These days, most businesses do nearly all of their work digitally (even if their employees are present in the office). Documents, contracts, and even conversations are shared and stored through the company’s computer network — and that means the network needs to be as efficient and secure as possible.
How can you be sure that your network uses an efficient and logical flow to process information? The answer lies in your topology, or the way that your network is physically connected.
There are five main types of topology in computer networking: bus, ring, star, mesh, and tree.
Today, let’s discuss each one so you can choose the right topology for your network.
The bus topology is a simple, linear style of network that uses a single cable (known as the “backbone cable”) to connect every computer on the network. This network type is great for small networks or temporary networks (like a LAN party) as it is cheaper to set up than other topologies.
That said, the bus topology does have a few notable drawbacks — most notably how fragile it can be. The entire network will crash if the backbone cable fails, the network can be prone to collisions during heavy traffic, and security for bus topologies is often very low.
Ring topology is named for the circular shape the network makes. In this network type, each computer is connected to the computers on either side of it, until the cables form a ring around the entire network. In this setup, each computer has two “neighbors,” which minimizes the risk of network collision. For this reason, ring topology is a common choice for wide area networks (WAN).
Ring topology is easy and cost effective to install, and it’s also quite easy to expand your network with this type. However, this setup can make troubleshooting particularly challenging, as a single broken connection can affect the entire ring.
In a star topology, all computers in the network connect through a single hub and radiate outwards (like a star or asterisk). This is a common topology for home networks, where a wireless router acts as the central hub for all computers, smartphones, and other devices on the network.
Star topology is easy to set up, because it only requires each device to have one cable connecting it to the hub. As long as you have enough cables and enough ports, you can build out your network as big as you’d like.
But of course, there are a few important drawbacks; installing a star network at a large scale is expensive, and the network’s performance lies completely in the hands of the hub. If that node fails, the when system will crash!
Mesh topology is the most robust network type. It uses point-to-point connections to connect all network nodes (devices) to each other. There is no central connection point, which offers your network greater security than the other networks discussed here. Mesh topology is also less likely to suffer from system failure if a single cable or device experiences problems, which makes it more reliable overall.
The greatest problems with mesh topology lie with its high costs. Installation and maintenance can be very expensive, particularly because so much wiring is required for a mesh topology. For this reason, this type is ideal for networks that want reliability and security, but only require a small number of devices.
Tree topology is similar to the root structure of a tree, with one central device and a hierarchy of other devices branching off of it. Typically, a tree topology has at least three levels. This network type is great for corporate networks, as it allows the network to prioritize data from different computers based on the hierarchy.
Unfortunately, the tree topology falls victim to the same two primary drawbacks that many other topologies face: high cabling costs and network insecurity. If the central device fails, the entire “root network” will fail as well. Therefore, it’s important to make sure you can maintain your central node if you plan to use a tree topology.
So, which topology is best for your organization? The answer depends on the number of computers in your network, your budgetary restrictions, and the way you plan to use the network. However, one thing is certain no matter which topology you choose: you need to know how to maintain it.
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