Hierarchical Design Model – Core – distribution – access layer

Hierarchical Design Model – Core – distribution – access layer

A hierarchical network design includes the following three layers:

  • The backbone (core) layer that provides optimal transport between sites
  • The distribution layer that provides policy-based connectivity
  • The local-access layer that provides workgroup/user access to the network







Function of the Core Layer

The core layer is a high-speed switching backbone and should be designed to switch packets as fast as possible. This layer of the network should not perform any packet manipulation, such as access lists and filtering, that would slow down the switching of packets.

Function of the Distribution Layer

The distribution layer of the network is the demarcation point between the access and core layers and helps to define and differentiate the core. The purpose of this layer is to provide boundary definition and is the place at which packet manipulation can take place. In the campus environment, the distribution layer can include several functions, such as the following:

  • Address or area aggregation
  • Departmental or workgroup access
  • Broadcast/multicast domain definition
  • Virtual LAN (VLAN) routing
  • Any media transitions that need to occur
  • Security

In the non-campus environment, the distribution layer can be a redistribution point between routing domains or the demarcation between static and dynamic routing protocols. It can also be the point at which remote sites access the corporate network. The distribution layer can be summarized as the layer that provides policy-based connectivity.

Function of the Access Layer

The access layer is the point at which local end users are allowed into the network. This layer may also use access lists or filters to further optimize the needs of a particular set of users. In the campus environment, access-layer functions can include the following:

  • Shared bandwidth
  • Switched bandwidth
  • MAC layer filtering
  • Microsegmentation

In the non-campus environment, the access layer can give remote sites access to the corporate network via some wide-area technology, such as Frame Relay, ISDN, or leased lines.

It is sometimes mistakenly thought that the three layers (core, distribution, and access) must exist in clear and distinct physical entities, but this does not have to be the case. The layers are defined to aid successful network design and to represent functionality that must exist in a network. The instantiation of each layer can be in distinct routers or switches, can be represented by a physical media, can be combined in a single device, or can be omitted altogether. The way the layers are implemented depends on the needs of the network being designed. Note, however, that for a network to function optimally, hierarchy must be maintained.

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