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Building interconnected worlds with network architecture

Today’s internet users – from global businesses to individuals with network devices – have come to rely on instant, seamless, reliable and flexible methods of connecting. As such, our digital age is founded on the design and maintenance of network operating systems that enable us to live, work and communicate with ease – wherever we happen to be in the world.

Organisations who rely on technological advancements – for example, telecommunication, shared networks, algorithms, and software that enables application programming interface (API) – rely on individuals with specialist computer science skills such as network design and network functions. An ever-growing sector, computing expertise – and the ability to apply it to achieve business goals – is in increasing demand.

What is network architecture?

Computer networks are built and designed to serve the needs of clients and users. Network architecture, therefore, is the way in which these computer networks are structured to meet device connectivity requirements. In this context, devices refers to servers, end-user devices and smart technologies.

There are different types of network architecture that are used for various purposes and applications. Some common examples of networks include:

  • access networks and local-area networks (LANs) – used to support, connect and on-board users and share systems within a distinct geographical area via a central server, such as a workforce within an office building
  • wide-area networks (WANs) – used to connect users, often over long distances, such as healthcare professionals to health systems and applications
  • data centres – used to connect servers where data and applications are hosted and make them accessible to users
  • intranets – used to connect computers for a certain group of users across a network
  • cloud computing – used to meet the on-demand delivery of resources over the Internet, including private clouds, public clouds, multi-clouds and hybrid clouds.

Systems are set up in a variety of ways, depending on need. For example, businesses can choose between options such as peer-to-peer architecture (P2P) – where all devices on the system have the same capabilities, used by platforms such as Bitcoin and BitTorrent – or more traditional client/server networks where some devices are set up to ‘serve’ others, used by Amazon and for devices such as the Apple watch.

Computer science specialists working to design and arrange intricate systems will also need to consider network topology: how various connections and nodes are arranged, both logically and physically, in a network. Examples of network topologies include bus, star, ring, mesh, tree and hybrid.

What are the components of network architectures?

Building and maintaining networks can be complex and challenging – especially in a world where expectations are ever-higher, and needs and requirements change over time. To offer solutions that help to manage modern network architectures, network architects have a variety of components at their disposal.

Controller-led set-ups are critical to scaling and securing networks. Controllers respond to evolving business needs and aim to drastically simplify operations; business intent is translated into device configurations and network functions are automated. Controller-led systems continuously monitor devices connected to the network to ensure that performance and security standards are met and maintained.

Multi-domain (or cross-network) integrations are designed to share and exchange relevant operating parameters, with multiple networks communicating via controllers. This helps to ensure that organisational outcomes which span networking domains are delivered.

Intent-based working (IBN) focuses on setting up networks in order to achieve an organisation’s desired outcomes. It relies heavily on automation to integrate business processes, review network performance, identify issues and enable security measures.

What is the open systems interconnection (OSI) model?

The OSI model enables disparate and diverse systems to communicate using standard protocols. A conceptual model developed by the International Organization for Standardization, it’s best thought of as a single, universal language required for computer networking. It helps to identify and troubleshoot issues with networks.

There are seven layers to the OSI model, each responsible for a specific task and required to communicate with the layers both above and below itself:

  1.       Physical layer
  2.       Data link layer
  3.       Network layer
  4.       Transport layer
  5.       Session layer
  6.       Presentation layer
  7.       Application layer.

What is the role of a network architect?

With the expansion of wireless and mobile networks – alongside more traditional versions – network architects are in increasing demand.

A network architect’s job is to create and implement layouts and plans for data communication networks. Their responsibilities are likely to include advising organisations on where they might need networks, how these will work in practice, and any benefits or drawbacks to using particular types of network – so having a keen understanding of organisational goals and wider plans is key. Essentially, they help businesses to create a cohesive framework with which their employees can communicate and share information, access systems and servers, and do their jobs. As a result, most network architects work closely with chief information officers to predict and plan for where new or different networks will be required. They often work within a wider team comprising computer systems engineers and other computer science-related roles.

As well as planning data communication networks and their logistics, further responsibilities of network architects can include:

  • researching new network technologies
  • analysing current data and network traffic to forecast future growth and its implications for networks and bandwidth requirements
  • planning network security measures, such as patches, authentication, back-ups and firewalls, and testing vulnerabilities
  • assessing what additional hardware is required, such as network drivers, cables, wifi capabilities, routers and adaptors, and how this will be implemented.

It can be a lucrative career: job and career specialists, Reed, state that the average salary for a network architect in the UK is £94,842 – a figure that can be far exceeded depending on factors such as individual experience, seniority of role, location and sector type.

Discover how to design, implement and manage network infrastructure and architecture

Kickstart your career in computing, and join a fast-growing, exciting and in-demand sector, with the University of York’s online MSc Computer Science programme.

Our 100% online programme is designed for individuals without a computer science background. As well as developing your foundational and theoretical understanding of the discipline, you’ll gain the expertise to apply your learning and tools to solve real-world issues for organisations and service providers. Through flexible study to suit you, you’ll explore areas such as programming, data analytics and big data, artificial intelligence, network infrastructure and protocols, and cybersecurity.