As the number of connected personal and IoT devices skyrockets across the world, the demand for high-speed, high-performance networks continues to climb and transform how people and businesses connect.
Over the years, this technological growth has triggered the development of different types of networks to meet shifting demands, and it’s likely that with future technological advancement, more network topologies will continue to emerge.
We’ve put together a list of common network types and provided some guidance about choosing one. After reading this article you’ll:
Let’s jump right in!
When your laptop or mobile phone is connected into your home or office network, you’re using what’s known as the local area network (LAN).
A LAN is a proprietary computer network that enables designated users to have exclusive access to the same system connection at a common location, always within an area of less than a mile and most often within the same building. By doing so they’re able to share devices, share resources such as printers, and exchange information as if they were all working from the same system. Resource sharing is possible with a network-aware operating system.
Originally used in universities and research labs, today LANs are in use everywhere, including in the home and business. With the use of coaxial cables, optical fiber cables, or twisted wire pair, different types of network topologies, such as bus, star, and branching tree are used to fulfill specific goals. Information sharing and communication between devices over different topologies is possible with Wi-Fi or TCP/IP Ethernet.
When to use a LAN:
When not to use a LAN:
A personal area network (PAN) is a short-range network topology designed for peripheral devices (usually 30ft) used by an individual. The purpose of these types of networks is to transmit data between devices without being necessarily connected to the internet.
PANs can also be connected to LAN and higher level network types where one device acts as a gateway. An everyday example of PAN is a Bluetooth keyboard that’s connected to a smart TV, where the interface allows you to surf the internet, view recorded programs, and configure personal preferences.
Personal area networks can either be wireless or wired. Wireless PANs are called WPANs and use close-range connectivity protocols such as Wi-Fi, ZigBee, infrared, and Bluetooth for data-centric applications. In the case of Bluetooth, network configurations can be piconet—involving a master and one or more slaves—or scatternets, which are interrelated piconets.
Wired PANs, on the other hand, use universal serial bus (USB) and ThunderBolt. Like other network types, each connectivity protocol within a PAN is typically not directly compatible with other protocols.
When to use a PAN:
When not to use a PAN:
Wireless technologies have been a major breakthrough in commercial and personal connectivity, opening up numerous possibilities ranging from mobile wireless, fixed wireless, portable wireless, or IR wireless. Connected devices on these configurations communicate over what’s known as a wireless local area network (WLAN).
WLANs use high-frequency signals, lasers, and infrared beams to enable devices (also known as clients) to communicate with each other without the need of electrical conductors (wires) to transmit data. This type of flexible data communication makes it easy for users to move around a coverage area without the need of cables to maintain network connectivity.
WLAN provides a high data transfer rate and most often works in the 2.4 GHz band or 5 GHz band. Some examples of devices that operate in the 2.4 GHz band over a WLAN include Bluetooth devices, cordless telephones, Wi-Fi radios, and garage door openers. If you’re looking to sacrifice some signal strength for better speed in a WLAN, laptops can be connected to the 5 GHz band.
When to use a WLAN:
When not to use a WLAN:
Private lines, virtual private networks (VPNs), multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), wireless networks, cellular networks, and the internet allow LANs and other types of networks in different geographical regions to communicate and transmit data. This type of computer networking is known as a wide area network (WAN), a telecommunication network that’s not limited to any particular geography, providing access to various forms of media through a designated provider.
WANs can be basic or hybrid with point-to-point or packet-switched networks over shared circuits. In the case of a hybrid WAN and SD-WAN, different connection types are used that can range from virtual private networks (VPNs) and multiprotocol label switching (MPLS). Communication channels within a WAN often feature a wide range of different technologies, ranging from routers, FSO links, and I/O interfaces to fiber optics.
While they often go unnoticed, WANs are embedded everywhere in modern life, connecting cities, countries, and even space. From providing remote access to a corporation’s head office, allowing students to communicate with other students in different continents, to teleconferencing in real time, these and many other examples show how far-flung WANs have become.
When to use a WAN:
When not to use a WAN:
In today’s world of computer networking, efficiency and speed are top priorities. Some technologies manage to deliver both, while others have only one feature or none at all. A metropolitan area network (MAN) ticks both boxes by using technologies such as fiber optics, dense wavelength division multiplexing, and optical packet switching.
Typical layout of a metropolitan area network (MAN) Source: Science Direct
Often referred to as medium-sized networks, MANs covers an area larger than a LAN, but smaller than a WAN. They consist of different LANs interconnected with point-to-point high-capacity backbone technology and can span several buildings or a metropolis.
Through shared regional resources, MANs can take the form of cable TV network, or even telephone networks that provide high-speed DSL lines.
When to use a MAN:
When not to use a MAN:
With a campus area network (CAN), universities, colleges, and corporate campuses connect different LANs from various departments sharing a common area. This transforms otherwise scattered networks into a collective network that provides access to information at breathtaking speeds while ensuring the necessary authentication to prevent privacy loopholes.
CANs are similar to LANs in operational approach, but differ in size to these types of networks. Users who access a CAN with different devices often do so with Wi-Fi, hotspots, and Ethernet technology.
When to use a CAN:
When not to use a CAN:
With cyberattacks lurking in every click and the risk of having sensitive information mined, intercepted, or even stolen, a virtual private network (VPN) offers users an encrypted connection that effectively hides data packets while using the internet.
This is achieved with a VPN tunnel that’s created between two communicating devices, encapsulating and encrypting the data transferred between the two devices. Typically a VPN is used when the two devices are connected over a public network, such as the internet. The extra protection offered by the VPN tunnel prevents sensitive information such as IP addresses, surfing history, communication with a corporate office, or even travelling plans from being exposed online.
The level of security surrounding a data packet depends on the type of VPN tunnel used. Typical VPN tunnels include point-to-point tunneling protocol (PPTP), Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP), L2TP/IPsec, and OpenVPN.
Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) which uses the Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) protection typically does so with AES-256 bit encryption, an advanced encryption standard considered to be the strongest available for all types of network connections.
There are different types of VPNs, which can generally be split into two categories: remote access VPN and site-to-site VPN. With remote access VPNs, users securely connect their devices to the corporate office. With site-so-site VPN, connection is done from a corporate office to branch.
When to use a VPN:
When not to use a VPN:
Bandwidth-intensive applications use a huge chunk of company network resources, slowing down data transfer and leading to bottlenecks in business operations. An enterprise private network (EPN) is a custom-design network, built and operated by a business to share company resources. It connects a company’s offices across different geographic regions and is optimized to ensure that bandwidth-centric applications run smoothly without burdening the network.
With an EPN, companies can choose to have a purpose-built network that’s fully private or a hybrid integrated with a network Communications Service Provider (CSP). EPNs are optimized with tunneling protocols, such as Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) and Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) to ensure privacy across all network operations. Branches are connected with MPLS technology.
When to use an EPN:
When not to use an EPN:
Network storage is synonymous with business continuity in an increasingly competitive world. Businesses that want to stay ahead, need to find ways to optimize data access and data storage, and ensure that important backups are done on a regular basis. One way to achieve these aims and more is by using a storage area network (SAN).
A storage area network (SAN), or network behind the servers, is a special purpose high-speed computer network that provides any-to-any access to storage. The main purpose of a SAN is to transfer data between different storage devices and between the computer network and storage devices.
Block-level I/O services are characteristic of most SANs. Different components used in a SAN may include fiber channel technologies such as fiber channel host bus adapter (HBA) cards and fiber channel switches and other technologies such as hosts, switches, and disk arrays.
When to use a SAN:
When not to use a SAN:
A system area network (SAN) is a type of network configuration designed to facilitate communication between nodes in a cluster. It’s designed to provide high bandwidth and ensure low latency by avoiding multiple copies of data and providing direct network access to users in a high performance computing environment.
As a result, SANs ensure high-speed switched environments that facilitate network communication between devices. Interconnections with multiprocessing systems (processor-to-processor) and storage area systems (SANs) are also possible with a SAN.
As SANs are designed to be used in parallel computing environments, typical examples include use in scientific applications, database server clusters, and file server clusters.
When to use a system area network:
When not to use a system area network:
Copper-based connectivity was once widely accepted in local area network (LAN) installations. Today this scenario is changing as passive optical local area networks (POLAN) edge out older installations.
POLAN is a significant upgrade from copper cables, replacing them with fiber-optic telecommunications technology that uses optical splitters to split and combine upstream and downstream signals that are eventually sent on a strand of single-mode fiber.
The fiber bandwidth is divided among different access points and the use of wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) enables bi-directional communication that reduces the number of copper cables.
Examples where POLAN are used include campus buildings where departments share a common network, hospitals that have a shared network with on-site pharmacy and patient needs, and any other LAN network types.
When to use a POLAN:
When not to use a POLAN:
Network types clearly differ in range and applicability so choosing a network for your business means aligning with your business goals, the long-term outlook, and the physical realities of the devices that you’re looking to connect.
There are four important factors to consider when looking at different types of networks.
No matter what type of network you choose to implement, AS Software Ltd. can help you manage it efficiently and effectively.
„When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance.“