Networking is a popular topic. Microsoft has extensive needs in their systems. Cisco certifications are always highly sought after. It only helps your career if you have knowledge of networking basics. It is how we play our lan games and how our phones communicate also. Being a very popular subject because of Cisco jobs and equipment especially, I wanted to start a series to address it. At the most fundamental level you have the different topologies. Networking topology, at its core, describes in a high level view how a network is set up. There are many different kinds of topologies such as Ethernet, bus, ring, star and some other obscure ones. In actuality though, Ethernet is the only one worth talking about these days as most of the others have fallen out of use.
Before I go any farther I need to cover a few basics. To make a network you need a few pieces of correct and compatible hardware.
The computer can be just about anything. Having them roughly the same type will help though. They will all need network cards. These cards are usually PCI based and do the communications with the network. Cabling also has several options. The most common is category-5 cable but category-6 is making headway and superior. The cables will connect to the router or switch, depending on where it is in the chain of devices.
Network cards do the communicating with the network. Your cabling plugs into them. There are many standards today which govern their usage. There are so many because they describe the types of cable used, distances involved and other such things that do not matter to most people. The most important thing is the speed which is usually of the gigabit variety. There are many reliable vendors today that make network cards. Many kinds of devices these days can be networked. They include computers, printers, scanners, thermostats, cameras, doorbells, and even sound systems.
Ethernet technology is by far the most prevalent in the networking world today. You will actually have a hard time finding anything else. The main reason for this is cost as equipment and cabling are key factors and the speeds reachable by it. It is a protocol. That means it has the rules that the devices try to follow.
Wireless networking is the other technology used today and it is used by everyone. It exists along and works with Ethernet networks greatly and is a core component of all networks today. It has standards associated with it also which mostly designate speed differences but also how it works. Examples of standards are a,b, g,n, and the current one today, the ac standard. AC is currently the fastest of the ones in major use today but there are more improvements and thus more standards out there but they are not in common use yet.
Most people are aware of the common router you can buy at consumer electronics stores. These are actually access points equipped with routing functionality. They use radio waves to communicate with the network card in your laptop or another access point when you want to extend the distance of your wireless network.
A network topology is the physical layout of your network. It is the cables, routers, switches, workstations, and hardware like that. Cables, for example, are something like category-5 or category-6. Routers are what accepts the signal from your ISP usually. Switches help distribute your network. They also segment it as well when needed. Workstations are usually your PC’s or laptops that you do the work from. There are many different kinds of topologies. Network engineers have been designing layouts as long as networks have been around. The following is a partial list of the most popular:
Networking Basics: Bus Topology
This is one main trunk that splits off to each device point. Each device connects to the main trunk. They used to be really popular but not anymore. The trunk was a single point of failure so not good these days. While it was easy to set up, it became very slow in higher traffic networks.
Networking Basics: Star Topology
The star topology is most often used today. It is also quite simple. Get a router, lots of cable, and any more switches that you might need and just connect all of your devices. This is a very flexible set up. It is more expensive with the cost of cabling and extra switches. One of the great things about this set up is that you can add or remove devices without disrupting your whole network. For example, if a workstation goes down and you have to work on it you can just disconnect and fix it. This will not affect anything else.
Networking Basics: Ring Topology
This is very simple. A ring network just forms a loop. Each workstation is connected to 2 others. The last one is connected to the first in this set up. It is easy to figure out where a workstation is messing up at. The worst thing about this set up is that if one computer goes down then the rest start having problems passing information along the network.
Networking Basics: Mesh Topology
Mesh networking is still used a lot in wireless applications. This set up is going to be more complicated and more expensive. It is more complicated because all of the devices are interconnected. Settings have to be adjusted on the switch because of this. The switch has to allow for traffic to come from everywhere at once. It is more expensive because of the cabling mostly. You also have to have a switch capable of this too which may add some cost as well.
Networking is not terribly hard to learn. It does take some diligence though. You also have to practice the concepts often. I have just introduced the basics in this guide. In future articles we will talk about more complicated practices but I will still be referencing these basic concepts occasionally. They all build on each other. Networking is very fun though. So later when it gets harder just remember how cool it is to understand how routing and the internet really works!
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