What Is Network Architecture? A Guide For Your Next-Gen Enterprise Network
Network architecture is the design of a computer network. It is a framework that specifies the structure, physical components, functional organization, operational procedures, software, and data formats for constructing and managing a computer network.
Network architecture can be used to provide a detailed picture of the communication, network protocols, and infrastructure used in the network. It includes hardware, transmission media, and network protocols that function together to provide network services to users. Types of network architecture include Local Area Networks (LANs), Wide Area Networks (WANs), and Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs).
Here at Nile, we have designed our enterprise network architecture with a goal to help our customers break free from the 30+ years of traditional complexities associated with their IT infrastructure. Automation of lifecycle management from day -1 to day N is at the core of Nile's approach, radically improving productivity and reducing business risk for IT leaders as they reclaim time back from manual configuration and maintenance tasks.
It is the industry's first network architecture that promises guaranteed performance for coverage, capacity and availability for campus and branch networks. It is designed to notify IT teams in advance or at least at the time of a network issue, eliminating the need to chase support tickets for your infrastructure or the need to spare hours after hours for troubleshooting.
Nile’s unique Nile Access Service is designed to share responsibility with its customers and proactively resolves deviations in service quality in software and/or via a reliability/production engineering team that monitors your network 24/7. Nile extends zero trust security principles to the enterprise campus and branch to reduce the attack surface across the LAN - as it orchestrates user/device level segmentation after mandating secure network access, eliminating the need for layer 2 (L2) segments with VLANs (virtual LAN) and associated static ACLs (access control lists) across wired and Wi-Fi access.
Nile’s software architecture is as agile as the cloud with network functions as microservices with built-in observability and provides hitless upgrades to on-prem microservices for improvements. Supported by Nile’s production engineering team, it is designed with instrumentation to enable automated response to network issues and with the ability to build new automation workflows for novel issues in real-time.
What are the types of network architecture?
Local Area Network (LAN)
Designed for shorter distances, a LAN facilitates communication among devices within a confined space, with private, secure and high performance connectivity as the top priority. Because of its limited scope, it offers rapid data exchange, making it ideal for schools, universities, hospitals, retail stores, warehouses, enterprise offices and other workplaces.
LANs can be expanded to multiple sites where communication between different company offices are scattered across different geographical locations. Using a private network across multiple distributed sites helps organizations protect sensitive data and maintain operational consistency, and enable a consistent and secure user experience.
Wide Area Network (WAN)
Spanning vast geographical distances, WANs interconnect multiple LANs, enabling data transfer across cities, countries, or even continents. While they have a broader reach than LANs, the extended distances mean data transmission rates are generally slower, although advancements like fiber-optic technology are bridging this gap.
Metropolitan Area Network
Positioned between LAN and WAN in terms of reach, a MAN connects multiple locations within a city or a large campus. This makes it suitable for city-wide internet service providers or large universities that require interconnected networks across different buildings or faculties.
Personal Area Network (PAN)
This network type primarily facilitates communication among devices close to a person, like smartphones, tablets, or smartwatches. Devices in a PAN typically connect via Bluetooth or USB.
Virtual Private Network (VPN)
While using public infrastructure, a VPN creates a secure, encrypted tunnel to ensure data privacy and security. It's essential for users who need to access company resources remotely or maintain privacy on public networks.
Campus Area Network (CAN)
Designed for specific geographic zones, a CAN allows institutions like universities to have their own network, linking various buildings or sites. It often serves as a middle ground between LAN and MAN regarding coverage and capacity.
Peer-to-Peer Network (P2P)
In a P2P setup, there's no need for a centralized server, as each computer can request and provide services to others. This decentralized nature makes it popular for tasks like file sharing or blockchain operations.
Operating in the virtual space, a cloud network provides storage and processing capabilities without relying on local servers. By utilizing data centers scattered worldwide, it ensures rapid access and redundancy for stored information.
Software-Defined Network (SDN)
SDN champions a flexible and adaptive design by shifting away from traditional hardware-centric networking. By decoupling the network control logic from the physical infrastructure, SDN allows for dynamic and programmable network configurations. This adaptability can lead to more efficient network management and can better cater to ever-evolving enterprise needs.
What are the various layers within network architecture?
Communication networks follow a layered approach to data transmission. The most widely accepted model for this is the Open System Interconnection (OSI) model, which breaks down the tasks involved in networking into seven layers:
- Physical Layer: This is the lowest layer, which involves the physical equipment involved in data transmission, including cable types, pin-outs, voltages, etc. It describes how digital data is converted into electrical signals and transmitted through the network.
- Data Link Layer: This layer handles error-free transmission of frames from one node to another, as well as node-to-node communication. It deals with the physical addressing and access to various network technologies.
- Network Layer: This handles routing and forwarding packets across networks. It's responsible for path selection, logical addressing (such as IP addressing), packetizing, and managing quality of service (QoS).
- Transport Layer: This layer guarantees the reliable arrival of messages and provides error-checking mechanisms and data flow controls. It deals with end-to-end message transfer capabilities, reassembling of fragmented data, and error handling and recovery.
- Session Layer: This layer establishes, manages, and terminates connections (sessions) between applications at each end. It also synchronizes dialogue and manages data exchange.
- Presentation Layer: This layer transforms data to provide a standard interface for the application layer, managing security encryption and translating from host to network formats as needed.
- Application Layer: This is the highest layer directly interacting with software applications. It provides network services to these applications and is responsible for such things as resource allocation, file transfer, electronic messaging, and virtual terminal support.
It's worth noting that in modern networks, especially those based on IP (Internet Protocol), these layers often get condensed. For instance, the Internet model, also known as the TCP/IP model, condenses these layers into four: Network Interface, Internet, Transport, and Application.
Why are there different network architectures?
Different network architectures cater to various organizations' diverse needs and use cases. Different organizations have different requirements based on their size, geography, data sensitivity levels, and budget. Here are a few reasons why there are different network architectures:
Size of the organization
Large organizations with many departments and locations often adopt complex network architectures that demand higher degree of policy control, customized deployment and higher degree of service quality given the impact to the business when the network infrastructure experiences any issues or outages.
Organizations across vast geographic regions typically rely on wide-area networks or even global area networks to interconnect their sites. In contrast, organizations contained within a single building or campus might only require a local area network.
Certain sectors, like finance, healthcare, and government, handle sensitive information necessitating enhanced data security. These sectors lean towards secure private networks or cloud networks equipped with advanced security protocols. Conversely, sectors without stringent data requirements might gravitate towards public or less secure private networks.
Factors such as budget, technical expertise, and existing infrastructure influence an organization's choice in network architecture. Establishing and maintaining expansive, intricate networks demands a heftier budget and specialized IT personnel.
Specific use cases
Different architectures cater to specific needs. For instance, peer-to-peer architectures excel in file-sharing scenarios, whereas client-server models are favored by businesses desiring centralized data oversight.
Emerging technologies often give birth to new network paradigms. The surge of cloud computing ushered in cloud-centric network models, while the Internet of Things phenomena introduced architectures tailored to manage massive data flows from a plethora of connected devices.
What are the key components of network architecture design?
Regardless of what network architecture is used, the vast majority of networks rely on the same fundamental components:
Devices like routers, hubs, switches, servers, and cables constitute the tangible components of a network. Their proper configuration and maintenance are critical for the efficient functioning and reliability of the entire system.
The configuration in which network devices are arranged matters. Popular layouts such as bus, ring, star, and mesh each bring their own strengths and weaknesses concerning performance, security, and expandability. The chosen topology can influence troubleshooting ease and the network's adaptability to growth.
Rules that dictate data exchanges between networked devices fall under this category. Protocols delineate procedures like data formatting, integrity checks, and the nuances of data transmission. Their adherence ensures smooth communication and data integrity across devices.
Choices here span wired solutions like Ethernet and coaxial cables, or wireless options like Wi-Fi. The chosen medium will influence the network's speed, security, and reliability. Selection often depends on the environment, required range, and specific use cases.
To shield against unauthorized entries, viruses, and assorted threats, tools like firewalls, intrusion detection mechanisms, and encryption standards are implemented. As cyber threats evolve, so must the defensive mechanisms guarding the network.
Services hosted on network servers—such as email, web hosting, or file sharing—become accessible to network users under this category. They facilitate an organization's daily operations, communications, and data storage needs.
IP addressing scheme
By allocating unique IP addresses to each network device, they are easily identifiable and can communicate seamlessly. Proper addressing ensures that data packets reach their intended destinations without conflicts.
Redundancy and failover
For continuous network operation, even during device malfunctions or other disruptions, it's essential to have backup devices, secondary connections, and established failover mechanisms. This ensures minimal downtime and a high degree of reliability.
A comprehensive design weighs the monetary aspects: upfront installation, ongoing maintenance, energy use, and potential future expenses tied to upgrades or scalability. Budget considerations often determine the technologies and components integrated into the network.
What are the principles of network architecture?
Network architecture is governed by certain principles to ensure that the structure and arrangement of the network are efficient, scalable, and robust. Key principles include:
A modular network architecture increases the network's flexibility and scalability. It allows each module to be developed and updated independently without affecting other parts of the network.
Nile's network architecture utilizes a single set of hardware elements at each customer deployment with a standardized best practices design. It relies on a single cloud software release for all components in the solution, and a single data store across the tech and services stack to automate traditionally manual operational workflows.
Networks must be designed with a high level of fault tolerance to continue operating when components fail. This is achieved through redundancy in network paths, equipment, and features such as load balancing and failover processes.
A Nile network is built strong to cover every corner with high capacity install and cabling health check, high density design and deployment of Wi-Fi 6/6E APs, and proactive detection of deviations in system status from baseline. It is designed to self-evaluate its performance and is as agile as cloud software with network functions as microservices with built-in observability.
Network architectures should facilitate efficient data transmission with minimal latency and high throughput. This requires the thoughtful placement of servers, routers, and other devices to reduce data travel distances.
Nile Access Service is designed to proactively identify and resolve issues, mitigating the need for constant monitoring and alert response to maintain service quality. This proactive approach is enabled by automatically keeping track of application level latency, user and device level experience, and overall network performance.
Designed with the future in mind, scalable network architecture can accommodate growth in network size and traffic volume without significant overhauls or declines in performance.
Nile's agile innovation model powered by modern cloud software acts as the secret ingredient to help organizations seamlessly expand their growing business footprint.
Protection of network resources and data from unauthorized access, disruption, or destruction is paramount. This involves implementing firewall systems, intrusion detection systems, and secure protocols.
Nile Access Service extends zero trust security principles to the enterprise campus and branch networks to reduce the attack surface across the LAN. It orchestrates user and device level segmentation after mandating secure network access, and eliminates the need for static ACLs across wired/Wi-Fi.
While meeting all other principles, the network architecture should also be designed with cost-efficiency in mind. This involves optimizing resource utilization and reducing operational and maintenance costs.
Nile's unique network architecture is delivered as a monthly or annual subscription, eliminating the need for upfront capital expenditure and providing flexibility of consumption on a per user or per square foot basis.
While networks can be complex, their architecture should be as simple as possible to reduce the potential for errors and simplify management and troubleshooting.
Nile Access Service comes with sophisticated software engineering that comes with a laser focus on eliminating potential sources of network issues, and automates resolution across all sites for issues that have not been previously discovered.
Networks must be designed to adapt to changing requirements and technological advancements. This may involve considering emerging technologies like cloud networking, SDN, and AI in network management.
Nile's unique architecture is powered by cloud-native software principles for campus and branch LANs and its consumption mirrors the flexibility of cloud applications. It drives automated workflows to tackle network, security and operations engineering, versus fragmented multi-product options.
What network architecture decisions matter for organizations today?
Several critical network architecture decisions companies need to make today include:
On-premises vs. cloud-based vs. hybrid
Organizations need to decide whether to host their infrastructure on-site, move everything to the cloud, or use a hybrid model that combines both. Each approach has its advantages in terms of cost, control, scalability, and flexibility.
Wired vs. wireless
With the proliferation of mobile devices in the workplace, organizations must balance wired and wireless infrastructure. While wired connections often offer greater speed, wireless networks provide flexibility, tend to offer (ironically) greater level of security if authentication and encryption for devices are mandated, and cater to modern work styles.
As organizations grow and their needs evolve, their network should easily accommodate additional users, devices, and data traffic without major overhauls.
Redundancy and failover
To ensure high availability and minimize downtime, organizations need to decide on implementing redundancy in network paths, servers, and other crucial components.
Remote access and VPNs
With remote work becoming more prevalent, organizations need to decide how they will securely provide access to their internal resources from external locations. For example, a hub-and-spoke network design could connect satellite offices back to the main office through site-to-site VPN connections.
Every decision has cost implications, from initial setup and equipment to ongoing maintenance and potential scaling in the future. Balancing budgetary constraints with performance and security needs is a continual challenge.
Tailor fit network architecture by Nile
Balancing network security, reliability, and cost can seem impossible, but it doesn’t have to be.
At Nile, we’ve perfected the art and science of next-generation wired and wireless access network architectures and packaged it into a simple yet reliable service.
Nile Access Service extends zero security principle to campus and branch networks, while offering an industry-first guaranteed network performance backed by real-time service level monitoring by Nile’s production engineering and customer success teams.
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