Ring topology is a network configuration where the connected devices create a circular path for data to travel. Each item gets connected to two others, creating points on a circle that allows for communication to happen. Data packets travel from device to the next until they reach their intended destination.
Most ring topologies allow data packets to travel in one direction only. These setups are called unidirectional networks. If the installation allows the information to move in both directions, then it would be a bi-directional ring topology. These networks can use WANs (wide-area networks) or LANs (local area networks), and wired or wireless options are available today to connect the devices.
Some ring topology systems used a token-based approach to communication. Others offer data packet transmissions that go through each workstation. These configurations are not always treated as a “true” ring design since the physical layout can seem more like a star, but their benefits and problems are still part of the discussion of the circular network design.
As with any network configuration design, several advantages and disadvantages of a ring topology are worth considering.
List of the Advantages of Ring Topology
1. All of the data can travel in one direction.
The unidirectional nature of a ring topology is one of its greatest strengths. This design allows the data packets to move in a single direction. This benefit significantly reduces the chance that information collisions will occur. Although the flow of data is slower than it is with other topologies, the reliability of the network is worth considering. You’ll have less jitter or outright loss with this configuration, and that means it is possible to obtain higher-level productivity at each workstation.
Ring topologies create an effective design because it operates on the token-passing principle. Data packets get passed from one workstation to the next, and only the one with the appropriate token has permission to transmit the information. Then the receiving computer takes the info with the token, repeating the process.
2. You don’t need to have a network server.
The design of a ring topology allows each workstation to control connectivity instead of needing to have a network server. Each connection facilitates the transfer of information, allowing for each station to work with each other to create results. That’s why it is useful for WAN or LAN needs. The only issues that involve the connectivity of each point on the network are the cables or wireless connections used to link to both stops.
3. High-speed data transfers are possible with ring topology.
Although other topologies might be faster than this design, most organizations discover that the ring configuration still does an excellent job. High-speed data packet transfers are still possible with this design. That means you have less lag or downtime with your network when it is functioning correctly. Since you don’t have any hubs or central components that could break down, your attention can remain on the individual stations so that their maximized performance can be an asset.
4. You can add new workstations without difficulty.
The ring topology design creates infinite scalability. Since each workstation only connects with the one behind it and the one in front, you can keep adding new workstations as needed to encourage ongoing productivity. Although a larger configuration does present more opportunities for a link disruption, you don’t need to worry about adding new central hubs or additional switches to prevent overloading one point on the network. If you’re starting small and need some versatility, this design provides a lot of flexibility that you won’t find in other topology options.
5. Ring topologies allow for bi-directional data packet movement.
If speed isn’t the primary issue under consideration with a ring topology design, then it might be useful to use the bi-directional feature of this system. Most networks allow the flow of data to move in a circular direction to avoid a collision, but some systems might benefit from the option to reverse that flow. Although it increases the chance of experiencing loss, the token-passing principle is still in play. That means you can still handle the heavy traffic levels that your productivity requires.
Some networks use two cables to connect workstations to maximize this advantage. It’s an upgrade that is similar to changing a highway from a two-lane road to a four-lane one.
6. The data packets stay intact over long distances.
A ring topology provides a network that offers high levels of reliability when passing data packets to each workstation. The tokenized system keeps the information intact, reducing the risk of loss even when traversing a long distance. Since there isn’t a switch or hub that can interfere with the process, you’ll have a reliable experience that can eventually loop back to the sending workstation if needed.
If the system doesn’t use tokens, the reliability of the information is still high. Each workstation validates the data packet before sending it to the next destination.
7. It is easier to pick out where faults in the network exist.
Since most ring topologies are unidirectional, finding a fault in the network is a straightforward process. All of the tokens will end up being on one computer, and the workstation that is on the other side of the gap won’t have any at all except for the ones that it generates. That means you’ll spend less time on repairs even though you spend a little more time on inspections.
This advantage typically applies to cable faults, but it can also be an advantage for hardware issues that develop in a ring topology.
8. You can add redundancies to the topology to improve its performance.
Although a cable break or a node failure will disrupt a ring topology system if it is unidirectional, designers can build in some redundancies that limit the issues that can occur. Some designs have two sets of bidirectional links between each node to ensure that fewer outages occur because data travels in both directions with two different paths to send a token.
IBM innovated the ring topology idea with its initial LAN< but their 802.5 networks avoid the weaknesses of this design because they are physically a star topology that uses a media access unit to imitate the use of a ring when sending information.
9. A ring topology is easy to design and implement.
The design of a ring topology is fairly straightforward. If you have three nodes or more that require a connection, then you’d link each one forward and back to create the network. You’d follow that procedure to an infinite level when implementing this network design option. Although your network will slow down a little every time you add another stop for the data packets or tokens, the process of delivery will remain smooth.
List of the Disadvantages of Ring Topology
1. If you sever one point of the topology, then the entire network malfunctions.
Since most ring topologies take the unidirectional approach, a disruption of the network will impact every device. Although data packets can still travel along the remaining connections, the gap in the network will prevent a lot of the information from reaching its destination. This disadvantage can cause significant outages that lead to productivity declines until a repair can occur.
You can reduce the risk of this disadvantage by building multiple paths for the data packets to travel. Instead of having one “highway” to use, the information could choose a detour if the primary route gets disrupted for some reason. Taking this approach will reduce the threat of the network malfunctioning, but it comes at an added cost.
2. Ring topologies are one of the slowest network designs.
When you use a ring topology for a network, then the data packets getting transferred must pass through each workstation. That means it takes more time for the information to reach its intended destination. This disadvantage is the reason why many businesses avoid using this configuration unless they have no other option. It is slower than even star topologies with multiple nodes because of the need to have all “hands” on the data that gets routed through it.
The security that the token-passing principle provides is also the reason why speed can sometimes be an issue. While one computer has the authority to transmit, all of the other workstations are stuck waiting for information to reach them.
3. If one workstation shuts down, the entire network gets impacted.
You don’t need to sever a cable to impact a ring topology network. When one workstation becomes non-operational for any reason, then the entire installation cannot work as efficiently. That means you need to constantly check your hardware components to ensure that all of your equipment is working correctly. Most configurations with this design typically need more inspections than others because of how integral each unit is to the functionality of the topology.
The ring topology can continue to pass tokens until it reaches the disruption point. At that stage, the information stops moving because there is no way to reach the next workstation. A bi-directional system can avoid this disruption if it can recognize the interruption.
4. It is more expensive to install a ring topology network.
The hardware that you need to create a ring topology system is more expensive to purchase and install than other systems. If you’re on a tight budget and need a network, then hubs, switches, or Ethernet cards are going to be a more affordable option. You’ll lose the benefits of this configuration, but it can be a useful trade-off in some situations.
It is less costly when you compare ring topologies to hybrid, tree, or mesh designs, but there are more affordable options for you to consider if needed. This disadvantage is especially important to consider if you want to build redundancies into the system to be proactive about stopping disruptions.
5. Installing new workstations will disrupt the network.
Although a ring topology is infinitely scalable, it is also prone to disruptions whenever workstations must get added or removed from the network. That means you will have outages to manage whenever changes to the system occur. It is one of the most challenging designs to alter because of this issue, and the cost of disrupted network activity.
This disadvantage applies to any development work that needs to happen on the network. Even if your only task is to update a single workstation, then the activities can impact every other stop on the ring topology design.
6. The bandwidth of a ring topology gets shared on all links between devices.
The speed of a ring topology network is directly proportional to its size. If there are only a handful of nodes on the system, then the data packets will move quickly between each workstation. When the design includes numerous devices, then the bandwidth sharing nature of this option can slow speeds down considerably. The communication delays that users experience is directly proportional to the number of units that function on the network.
Ring topology was the most common network setup when the first LANs were introduced by IBM. Their token ring was an innovative way to connect workstations, facilitate collaboration, and even create telecommuting opportunities.
Now that we live in a technological world where speed is an essential element of every productivity equation, this design has fallen out of favor in some situations because of the threat of linkage disruption. Small businesses can take advantage of the high-speed nature of a small ring and its scalability, but large companies might find the design to be too cumbersome and lack consistency.
When evaluating these ring topology advantages, it is essential to consider the orderly nature of the tokenized environment against the potential malfunctions that could occur. Then you’ll know if this network design is the one that will best meet your needs – or if a different design would work better for you.
Natalie Regoli, Esq. is the author of this post and the editor-in-chief of our blog. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington and her Masters in Law from The University of Texas School of Law. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Natalie has almost two decades of experience as a lawyer and banker. If you would like to reach out to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.