Network storage is an important aspect of a company’s health and productivity. With a good storage management solution, small businesses can maximize server performance, simplify data management, back up important data, improve application availability, and be prepared in case of disaster.
Three types of network storage options have typically been available: direct-attached storage (DAS), network-attached storage (NAS), and storage area networks (SAN). The SAN is an increasingly popular method of achieving the performance goals of small businesses.
Although SANs used to be the domain of larger companies, a recent study shows that a growing number of small companies are considering testing or incorporating these networks. As implementation costs decrease and storage demands increase, investment in SAN architecture continues to make sense to a widening array of organizations.
What Is A SAN?
SANs, or storage area networks, are high-speed, dedicated networks that connect data storage tools with larger networks. They facilitate the communication between computer systems and each other by connecting to pools of storage via SAN switches. The storage pool is controlled by administrators that assign logical unit numbers (LUNs), or blocks of storage capacity.
In addition to communicating between storage devices and computers, SANs exhibit several other distinctive functions, including:
- Conducting application and administrative traffic
- Operating on a wide range of network technologies, from Ethernet to Fibre Channel
- Connecting diverse types of storage devices, including robotic libraries, RAID subsystems, file servers, and tape and disc drives.
The versatility of SANs with regard to types of storage devices encourages innovation. This is leading to sustained developments in the processing and storage of digital information.
How Storage Area Networks Differ From Direct Attached Storage Networks
DAS, or direct attached storage, incorporates a high-speed interconnect, such as SCSI, to incorporate its own disk arrays into servers. This method offers low cost and optimal performance, allowing swift access to database applications. For departmental networks and small businesses, DAS can be a sensible option. However, it does not account well for more complex networks comprising several servers.
By contrast, SANs facilitate the pooling of storage among data centers. They detach isolated storage arrays from application servers and reduce the required capacities. The result is easier centralization of storage management, which redistributes storage resources to other servers. Because SANs simplify the addition of storage, they are also contributing to the virtualization of data centers.
Comparing And Contrasting Storage Area Networks With Network Attached Storage
SAN and NAS, or network attached storage, exhibit similarities as well as differences. Both use networks to allow users to access storage devices remotely. However, the two technologies diverge when it comes to several characteristics, including:
- Server types. SANs incorporate multipurpose servers, while NAS servers are dedicated.
- Server operating systems. NAS most commonly employs proprietary operating systems, and SAN uses open operating systems.
- Easy to upgrade. SANs can be easily upgraded; for NAS, upgrades can be impossible (or at least too complicated to be worth the effort).
- Frequently-used protocols. NAS protocols include SMB (or Server Message Block) and NFS (Network File System). SANs use a wider variety of protocols, including Fibre Channel (the most common), Ethernet, and HyperSCSI.
- Protocol levels. NAS uses a file protocol. This consists of a basic server housed by a network with its own file system. NAS devices, also called “appliances,” are easily connected and configured. Files sent to NAS appliances are divided into packets that are directed towards the device’s IP address. After reconstructing the file, the appliance then breaks it into storage blocks, keeping track of metadata through its file system.
A major drawback to NAS systems is their tendency to get overloaded by multiple servers and clients. SANs use block protocol, which means they use detached, high-speed networks to transport data in blocks to the storage array. Unlike NAS, SAN application servers host their file systems directly, saving the additional passage of data through another server.
Storage Area Networks And The Cloud
An increasing number of companies are utilizing cloud-based services to store their data. Using virtual servers, cloud computing expands a company’s storage capacities beyond its existing infrastructural capabilities. Due to its ability to connect large numbers of servers to storage devices, SAN technology is used heavily by cloud technology creators.
The difference between storage area networks and cloud storage is that SAN systems are hosted through a company’s own servers, while the cloud stores it virtually via internet servers. Additionally, cloud hosting services can be more cost-effective than purchasing hardware to accommodate more storage. Businesses that are unwilling or unable to invest in additional infrastructure are more frequently turning to the cloud.
Some companies also use a hybrid approach to storage, using the cloud for archives or lower-priority items and SANs for materials that need to be quickly and readily available. This allows them to customize their storage solution to meet their practical and budgetary needs.
How Storage Area Networks Can Improve Your Performance
Storage area networks can help your company in a number of ways, including:
- Improved disk utilization. When your storage is centralized through a SAN, it makes for more effective and efficient use of resources.
- Disaster recovery (DR). In case of catastrophe, a SAN lets you recover data from multiple applications.
- Application availability. SAN storage arrays use data protection algorithms to keep data consistent and accessible.
- Increased backup speed. SAN storage devices create exact, hardware-based copies of data almost instantaneously. This makes them an easy way to back up large amounts of data in less time.
Although setting up a SAN can require a significant upfront investment, the payoff is a more secure, organized, and accessible network. When used on their own or in conjunction with cloud technology, storage area networks allow businesses to streamline their storage, freeing owners and employees to focus on the work that makes their companies successful.