Modern networks have become so complex that setting up the right layout for your network is more important than ever. The right network topology improves network and application performance, while the wrong topology can knock your network offline.
Network topology also helps your team get a comprehensive, digestible, visual representation of the network and its interconnectivity. But before getting into potential network topologies, understanding the basis of the concept will help you decide the right topology for your organization.
What is Network Topology?
Network layout directly affects network performance. Network topology describes the way a network is arranged. There are multiple ways that a network can be configured depending on an organization’s needs. A network can be thought of as a maze with multiple exits, where each exit in the maze represents a device and the path through the maze represents the connection between the devices.
Graphically, network devices can be modeled as nodes and connections between devices are modeled as links between devices. The right network topology optimizes network traffic, reduces IT costs, improves data efficiency, and more. Organizations can choose between physical and logical topologies, each of which has distinct features.
Physical network topology focuses on devices and the wired connections between them. The various components of the network and the way that they are connected creates a map of the entire network. This type of topology typically ignores data and device type.
In the digital age, networks are not just based in the physical world. The widespread adoption of the cloud has led to virtual machines becoming integral parts of networks. In that sense, physical topology is not the most effective. To better meet modern needs, logical topology has become another important tool IT teams utilize.
Logical topologies focus on data in a network. The layout of the network is defined by how the data flows through the network—regardless of how the devices are physically connected. This type of topology is more conceptual and focuses on understanding why the network is arranged the way that it is.
Both physical and logical topologies are effective ways to layout your network, but there are distinct differences between the two methods. For example, physical topologies are difficult to change and cannot be easily reconfigured when your network grows or devices are changed. On the other hand, logical topologies are easily changed as your IT requirements change.
Organizations should fully understand what type of network topology works best for their IT environment before committing to one.
Types of Network Topologies
There are multiple options that organizations have when implementing network topologies. Here are some of the most common topologies:
In bus topology, a common channel is used for all devices to communicate across the network. The common channel is often referred to as the backbone of the network. Bus topology requires less infrastructure than other types of networks, which typically makes it cost effective and easy to install. This is a risky topology choice, though. If the backbone fails, the entire network is taken offline.
In mesh topology, devices are connected via multiple pathways for redundancy. Intelligent networks will identify the most efficient path for the transmission of data. Mesh topologies are expensive to implement and maintain, which is certainly a consideration to be made. However, mesh topologies are less likely to fail than other topologies.
Star topology is the most common network topology and it is considered the easiest to design and implement. In star topology, every node is connected to a central hub. All traffic and data in the network passes through that hub. This layout is appreciated for its ability to potentially prevent data loss.
In ring topology, nodes are connected in a closed-loop formation. Every device is connected to another device in this type of topology. Some nodes pass data in one direction only, while others transmit data in both directions. The entire network is affected when any individual connection is broken in the ring.
Hybrid topologies combine two or more other network topologies. For example, a tree topology is where more than one star topology is connected via a bus topology. This type of topology is common in large companies where devices are separated by departments. Hybrid topology makes way for custom solutions.
What Network Topology Is Right For Me?
Network topology impacts many parts of your IT infrastructure. These considerations will help decide which topology works for your organization.
IT teams often struggle to keep count of how many devices they are responsible for. Physical and logical network topology maps are both effective in identifying all devices that are connected to your network. However, logical topology helps identify devices that are not normally visible to IT teams. Exporting maps and reports enables you to ensure that IT inventory counts are accurate.
Network Security & Troubleshooting
Keeping your network online is more important (and more difficult) than ever before. Topology maps help IT teams quickly identify problematic areas in the network and resolve those issues. Network topology also helps identify which places in the network are potentially vulnerable to hackers. Choosing the wrong topology makes it more difficult to solve network and cybersecurity problems, so it’s pertinent to make an informed choice.
Establishing your network’s compliance to necessary regulations—such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard—is a time-consuming, tedious process. On the bright side, network topology helps IT teams get and stay in compliance. Network administrators can easily print out reports and maps that prove to regulators that their network adheres to the proper regulations. Logical network diagrams are powerful tools, especially when dealing with sensitive data compliance.
Here at LiveAction we provide our clients with LiveNX, a real-time network topology mapper to visualize discovered devices, interfaces, applications, VPNs, and users. Clients can monitor network and application performance data in an easy-to-interpret visual display. If you’re interested in learning more about LiveAction network topology solutions, reach out to our team to schedule a demo today!