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Types of Network Topology: Explained

Created by Deepak Sharma in CCNA 25 May 2024
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Before we begin our discuss on different types of network topology in an IT infrastructure of an organization. It is better to understand the need of them with characteristics. 

Cisco has been providing such standards for many years now and they include everything related to network topology and types in their training and certification programs starting with Cisco Certified Network Associate level training. Network engineers build the network infrastructure from the scratch, it is essential for them to understand and having hands-on on the topology architectures.


Network topology can vary based on the specific requirements of an organization. Here are some of the parameters to consider while constructing  different types of topologies architectures.


Characteristics of Different Types of Network Topology

Scalability: It should be scalable to accommodate growth and changes in the network infrastructure. This includes adding new devices, expanding network capacity, and supporting increasing traffic demands.

Redundancy: Redundancy is crucial to ensure high availability and fault tolerance in the network. Architecture designs should include redundant links, devices, or paths to prevent single points of failure and minimize network downtime.

Performance: Network topology architectures should be designed to optimize network performance and minimize latency. This includes considering factors such as bandwidth requirements, traffic patterns, and minimizing bottlenecks in the network.

Flexibility: Network architectures should allow for flexibility in adding or removing devices, supporting different network services, and adapting to changing business needs. This can involve modular designs that can easily accommodate new technologies or service requirements.

Security: Security considerations are essential in network topology architectures. This can be implementing additional security devices in the network topology such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, etc. It protects organization's network from security attacks and unauthorized accesses. 

Cost-effectiveness: Network topology architectures should be cost-effective, taking into account the organization's budget and resources. This can involve optimizing network design to reduce hardware or cabling costs, utilizing virtualization or cloud-based services, and considering long-term operational expenses.

Manageability: Network architectures should be designed with manageability in mind. This includes centralized management and monitoring capabilities, automation features, and network visibility tools. This facilitates efficient network administration, troubleshooting, and maintenance.

Support for different applications: Network architectures should support various applications such as voice and video and other services required by the organization.  The architecture should provide appropriate network resources and quality of service (QoS) mechanisms to ensure optimal performance for different application requirements.

It's important to note that different type of network topology architectures have varying characteristics, and the choice of architecture depends on factors such as the organization's size, requirements, budget, and available technologies. Each architecture may prioritize certain characteristics more than others based on specific needs.

Here are the standard types of network topology architectures used in today's environment. 

1.2.a Two-tier Network Topology

Two-tier network topology is a flat or collapsed core design. It consists of two layers i.e., the access layer and the core layer. In the organizations where network is smaller, and scalability and complexity are not much concern generally adopt this type of architecture. Here is the topology of two-tier network topology for your reference.


Scenario: In a small office network, a two-tier topology may consist of access switches connecting end-user devices (such as computers and printers) in the access layer. These access switches are then connected to a core switch or router, which provides connectivity to other networks or the internet.

1.2.b Three-tier Network Topology

Three-tier network topology is a 3-layer architecture in which the network is divided into. 

 Access layer

 Distribution layer

 Core layer

It provides better scalability, flexibility, and network segmentation compared to a two-tier design. Here is the three-tier network topology diagram for your reference. 


Scenario: In an enterprise network, a three-tier topology may consist of access switches in the access layer connecting end-user devices. These access switches are then connected to distribution switches in the distribution layer, which provide connectivity between access switches and aggregate traffic. The distribution switches are further connected to core switches in the core layer, which handle high-speed backbone connections and connect to other networks.

1.2.c Spine-Leaf Network Topology

The Spine-leaf network topology, also referred to as leaf-spine or Clos architecture, is a highly scalable and high-performance design frequently employed in large data centers or cloud environments. It facilitates low-latency and non-blocking communication among devices, ensuring efficient and rapid data transmission. Here is the spine and leaf network topology for your reference.


Scenario: In a data center, a spine-leaf topology may consist of leaf switches in the access layer connecting servers or storage devices. These leaf switches are then connected to spine switches in the spine layer, which provide connectivity between leaf switches and facilitate east-west traffic. This design ensures that any device in the network can reach any other device with minimal latency.

1.2.d WAN Network Topology

WAN (Wide Area Network) topology refers to the network architecture used to interconnect geographically dispersed locations or branch offices. Here is the WAN topology in which branch offices, regional offices, remote offices and data centers are connected. There can be thousands of branches which are connected to the WAN infrastructure. 


Scenario: In a multi-site organization, a WAN topology may involve multiple branch offices connected to a central headquarters. Each branch office typically has its own local area network (LAN) connected to a router, which establishes a connection to the WAN. The WAN network can be implemented using technologies such as leased lines, MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching), VPN (Virtual Private Network), or SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide Area Network).

1.2.e Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) Network Topology

SOHO network topology is generally used in a small office or in a home office. Here is the typical SOHO network topology for your reference.


Scenario: In a home office setup, a SOHO topology may involve a single router or gateway device that connects to the internet service provider (ISP). The end user devices such as laptops, phones etc. can be connected to the router via wireless or desktop and servers can also be connected to the router through wired.

In local area network the arrangement of devices and connections forms the internal communication between the devices and how they connect to the outside network like internet or wide area network. This arrangement is known as a network topology. This arrangement of devices (network topologies) defines how devices are connected and how data flows within the network. Do you know there are several network topologies, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. In this blog, we'll unravel the mysteries of five prominent network topologies: Bus, Star, Ring, Mesh, and Hybrid.

Now let's discuss about these topologies one by one. 


1. Bus Topology

Imagine a long cable, resembling a bus route, with devices connected along its length. This is the essence of a bus topology. In a bus network, all devices share the same communication channel. Data travels along the cable, and each device checks if the data is intended for it. If so, it accepts the data; otherwise, it ignores it.

Let's understand this topology with easy example. 

Imagine a school bus with seats for students. In a similar fashion, the bus topology arranges devices, like computers or printers, in a linear fashion along a single cable. This cable acts as a communication pathway, much like the bus route.


Pros:

Simple to set up and cost-effective.

Well-suited for small networks with few devices.

Cons:

Limited scalability; adding more devices can degrade performance.

A single cable break can disrupt the entire network.


2. Star Topology

In a star topology, each device is connected directly to a central hub or switch. All communication between devices must go through this central point. It's like a hub-and-spoke model, with the hub being the focal point for data transmission.


Pros:

Easy to install, manage, and troubleshoot.

Isolates issues to individual connections; a failure in one device doesn't affect others.

Cons:

Dependence on the central hub; if it fails, the entire network goes down.

More cabling is required, making it costlier than bus topology.


3. Ring Topology

In a ring topology, each device is connected to exactly two other devices, forming a closed-loop or ring. Data circulates around the ring in one direction. When a device receives data, it processes it and passes it along to the next device until it reaches its destination.


Pros:

Even data distribution, as each device has an equal opportunity to transmit.

Simple and predictable data path.

Cons:

A break in the ring can disrupt the entire network.

Adding or removing devices can be complex.


4. Mesh Topology

Mesh topology is like a web of connections, where each device is connected to every other device. This creates redundancy and multiple paths for data to travel. Mesh networks can be either full mesh (every device connected to every other) or partial mesh (some devices have fewer connections).


Pros:

High redundancy; network remains operational even if some connections fail.

Scalable and adaptable; can handle a large number of devices.

Cons:

Expensive due to the numerous cables and ports required.

Complex to set up and maintain.


5. Hybrid Topology


A hybrid topology combines two or more different topologies into a single network. This is often done to harness the strengths of one topology while mitigating its weaknesses. For example, a network might use a star topology for its core infrastructure and a bus topology for a smaller, isolated segment.


Pros:

Flexibility to tailor the network to specific needs.

Enhanced fault tolerance by combining different topologies.

Cons:

Complexity increases with the number of topologies integrated.

Requires careful planning to ensure smooth operation.


Conclusion

Now you can understand the network topologies is essential for designing efficient and resilient communication networks. You already saw, each topology has its own set of characteristics, making it suitable for different scenarios. Whether you opt for a simple bus network, a robust star configuration, a circular ring, an intricate mesh, or a hybrid approach, the choice should align with your network's goals, budget, and scalability requirements.

The correct topology should be chosen based on the network's size, scalability, and fault tolerance needs. Therefore, each topology has a place in the development of effective and trustworthy communication infrastructures.


1.2.f On-premises and Cloud Network Topology

When network architectural designs use both On-premises and cloud network for deploying network resources.  On-premises means deploying network devices infrastructure locally and integrated with cloud services to fulfill all the needs of an organization. 

Scenario: In a hybrid cloud environment, on-premises network resources such as servers, storage, and switches are interconnected with cloud resources through dedicated connections or secure VPN tunnels. The on-premises network is just like an extension of the cloud network which utilizes the data exchange between the two environments.


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Deepak Sharma

He is a senior solution network architect and currently working with one of the largest financial company. He has an impressive academic and training background. He has completed his B.Tech and MBA, which makes him both technically and managerial proficient. He has also completed more than 450 online and offline training courses, both in India and ...

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