilization patterns for all network components. You can add or delete additional assets based on whether specific assets are used too much or too little.
Visibility for troubleshooting: Users can understand their networks by mapping the physical and logical networks. A physical network map displays connections between equipment, including cables, servers, racks, and routers. A logical network shows data flow points such as switches, routers, firewalls, and gateways. This aids in accurately pinpointing the location of the problem by helping users visualize the physical and logical components of their network architecture.
Streamlining security enhancement: Real-time network mapping allows users to discover erroneous or suspicious connections and block them from the network.
Challenges of network mapping
With all its benefits, developing and maintaining network maps isn't as simple as it seems. It involves labor-intensive manual work, ongoing network probing, and regular status reports. Businesses often face hurdles while developing effective network topology maps.
How to update network changes consistently. Because most networks are dynamic, your network map should also evolve with your network. Only updated network maps are helpful for their intended purposes, whereas obsolete ones can be misleading.
How to gain access and insight over many network maps. Network administrators use various maps and mapping methods to cover their networks completely. They have to jump between many tools and solutions to build, examine, and alter these maps, which is time-consuming and inefficient.
How to keep up with new technologies. Network administrators should ensure their tools are regularly updated and patched to support new technologies and reduce the risks of emerging network vulnerabilities, even when using effective network automation software.
How to choose the best network topology
No network topology is perfect or even fundamentally better than others. You’ll determine the best structure for your organization by considering the demands and scale of your network. These are the main factors to consider.
Length of cable: The more cable used in network topology, the more labor it requires for its setup.
Type of cable: Choose the cable based on the demands of your company’s network, such as the applications, transmission distance, and desired performance. For example, the cost of twisted-pair cables is lower than that of coaxial cables, but the former has less bandwidth. Fiber-optic cables work well and send data faster than twisted-pair or coaxial cables. However, they’re usually much more expensive to install.
Cost expenditures: Given that more complex network topologies require more time and resources, the installation cost is an important consideration.
Scalability: Using an easily adaptable network topology initially will save you time and trouble if you plan to grow your network and business.
Network topology tools and software
The need to invest in network management tools with visualization features is growing as more and more network devices are added to a company's assets. Different tools are available, like setup and administration tools, network performance software, and network mapping software.
For instance, network configuration software automates repetitive activities. This tech can automatically discover network nodes, highlight risks, and frequently contribute to creating complex network topologies.
Depending on specific company objectives, finding more straightforward software might be challenging, given the abundance of such solutions on the market. Below is the list of buyers looking for top-notch network management software.
*Above are the five leading network management software solutions from G2’s Spring 2023 Grid® Report.
Your network is your net worth
Your network topology maps must be closely aligned with the consumption needs of your network as a company. Configuration management, visual mapping, and general performance monitoring are essential components of topology management. The primary goal is understanding your objectives to properly develop and maintain your organization's network architecture.
With a well-defined and well-planned network topology, your company can quickly identify and troubleshoot problems, improving the effectiveness of data transmission and transport.
Samudyata Bhat is a Content Marketing Specialist at G2. With a Master's degree in digital marketing, she currently specializes her content around SaaS, hybrid cloud, network management, and IT infrastructure. She aspires to connect with present-day trends through data-driven analysis and experimentation and create effective and meaningful content. In her spare time, she can be found exploring unique cafes and trying different types of coffee.
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