When building a LAN that satisfies the needs of a small- or medium-sized business, your plan is more likely to be successful if a hierarchical design model is used. Compared to other network designs, a hierarchical network is easier to manage and expand, and problems are solved more quickly. Hierarchical network design involves dividing the network into discrete layers. Each layer provides specific functions that define its role within the overall network. By separating the various functions that exist on a network, the network design becomes modular, which facilitates scalability and performance. The typical hierarchical design model is broken up in to three layers: access, distribution, and core. An example of a three-layer hierarchical network design is displayed in the figure. 5
The access layer interfaces with end devices, such as PCs, printers, and IP phones, to provide access to the rest of the network. The access layer can include routers, switches, bridges, hubs, and wireless access points (AP). The main purpose of the access layer is to provide a means of connecting devices to the network and controlling which devices are allowed to communicate on the network. 6
The distribution layer aggregates the data received from the access layer switches before it is transmitted to the core layer for routing to its final destination. The distribution layer controls the flow of network traffic using policies and delineates broadcast domains by performing routing functions between virtual LANs (VLANs) defined at the access layer. VLANs allow you to segment the traffic on a switch into separate subnetworks. For example, in a university you might separate traffic according to faculty, students, and guests. Distribution layer switches are typically high-performance devices that have high availability and redundancy to ensure reliability. You will learn more about VLANs, broadcast domains, and inter-VLAN routing later in this course. 7
The core layer of the hierarchical design is the high-speed backbone of the internetwork. The core layer is critical for interconnectivity between distribution layer devices, so it is important for the core to be highly available and redundant. The core area can also connect to Internet resources. The core aggregates the traffic from all the distribution layer devices, so it must be capable of forwarding large amounts of data quickly. 8
Note: In smaller networks, it is not unusual to implement a collapsed core model, where the distribution layer and core layer are combined into one layer. Hierarchical ModelWe find different types of hierarchical model depending on the size of the company: 1 tier: one layer, typically small/branch offices (<50 employees) 2 tier: core/distribution (collapsed core) and access layers OR core and distribution/access layers (50-100) 3 tier: core, distribution and access layers (100-200+) 1 tiered architectures are designed for small offices that do not need enhanced services (e.g.: branch offices) or so small that they can keep up with all-in-one boxes.