A network provides a fast and reliable way to share resources and information from one end to another. Due to this, it is considered to be a critical resource in an organization. Any issues in a network can bring operations to a halt and may result in potentially disastrous consequences. To prevent that, you need to understand the overall layout of your network and how it functions. This is where network topology comes in.
In this blog, we shall explore the significance of network topology and how you can use network topology maps to visualize the complete network in an organization.
What is network topology?
Network topology focuses on the arrangement of various components in a network. This includes the physical and logical description of how nodes and connections are made in a network. By defining the arrangement of your network, you can also identify the locations of traffic flows and set up optimal paths to ensure unobstructed traffic.
Why network topology is important
Network topology helps you understand the different components in your network and how they are connected. Moreover, it plays a critical role in the functioning and performance of a network.
In organizations with large networks, network topology is critical because it:
- Enables a better understanding of networks
- Reduces maintenance and operational costs for networks
- Helps determine the media to be used to cable a network
- Ensures smooth communication between various components
- Helps identify the problem areas in a network
What does network topology include?
When you have a well-defined network topology, it makes it easier for network admins to identify issues, allocate resources, troubleshoot problems and more. We can broadly categorize network topology into two types – physical and logical.
The physical topology of a network concerns the physical connections between various nodes in a network. These are actual connections made with the help of wires and cables. This gives you a complete overview of how the entire network components come together.
The logical topology of a network concerns things beyond the physical connections of a network. It gives you an overview of data transfers that happen within a network. It also includes how a network is set up, how the nodes connect with each other and how data travels between different points.
Types of network topology
Beyond physical and logical topologies, network topologies can be categorized into several different types. Choosing the right topology is critical since it can make or break your network. Your network topology should be easy to maintain, secure and resilient. Different types of network topologies serve different purposes, so you can choose the right one based on your network size and objectives.
This is the simplest type of network topology. Here, two nodes are connected directly to each other with the help of a common medium. Since there are only two nodes in this network, the entire bandwidth is reserved between the two nodes.
- This is the simplest and most low-cost option for creating a computer network.
- Since there are only two nodes, it is easy to maintain.
- This has the least delay in communication compared to other network types.
- Since there is only one common link, the network stops working if the link is down.
- This can have a maximum of only two nodes in the network.
- Can be used only when the two devices are in close proximity.
In this type of topology, network devices are interconnected with the help of a single cable running from one end to the other. Due to this, it is also referred to as backbone topology or line topology. In bus topology, data travels along the route of the network cable and moves in one direction.
- This is ideal for small networks since it is cost-effective.
- It is easy to add more devices here simply by adding more cable.
- The network structure here is easy to understand.
- If the main cable goes down, the entire network goes down.
- This is ideal only for small networks since data transmission gets slower with the addition of every extra node.
- The data transmission is unidirectional and cannot be sent back in the opposite direction.
In ring topology, the nodes are arranged in the shape of a ring. Each node has exactly two neighbors and the devices are connected together to form a circular loop. Here, the data travels in a circular direction and passes through all intermediate nodes. The data transmission is mostly unidirectional but it can be made to travel in both directions by establishing two connections between the nodes.
- This topology can manage heavier loads than bus topology.
- Since data travel happens at only one station at a time, it eliminates the chances of packet collision.
- It is easy to identify misconfigurations or issues in this network.
- The entire network will go offline if one node malfunctions.
- If there are multiple nodes in the network, a proportional transmission delay might take place.
- Reconfiguring, adding or removing nodes requires shut down of the entire network.
Star topology has a central node or hub that connects to all other nodes in the network. Each node in the network is indirectly connected to other nodes using the central hub. Besides connecting all nodes, the central hub also acts as a repeater to ensure there is no loss in data transmission.
- Failure of a single node will not impact other areas of the network.
- Nodes can be reconfigured, added or removed without shutting down the network.
- Since it is easy to troubleshoot, it makes life easy for network admins.
- This network is vulnerable to the failure of the central hub.
- It is expensive to set up and operate.
- Performance and transmission speed are highly dependent on the central hub’s configurations.
Tree topology resembles a tree-like structure with one root node and other secondary nodes connected like branches. This is made by connecting star networks with bus networks. Hence, it is also called star-bus network topology. Here, all the nodes are connected to each other hierarchically.
- It is easy to manage and is ideal for large networks.
- It enables scalability since it supports easy addition and removal of nodes.
- Troubleshooting is easy since you can analyze different branches for issues.
- The entire network is dependent on the root node.
- It is expensive due to the sheer number of nodes and the amount of cabling involved.
- It comes with a complex design.
In mesh topology, every node directly connects to other nodes in a point-to-point connection and in a non-hierarchical manner. Since it has a web-like structure, the network is not dependent on a single node. Data transmission occurs through two different methods – routing and flooding. In the routing method, data travels through the shortest distance between two points. In the flooding method, data packets are sent to all nodes in the network without using any routing logic.
- Since it is fully connected, it is more reliable and stable than other networks.
- It is easy to isolate and troubleshoot errors.
- Failure of individual nodes will not affect the network.
- It is expensive to create and maintain.
- Due to the complexity of design, it could be extremely time-consuming to implement.
- It is also labor-intensive and requires a lot of work to set up.
When you create a network topology by integrating two or more topologies, you get a hybrid topology. These are commonly found in large organizations where departments with different network topologies are integrated under one hybrid structure.
- It provides great flexibility when setting up networks.
- It is easier to scale and expand.
- It requires a lot of expertise from the network admin to establish and maintain a hybrid network.
- It can be quite expensive to integrate different network types into a single network.
What is network topology mapping?
Network topology mapping refers to the practice of graphically plotting down all the nodes and links in your network topology. Topology maps can provide you with granular visibility into your network and help you discover all the components in it. Network topology maps provide you with actionable intelligence on the issues in your network so that you can prioritize fixing them.
What is the purpose of network mapping?
In this digital age, IT networks have become large and complex. Major organizations have networks spread across the entire world, in different continents. Network mapping provides them with an accurate description of what their network would look like. By gaining a complete overview of the network, IT administrators can identify network issues in real-time and anticipate potential concerns that may arise in future.
Since network topology maps show you the relationship between various devices, you can easily identify suspicious connections and improve security in your network. Network mapping is also vital when you are scaling your network. Most importantly, network maps make it easy for IT administrators to communicate network issues with other non-technical employees in an organization.
How do you create a network topology map?
Creating a network topology map begins with developing a general layout of your network and listing all the key components including computers, servers, connections, ports, hubs, routers, etc. Once you have created the layout, you can go ahead and draw the network. While this may work for a small network with a few devices, it is not applicable for large networks with a complex design.
To create network topology maps for large networks, you can use a network diagramming solution that automatically discovers your IT environment and generates detailed maps. Robust network mapping solutions even keep the network up to date by automatically detecting the changes made to it.
Automated network diagramming with IT Glue
IT Glue is an award-winning IT documentation solution that comes with powerful network documentation features. Network Glue, which is the automation engine of IT Glue, helps you automate documentation in your network devices (managed, unmanaged and virtual) and Active Directory on-prem and cloud environments.
In addition to network documentation, Network Glue also comes with powerful diagramming features and generates comprehensive network topology maps of all components including connections and ports. This allows you to visualize your entire network without any manual effort.
To learn more about network topology and network documentation, request a demo.