What is a Storage Area Network (SAN)?

October 9, 2020 Amy Myers

san storage

According to Forbes, 35 zettabytes (35 trillion gigabytes) of data are predicted to be created in 2020. So, where is all that data going to be stored? How will you store large amounts of data that is also easily accessible?

If you’re a business owner, you must’ve thought about the data your business will generate or use, and now you are looking into flexible storage solutions.

What is SAN Storage?

A Storage Area Network (SAN) is a high performance, high-speed network of storage devices that allows access to consolidated, block-level storage. Multiple client devices can access it, and it usually appears to the client OS as a disk. SAN storage separates the storage system from the rest of the local area network (LAN). This way, they improve application performance, data protection, and disaster recovery if needed.

Looking for scalable storage solutions? SAN Storage can add more capacity on-demand.

How Does SAN Storage Work?

SAN storage provides a high-speed infrastructure connecting servers to their logical disk units. A logical disk unit is an array of blocks allocated from a pool of storage units that are presented to the server as a logical disk. Therefore, when connecting to a SAN from a LAN or a server, the SAN actually appears like a local disk. It does that in a way that any client device can store data on the logical unit, as it would on any local type of storage device. A well-designed and distributed SAN can withstand multiple device or component failures, keeping the data safe.

Diagram of SAN Storage

What Does SAN Storage Consist Of?

As already mentioned, storage area networks are usually physically separated from the rest of the LAN, and can span multiple sites. They’re composed of SAN switches, hosts, and storage devices that are connected internally through a variety of SAN technologies.

What are the Advantages of System Area Network?

The five advantages of system area networks are:

  1. Greater Scalability – SAN storage can be scaled easily to suit evolving business needs. Should you need more storage, more capacity can be added when and as it is required. That way, you will never have more storage than you need.
  2. Backup – Data backup should always be a major consideration, and if using SAN, you only need a single backup server for data that is potentially scattered across multiple locations.
  3. Reduces LAN Bandwidth Issues – LAN-based storage systems can be subject to bandwidth bottlenecks due to the fact that a large chunk of the network traffic is caused by data transfers. Since SAN takes that part of traffic onto itself, the performance of the entire LAN would improve and decrease the time needed for other tasks.
  4. Data Security – Using a SAN, data protection algorithms are consistent. Whenever you need it, you have access to accurate copies of any data on it. Additionally, should the LAN become compromised, your data would be secure, since it is stored on a separate network.
  5. Disaster Recovery – Centralized data can be easily copied to a separate recovery device that’s ideally stored at a separate location as well. As such, if and when needed, the data can also be easily recovered, should anything disastrous happen.

The Most Common SAN Protocols

Here are three of the most common SAN protocols used:

  1. Fibre Channel Protocol (FCP) – This is the most widely used SAN or block protocol. It is deployed in the majority of the SAN market. FCP uses Fibre Channel transport protocols embedded with SCSI commands.
  2. Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI) – iSCSI incorporates SCSI commands inside an Ethernet frame. For data transport, it uses an IP Ethernet network.
  3. Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) – It is similar to iSCSI, since it incorporates an FC frame inside an Ethernet datagram. It also uses an IP Ethernet network for transport.

Use Cases for San Storage

Storage area networks have their own local file systems that enable the servers to partition and format the blocks to use as the local storage units they appear as. Storage area networks are used as support for performance-sensitive applications such as:

  1. Oracle Databases – These are often business-critical, and require the highest performance and availability.
  2. Microsoft SQL Server Databases – MS SQL Server databases also usually store an enterprise’s most valuable data. Therefore, they also require the highest performance and availability.
  3. Virtualization Deployments using KVM, Microsoft Hyper-V, or VMware – These environments can extend to thousands of virtual machines running a wide range of operating systems and applications, sometimes with varying performance requirements. These environments support many applications, so infrastructure reliability becomes even more important, because a failure can cause multiple application outages.
  4. Large Virtual Desktop Infrastructures (VDIs) – These environments serve virtual desktops to sometimes large numbers of an organization’s users. Some of them number tens of thousands of virtual desktops. By centralizing them, organizations can more easily manage data security.
  5. SAP, Large ERP, or CRM Environments – SAN architectures can be a perfect fit for different resource planning and other resource management workloads.

Regarding the hardware, HDDs are being replaced, or combined with SSDs, thus creating hybrid arrays, as well as all-flash SANs.

What is NAS?

Network attached storage (NAS) is a network-based storage solution. NAS storage are methods of managing storage centrally, and sharing that storage with multiple servers. Unlike SAN, which uses Ethernet and FC, NAS uses Ethernet. Additionally, NAS focuses on ease-of-use, scalability, lower cost of ownership, and manageability. Unlike SAN, NAS storage controllers partition the storage. This makes a NAS server look like any other file server to the client server connected to it. While SAN stores data at the block level, NAS accesses it as files. Therefore, it’s usually associated with unstructured data, such as images or video content, while SAN usually handles structured workloads like databases. Hybrid and all-flash NAS hardware is also available due to the impact flash storage has had on storage mediums.

Most Common NAS Protocols:

Here are the two most commonly used NAS protocols:

  1. Common Internet File Services / Server Message Block (CIFS/SMB) – This is the protocol that Windows usually uses.
  2. Network File System (NFS) – NFS was first developed for use with UNIX servers, and is also a common Linux protocol.

SAN vs NAS: Which to Choose

SAN

NAS

Usually more expensive Less expensive
High-speed connections using the Fibre channel Speed is dependent on the local Ethernet network
Typically used in enterprise and professional environments Typically used in homes or small to medium sized businesses
Requires more administration Easier to manage
Easily scalable Usually not highly scalable
Requires architectural changes No architectural changes required
Redundant functionalities and fault tolerant network Often have single points of failure
Not affected by network traffic bottlenecks Susceptible to network bottlenecks

In the end, the choice is yours, depending on the needs of your business, as well as the budget available for storage purposes.

What is Unified Storage?

Unified storage, or multiprotocol storage, is another type of network-based storage array. It was created out of desire and need for a single storage platform that would support both block and file storage in one system. Unified storage allows a single system to support FC and iSCSI block storage, as well as file storage protocols like NFS or SMB. Additionally, with systems like these, the same physical storage can be allocated to either SAN or NAS.

Liquid Web SAN Storage and Cloud Storage Solutions

Liquid Web’s Storage Area Network (SAN) is a highly scalable and fault-tolerant central network storage cluster for your critical data. It uses fast, low latency Gigabit Ethernet connections to connect to your servers. This allows for sequential, or parallel data transfer, without affecting the performance of the host server.

Other than the SAN solution, we also offer other cloud storage add-ons, such as Cloud Object Storage and Cloud Block Storage.

  • Cloud Object Storage is a secure solution for storage needs of any size. It stores data as objects that can be manipulated through programmatic API calls by applications. With it, you can fully control who can read, write, and access your data. It offers easy per gig pricing, zero bandwidth or access fees, and is fully compatible with the Amazon S3 Protocol.
  • Cloud Block Storage volumes can be instantly deployed in sizes ranging from 5GB to 15TB. They provide additional hard drive space for your cloud server with just a few clicks. The space is not pre-formatted, but rather, it is a raw block device. That way, you can mount and format the space on your server however you would like, with whatever filesystem is appropriate for your needs. It stores data in volumes or blocks that appear like a hard drive to an operating system. For this reason, block-based private cloud storage is ideal for applications that rely on structured data like file systems and databases. Additionally, you have the freedom to move or create block storage volumes that are separate from your cloud server environments, meaning they are portable between servers.

Choosing Flexible Storage

Whether you’re storing databases or other types of data, a flexible storage space like SAN storage is always a good idea. Network storage is cost-effective, remote, and secured, making it a perfect choice for our increasingly remote workforce of today.

Check Out Liquid Web SAN Storage Today For High-Performance Block-Level Storage For Your Growing Infrastructure

The post What is a Storage Area Network (SAN)? appeared first on Liquid Web.

About the Author

Amy Myers

Amy is a Linux support technician with Liquid Web and Nexcess, with expertise in customer service. She considers expanding upon and sharing knowledge as one of life's top priorities. She is an avid technology and art fan.

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