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Network Architecture Overview

LAN 101: Networking Basics
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The architecture on which you choose to base your network is the single most important decision you make when setting up a LAN. The architecture defines the speed of the network, the medium access control mechanism it uses (for example, collision detection, token passing, and so on), the types of cables you can use, the network interface adapters you must buy, and the adapter drivers you install.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) has defined and documented a set of standards for the physical characteristics of both collision-detection and token-passing networks. These standards are known as IEEE 802.3 (Ethernet) and IEEE 802.5 (Token-Ring), respectively. IEEE 802.11 (Wi-Fi) defines wireless versions of Ethernet.

Note: Be aware, however, that the colloquial names Ethernet and Token-Ring actually refer to earlier versions of these architectures, on which the IEEE standards were based. Minor differences exist between the frame definitions for true Ethernet and true IEEE 802.3. In terms of the standards, IBM’s 16 Mb/s Token-Ring products are an extension of the IEEE 802.5 standard.

New Token-Ring installations are rare today and are not covered here.

The most common choice today for new networks is Ethernet (both wired and wireless). In rare cases, you may encounter a Token-Ring or ARCnet network. Network data-link architectures you might encounter are summarized in the following table. The abbreviations used for the cable types are explained in the following sections.

LAN Architecture Summary
Network Type
Speed
Maximum Number of Stations
Transmission Types
Notes
Ethernet10 Mb/s1024Category 3 UTP or better (10BASE-T), Thinnet RG-58 coax (10BASE-2), Thicknet coax (10BASE-5), fiber-optic (10BASE-F)Replaced by Fast Ethernet; backward compatible with Fast or Gigabit Ethernet when using UTP.
Fast Ethernet100 Mb/s
1024
Category 5 UTP or betterThe most popular wired networking standard, rapidly being replaced by gigabit Ethernet.
Gigabit Ethernet
1000 Mb/s1024
Category 5 UTP or betterRecommended for new installations; uses all four signal pairs in the cable.
10 Gigabit Ethernet
10 000 Mb/s1024
Category 6a UTP or better
Uses all four signal pairs in the cable.
802.11a Wireless EthernetUp to 54 Mb/s1024RF 5 GHz band with dual-band 802.11nShort range; interoperable with dual-band  802.11n.
802.11b Wireless EthernetUp to 11 Mb/s1024RF 2.4 GHz bandInteroperable with 802.11g/n.
802.11g Wireless EthernetUp to 54 Mb/s1024RF 2.4 GHz bandInteroperable with 802.11b/n.
802.11n Wireless EthernetUp to 600 Mb/s1,024RF 2.4/5 GHz bandsLongest range; interoperable with 802.11a/b/g; dual-band hardware needed to interoperate with 802.11a; recommended for new installations.
Token-Ring4/16/100 Mb/s
72 on UTP; 250–260 on Type 1 STPUTP, Type 1 STP, and fiber-opticReplaced by Ethernet; obsolete for new installations.
ARCnet2.5 Mb/s
255RG-62 coax UTP, Type 1 STPReplaced by Ethernet; obsolete for new installations; uses the same coax cable as IBM 3270 terminals.
UTP = unshielded twisted pair, STP = shielded twisted pair, RF = Radio Frequency
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  • 9 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , September 15, 2011 6:25 AM
    I know a lot of so called "I.T." companies that could learn a thing or two, like how to plug a cable in and how to diagnose a fualty cable/patch point, instead of calling the printer guy out to troubleshoot their network problems for them. IT guys are so lazy sometimes.
  • -5 Hide
    LORD_ORION , September 15, 2011 2:03 PM
    OK seriously, you cannot even do a book prize internationally?

    Lame.

    You suck etc...
  • 0 Hide
    nevertell , September 15, 2011 2:15 PM
    A true fileserver is running linux :>
  • 6 Hide
    Pyree , September 15, 2011 3:23 PM
    I think this should become a sticky on the network forum.
  • 0 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , September 15, 2011 3:59 PM
    Nice article. Bookmarked for future reference... some of my friends could use these basics and the article is well-written and simple to understand :) 
  • 8 Hide
    cangelini , September 15, 2011 4:34 PM
    LORD_ORIONOK seriously, you cannot even do a book prize internationally?Lame.You suck etc...


    Nope, we can't unfortunately. The same tax laws and rules that apply to $100 motherboards and $1000 CPUs also apply to $60 books.

    A letter to your congressman about our ridiculous tax laws would be more productive ;) 
  • 1 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , September 15, 2011 4:51 PM
    Quote:
    Nope, we can't unfortunately. The same tax laws and rules that apply to $100 motherboards and $1000 CPUs also apply to $60 books.

    A letter to your congressman about our ridiculous tax laws would be more productive ;) 


    Lol, I accept that explanation readily, as much as I hate all these kick-ass US-only draws. Taxes are a party crasher...
  • 1 Hide
    jryan388 , September 15, 2011 9:15 PM
    I was under the impression that cat6 cable was required for gigabit ethernet...
  • 0 Hide
    Proximon , September 15, 2011 9:59 PM
    It really is an impressively clear and complete book. It's quite a skill to cover topics like this in a way that doesn't require too much background knowledge first.
  • 0 Hide
    soccerdocks , September 16, 2011 12:33 AM
    jryan388I was under the impression that cat6 cable was required for gigabit ethernet...


    I was too. But it sounds like as long as your CAT5e cable is short enough it will work. Although probably not optimally.
  • 2 Hide
    michaelahess , September 16, 2011 2:17 AM
    Cat5e is fine for gigabit. I've had runs over 300ft work fine at 1Gb speeds.

    I didn't read very carefully but I didn't see anything in the wifi section about true transmission speeds. 54g will only net you 18-24Mb at the best, consistently. Fastest I've gotten outa any N gear is just shy of 250Mb/sec. And that was with high end Cisco gear at very short distance. Wireless is just too fickle for real high bandwidth stuff.

    I've been in the network provider (ISP) field for over 15 years. Anyone has any questions, just ask me. ;)  Ok don't really, I don't have the time!
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , September 16, 2011 4:43 PM
    ARCNet, Token Ring...that brings back a lot of memories. Then there was Corvus' Omninet...
  • 0 Hide
    chickenhoagie , September 18, 2011 9:14 PM
    guess my cisco class taught me a lot in highschool. still learned a few pointers in this article though
  • 0 Hide
    sysa , September 21, 2011 1:31 PM
    I did a little checking and found out that the 6200 series processors are Interlagos.
  • 1 Hide
    zodiacfml , September 22, 2011 3:06 AM
    wow, didn't know our ordinary ethernet only need two pairs of wires.
    i wonder why it had those extra pairs before gigabit ethernet.
  • 1 Hide
    thegame8019 , September 22, 2011 7:26 PM
    I am currently enrolled in Cisco's academy and this article has made a few things a little more clear to me.
  • 0 Hide
    PhoneyVirus , September 23, 2011 7:59 PM
    I have this book 10 feet from me but I'm not aloud with it until Christmas because the girlfriend would kill me, the only way I could look at it is I would have to where a pair of rubber gloves so there wouldn't be any finger prints on the hard cover and not to break the book in so I'll wait until Christmas and it can't come fast enough.

    Also amk-aka-phantom this book should be on your book shelf and NOT Bookmarked in the browser, Read this book remember all you can build your self a system, Read Microsoft Windows Inside Out, Remember your Keyboard Short Cuts aka Run Commands, Conquer the Command prompt, program simple VBScripts, Batch files and you will have no problem running a little PC Repair shop.

    PhoneyVirus
  • 0 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , September 23, 2011 8:25 PM
    Quote:
    Also amk-aka-phantom this book should be on your book shelf and NOT Bookmarked in the browser, Read this book remember all you can build your self a system, Read Microsoft Windows Inside Out, Remember your Keyboard Short Cuts aka Run Commands, Conquer the Command prompt, program simple VBScripts, Batch files and you will have no problem running a little PC Repair shop.


    Umm... thank you, but I know enough about PCs and networking without any books.