What Is Network Architecture?

Network architecture refers to the way network devices and services are structured to serve the connectivity needs of client devices.

  • Network devices typically include switches and routers.
  • Types of services include DHCP and DNS.
  • Client devices comprise end-user devices, servers, and
    smart things.

Why are there different network architectures?

Computer networks are built to serve the needs of their clients. Described below are three common types of enterprise networks:

  • Access networks, for campuses and branches, are built to bring users and things onboard, such as connecting employees within an office building.
  • Networks for data center connect servers that host data and applications and make them available to users.
  • Wide-area networks (WANs) connect users to applications, sometimes over long distances, such as connecting hospital workers to health applications.

These and all other networks face different security threats, which they need to guard against.

To accommodate these varied requirements, all network types have unique architectures.

Why are network architectures under pressure?

Today, to serve the exacting needs brought on by technology advancements and digital transformation initiatives, networks are called on to do more.

Access networks need to recognize, authenticate, and authorize user devices and smart things before bringing them on board. Data center networks need to connect applications in multiple data centers and clouds. WANs need to minimize costs and enhance user experience when serving distributed applications to distributed users.

Networks also need to be dynamic, agile, and in lockstep with business needs. Traditional, manually intensive methods of managing computer networks are proving to be unsustainable. New approaches are necessary, ones that require transformational changes in how networks are architected.

Components of modern network architectures

The industry is now using architectures that ease the burden of building and maintaining computer networks for the digital age. Only Cisco offers a complete portfolio of modern network architectures for access, WAN, data center, and cloud.

An intent-based network takes an organization's desired outcomes at a high level as input and sets up the network to achieve these objectives. It does so by automating operations extensively, analyzing network performance, pinpointing problematic areas, providing all-around security, and integrating with business processes.

Network controllers are foundational to intent-based networking and are essential to scaling and securing networks in the digital era. Controllers dramatically simplify operations and help organizations respond rapidly to changing business requirements. They automate networking functions by translating business intent into device configurations, and they monitor the network devices continuously to help ensure performance and security. 


Multiple networks in an enterprise communicate with one another through their controllers. Such cross-network, or multidomain, integrations generally involve exchanging relevant operating parameters to help ensure that desired business outcomes that span networking domains are achieved.