Network Topology Guide: Types, Mapping, and Design

by John Cirelly - Last Updated: March 17, 2022

Network Topology Guide Types, Mapping, and Design

Network topology refers to how a network is organized, and the way a network’s links and nodes are connected. There are two approaches to network topology: physical and logical. Physical network topology refers to the physical signal transmission channel, for instance, the wires, cables, and so forth.

On the other hand, Logical network topology is a little more abstract and strategic, it refers to the method in which data passes across the network between devices, regardless of the physical link between the units. Effective network management requires a strong understanding of both the physical and logical topology of a network to ensure that your network is efficient and healthy. The topology, or configuration, of a network, is crucial in influencing its performance.

What is the importance of Network Topology?

A network’s layout has a direct impact on its functionality. The correct topology can increase performance and data efficiency, as well as optimize resource allocation and lower operational costs. Network topology diagrams made with the software are useful for diagnosing network connectivity issues, evaluating network slowdowns, and troubleshooting issues in general.

The configuration of various telecommunication networks, such as computer networks, command and control radio networks, and industrial fieldbuses, is one of the principal uses of network topology. A streamlined and well-managed network topology can help in decreasing operational and maintenance expenses by increasing energy and data efficiency.

Building a durable, secure, and easy-to-maintain local area network (LAN) topology can make or break your business. Depending on the overall network size and your requirements, there are various types of network topologies that are ideal for different purposes.

What are the different Network Topologies?

There is no “correct” or “one-size-fits-all” solution, as there is with most things. Keeping this in mind, this article will take you through the most common network topology configurations so you can get a sense of their benefits and drawbacks. Administrators can pick from a variety of logical and physical network topologies to create a secure, robust, and easy-to-maintain network.

The basic types of network topologies, their pros and cons, and factors for selecting which one is ideal for your business will be discussed in this article. We‘ll also discuss the use and benefits of network topology mapping software such as SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper.

Bus Network Topology

A bus topology aligns all the devices on a network along a single cable that runs in one direction from one end to the other, which is why it’s also known as a “line network topology” or “backbone network topology.” The network’s data flow also follows the cable’s path, traveling in one direction.

Because there is not much bandwidth, bus topologies are best suited for small networks. Each additional node slows transmission speeds.

Pros:

  • Because the layout is basic, all devices may be connected through a single coaxial or RJ45 cable.
  • Bus topologies are an Excellent, Cost-effective solution for smaller networks.
  • More nodes can be simply added to the network, if necessary, by adding more connections.

Cons:

  • On the other hand, Bus topologies are Vulnerable since they employ a single wire to transport data. If a cable fails, the entire network goes down, which can be time-consuming and costly to recover, though this is less of a concern with smaller networks.
  • Furthermore, because data is “half-duplex”, meaning it can’t be sent in two directions at the same time, this arrangement isn’t ideal for networks with high traffic volumes.

Mesh Network Topology

A mesh topology is an extensive and detailed framework of point-to-point connections in which each device on the network is connected to another device on the network, transferring data solely between the two units.

There are two types of mesh networks: full mesh and partial mesh. If there are n nodes available in the network, a Full mesh is a network in which each node has an n-1 number of connections. A full mesh topology, which provides a lot of redundancy, is normally reserved for network backbones. In the Partial mesh topology, on the other hand, only a few nodes are connected to all other nodes. It indicates that in this network, all the devices do not need to be connected in this network.

Routing and flooding are the two principles that govern mesh topology. Through the Routing mode, data packets are exchanged in a predefined path that includes numerous hops among nodes before being delivered to the destination.

To transfer data over the network, all intermediate nodes must be active and connected at all times. In the Flooding model, the data is delivered to all active nodes in the network. A node consumes addressed data; otherwise, it passes it on to the next node if it discovers that the data is not addressed.

Pros:

  • The mesh architecture is Scalable because each node already works as a router. This topology allows for the addition of new nodes without interrupting data flows.
  • Secondly, the Mesh Network is Robust: Even if a single node in the system fails, the network’s availability is not harmed and is maintained. As a result, there is no total shutdown in this topology.
  • Finally, because it is a very Decentralized system, it requires minimal infrastructure investment. There are also no central servers to manage the network.

Cons:

  • Each node in this network must remain active at all times, resulting in considerable power usage.
  • Mesh topologies are Labor-intensive as they require a lot of planning and interconnection configuration setup.
  • Lastly, as with other topology structures, the Cost of cabling adds up fast.

Star Network Topology

A star topology is a network that resembles a star, with a central node and numerous devices directly connected to it. In a star topology, the devices do not communicate with one another; instead, they send messages to the central node, which then sends the message to all other systems or a specific destination in the system, depending on the network design. This central node serves as both a server and a repeater, as information transmitted from any node on the network must pass through the central one to reach its destination.

Pros:

  • Star Topology is very Reliable – if one cable or device fails then all the others will continue to function.
  • Second, it is less expensive because each device only needs one I/O port and gets connected with the central node through one link.
  • Lastly, it offers Easy fault detection because the links are often easily identified. Moreover, Devices can be added, removed, or modified without bringing the entire network down.

Cons:

  • The rest of the network will not function if the central node fails. The central node’s configurations and technical specifications also limit the network’s total bandwidth and performance, making star topologies costly to set up and manage.

Ring Network Topology

The nodes of a ring topology are arranged in a circular ring. The data can move in either one route or both directions through the ring network. A device is connected to the two units on either side of it through two dedicated point-to-point links, forming a ring of devices through which data is sent via repeaters until it reaches the destination device.

Pros:

  • Ring topologies are efficient in transmitting data without errors because only one station on the network can send data at a time, drastically reducing the likelihood of packet collisions.
  • Ring topologies are generally cost-effective and straightforward to set up, and the intricate point-to-point connectivity of the nodes makes it reasonably easy to spot network problems or misconfigurations.

Cons:

  • Because data transmission is unidirectional between nodes along each ring, the entire network fails with it if one goes down.
  • Because all the devices on the network share bandwidth in a ring architecture, adding more devices can cause overall communication delays.
  • To reconfigure, add, or delete nodes, the entire network must be taken offline.

Solution – Dual Ring Topology

A dual ring topology can be created by adding a second connection between network nodes to make ring topologies full-duplex. Because each node has two connections on either side, information may be transferred both clockwise and counterclockwise along with the network. Many of the drawbacks of classic ring topology are mitigated by the secondary ring. For example, if one ring within a node fails, the other ring can still send data.

Tree Network Topology

In computer networks, tree topology is also known as a star bus topology. This topology consists of a parent-child hierarchy in which star networks are interconnected via bus networks. The tree topology structure takes its name from the fact that the central node acts as a network’s trunk, with nodes branching outward in a branch-like pattern. Whereas each node in a star topology is directly connected to the central node, the nodes in a tree topology are connected in a parent-child hierarchy. Those connected to the central hub are linearly connected to other nodes, thus two connected nodes have only one mutual connection. 

Pros:

  • This topology provides excellent scalability because the leaf nodes can add one or more nodes to the hierarchical chain.
  • The other nodes in a network are not affected if one of its nodes becomes damaged or stops working.
  • Troubleshooting network faults is also a simple process, as each branch can be individually checked for performance difficulties.

Cons:

  • The health of the root node in a tree topology structure affects the entire network. The many node branches will get disconnected if the central node fails.
  • Adding extra nodes to a tree topology can quickly become erroneous due to the network layout’s hierarchical complexity and linear structure.
  • Tree topologies are costly because of the vast amount of wiring necessary to link each device to the next within the hierarchical layout, tree topologies are costly.

Hybrid Network Topology

Hybrid topology is the combination of two or more different topologies to produce a resultant topology that combines the benefits (and drawbacks) of all of the constituent basic topologies rather than possessing the features of a single topology. The tree topology, which combines the bus and star patterns, is a suitable example. Hybrid structures are most commonly found in larger companies where individual departments have specialized network topologies adapted to their demands and network usage.

Pros:

  • The fundamental benefit of hybrid structures is the degree of flexibility they allow.
  • Hybrid networks are easily scalable because they are designed in such a way that new hardware components may be quickly integrated.
  • It’s simple to detect errors and troubleshoot them.

Cons:

  • As a network grows in complexity, so does the amount of experience and knowledge required of the administrators to keep things running smoothly.
  • Designing a hybrid network topology is an expensive and challenging task.

What is Network Topology Mapping?

The practice of graphing a communication network’s topology and representing all of its nodes and linkages is known as network topology mapping. Topology diagrams are useful when you’re first starting to create a network.

They allow you to observe how the information will flow over the network. Visual representation helps in the creation of a streamlined and efficient network design, as well as serving as a useful reference point while troubleshooting difficulties.

A topology diagram’s bird’s-eye view can help you visually discover which components of the infrastructure your network is missing, as well as which nodes need monitoring, updating, or replacement. To map the network topology, sysadmins can use automated software or graphical tools.

Which Network Mapping Tools help to Manage and Monitor Networks?

A network topology mapper is a useful tool that generates network topology diagrams that visually represent the network infrastructure. This software visualizes how devices link and assists in determining the most efficient topology.

There are both proprietary and free network topology software solutions on the market. Microsoft Visio is one of the most popular tools that help you draw your network by adding different nodes and devices to a canvas-like interface. While this may work for smaller networks, if you’re working with a large number of devices and topologies distributed throughout an entire company, it rapidly becomes burdensome.

Other solutions, such as Lucidchart and LibreOffice Draw, are either free or offer free trials. They’re reasonable options, but they don’t provide a full range of premium network mapping capabilities to make network management easier and faster.

Because of the variety of network topologies and the various ways networks might behave—including their particular security risks, and administration challenges—often it’s beneficial to employ network software to automate configuration and management operations.

Network Configuration

A network configuration management application can assist you in properly configuring your network and automating repetitive processes, relieving the network administrator of some of the burden. As your company or network grows, the network architecture may become more layered or sophisticated, making it more difficult to deploy configurations consistently across the whole network.

Cleaning up your network topology is no problem with a configuration management tool. These tools can usually auto-detect each node on the network, allowing you to install standard configurations that may be necessary for compliance reasons or flag any configurations that aren’t expected.

Network Performance Troubleshooting

To track network faults, outages, and performance difficulties, network management software can be utilized that allows you to set network performance baselines and get a clear view of how your network normally behaves when it’s in good shape. You may then quickly track, pinpoint, and troubleshoot issues by setting alerts when your network behaves unexpectedly or outside of predefined baselines.

A powerful Topology Mapper Tool

SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper – FREE TRIAL

SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper

SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper is a very useful performance management tool that assists you in managing and monitoring your network. It can not only automatically discover all devices and build a model of your network topology for you, regardless of the size of your network, but it can also populate the map with industry-specific icons for easy visual differentiation.

In addition to auto-discovery, the software has a network wizard that allows you to drag and drop nodes and node groups (which you can also customize). The interface in this topology mapper lets you sort through different layers of connections, depending on the level you’re trying to inspect.

You can configure SolarWinds to rescan your network regularly to keep your diagrams up to date. It’s simple to combine with other programs, and it has a robust reporting system that lets you track parameters like device inventory and network speed while staying PCI compliant.

Download: Click here to download and start using this tool.

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Summing it up!

No one topology is categorically best. Depending on the network environment you’re dealing with or attempting to build up, each has its own set of benefits and cons.

Use a network topology mapping tool like SolarWinds to sketch the layout you’re thinking of adopting before selecting which topology is appropriate for your network. It allows you to visualize the whole topology of your network in an easy-to-use and easy-to-parse format, and it comes with a 14-day free trial.