What are network infrastructure devices? Network infrastructure refers to an entire network's hardware and software components that enable network connectivity, communication, and operations. Network devices are the physical devices required for the interactions between hardware on the network.
What Is Network Infrastructure?
Network infrastructure is the hardware, software, organizational systems, and configurations of a functional wired or wireless network upon which user devices share and communicate information.
Networks are complex entities that require dozens of related components that facilitate data movement from the point that the internet service enters the premises to the end users' devices.
To understand how network infrastructure works, it's essential to know how the network supports moving data from the public Internet, local devices, and end users. In the most straightforward description, network connectivity can be defined as follows:
- Public Internet Backbones: As data moves through the broader public internet infrastructure, it is carried as electromagnetic signals over either fiber optic or copper cables. These major lines of communication support general internet communication across local and wide area networks.
- Translation to Digital: Electromagnetic signals enter a local area network (LAN) and connect to a modulating device that converts those signals into digital information, known as IP packets that travel throughout LAN infrastructure.
- Routing: IP packets are earmarked for specific devices, and hardware can either route those packets to the right device directly using IP addresses and routing tables (in the case of routers) or repeat the broadcast of packet information to all connected devices (in the case of hubs).
- End User Interaction: User devices receive packets of information decoded by their operating system and applications to display information in the relevant and appropriate form.
This process is generally the same, even in heterogeneous networks with wired and wireless connectivity.
However, not everything connected to the infrastructure is considered a "device." While these components are part of the overall system, they are generally not included in a device list:
- Network Cables: Many components of network infrastructure connect through wired means to maintain privacy and speed for the network backbone. While these are critical for the operation of the network, they are usually accompaniment for devices rather than being devices themselves.
- Firewalls: A network administrator will deploy a firewall through which all network traffic will flow for packets to be inspected against firewall policies. In other cases, network managers will leverage software firewalls installed in other devices like routers to simplify security in a single place.
- End User Devices: While these computers, peripherals (printers, scanners, etc.), and mobile devices are technical devices, they aren't necessarily considered part of the overall infrastructure of the network—a point that might be debatable depending on how one thinks about security and compliance. Generally, however, end user devices aren't necessary to support the operation of a network overall.
- Software: Many networks use software to monitor network traffic, route packets, measure performance, and determine any flaws or bottlenecks. In many cases, the software is installed on a device but is not a device in and of itself.
Outside of these items, nearly any other piece of hardware or software plugged into the network is considered infrastructure. These devices will generally bear some responsibility for transporting or managing internet traffic, supporting security, or helping administrators control network configurations.
What Are the Types of Network Infrastructure Devices?
Home and small office networks often include the very bare minimum of network infrastructure devices: modems acting as gateways to the Internet, routers and end user devices. However, when it comes to large and complex enterprise networks, it's critical to have devices in place that can handle additional security, coverage, accessibility, and performance controls. Enterprise networks often have complex infrastructure comprising multiple types of hardware and software.
Typical network infrastructure devices include the following:
Modems, or modulators/demodulators, handle receiving and translating internet signals from the wider public internet to local area networks. They convert signals from fiber or coaxial internet lines into an understandable digital output through hardware and software interfaces in other network devices, namely routers and switches.
Routers handle the routing of IP traffic throughout the network, ensuring that information gets to the device it was intended to.
It's hard to overstate how important routers are. They will house software that manages routing tables to support proper IP packet management, and many routers also include additional software for firewall or anti-malware protection.
Additionally, they will often include several layers of software to help with security and performance management, like network connectivity and segmentation for heterogeneous networks, which can transmit data via wired or wireless transmission. Routers will often connect directly to internet modems to control IP traffic flow.
Gateways often function like routers, with the added capabilities of managing the translation of physical signals from an incoming internet connection to the devices on the network (like a modem). These modem/router combinations can serve dual purposes or connect separate networks with routing capabilities.
Hubs are a form of simple router in that they perform some of the same functions of a router (packet forwarding) without the actual routing. For example, if a hub receives data from another device, it will send that information to all connected devices. Additionally, hubs will often have the ability to retransmit the form of information they receive, not simply the data itself. If a hub receives digital IP packets, it will transmit those. If it gets analog (electrical) signals, it can also pass those on as the same type of signal.
Switches handle the routing of digital information between computers on a local network. A switch shares similar functionality to a router but controls traffic within a LAN in many ways. One way to think about this is that switches control access between computers within a network, while routers control traffic between networks (including the wider Internet).
Repeaters are devices that simply repeat internet traffic in far-reaching networks. Even in wired networks, lengthy distances between devices can impact network performance. Repeaters are cost-effective devices that simply receive traffic and repeat it to maintain signal strength.
Bridges are similar to hubs or switches in that they control the transmission of data across networks, but do so across network segments using identical protocols. As the technology has evolved, many single-purpose bridge devices have been replaced with switches named "multiport bridges."
Access points are where end users connect to the network with their devices. These access points can either be wired or wireless, but most general-purpose access points provide WiFi coverage with the proliferation of readily available WiFi technology. Multiple access points can be used to offer or expand network coverage at the edge of the network for public or private business networks.
If the network administrator opts for it, they can install hardware firewall devices that sit at strategic places in network traffic flow. The sole purpose of these devices is to filter traffic and apply security policies to that traffic based on the regulations or requirements the organization has for their local network.
Empower Optimal, Secure Network Infrastructure Devices with Meter
The challenge of managing network infrastructure devices is planning their placement through effective network design and implementing them effectively. When networks become more complex than a modem and a router, such design elements are essential to maintain performance without sinking huge costs to maintain and upgrade network hardware.
Look to Meter if you are ready to make your enterprise wireless network work for you. Our experts can help you understand the network infrastructure devices you need to serve your employees, guests, and customers without blowing your budget. Contact us if you're interested in a network design consultation.
Also, if you're on the market for a new business internet service provider, use our Meter Connect directory to find competitive service pricing in your area.
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