The need for data storage continues to grow by leaps and bounds and being able to maximize storage capability while still providing high-speed access to the data is always a challenge. While direct attached storage (DAS) is still a viable option for many companies, for this discussion we are going to focus on NAS and SAN.
Just the Basics
As NAS and SAN technology continues to improve, the two storage solutions are becoming more and more similar. Traditionally, NAS or network attached storage, provides file level access to data and has been most beneficial in environments where file server consolidation is a goal and traffic management is not a high priority.
SAN, or storage area network, provides block level data access and traditionally have been most beneficial in environments with heavy server-to-storage and storage-to-storage traffic, where scalability, traffic management, performance and speed of accessibility are high priorities.
While both NAS and SAN offer different benefits, both are proven technologies that can be implemented as complementary solutions or can stand on their own to meet your storage needs.
SAN, Just NAS spelled backwards?
In the beginning, there seemed to be clear lines of delineation between which environments were appropriate for which storage solution. However, as technology evolved, the lines of delineation have been smudged.
When it comes to consolidation and storage options, what was once pretty black and white is now gray. The good news is, with these changes come increased flexibility, scalability and performance to whatever solution you decide to implement.
SAN is the more complex of the two storage options and tends to be more expensive. If your company needs scalable, performance driven, high-speed, on-demand data accessibility, say from a large transaction driven database, this may just be the right choice for your enterprise.
If you are new to SANs, the learning curve can be significant. You will need to get up to speed on Fibre Channel and the various SAN hardware components such as HBA’s (Host Bus Adapters) and switches that are available. Of course you’ll also need to get up to speed on whatever SAN management software tools you decide to implement, which tend to vary by manufacturer. Speed is one of the main advantages of a SAN as the prevalence of the Fibre Channel interface standard continues to increase. While this may sound great, many companies will find that their infrastructure will not be able to take full advantage of some of the interface speeds available today. Keep this in mind when planning and making a decision.
On the other hand, NAS is much easier to understand and implement and is already compatible with most existing infrastructures. While NAS is typically the easier of the two to implement, it does not offer some of the performance and flexibility benefits of a SAN solution. However, many businesses will find that they do not require the high-speed flexibility of a SAN, making NAS the better choice.
While speed is one of the big advantages of a SAN, technology advances such as the introduction of iSCSI can greatly improve performance and accessibility in a NAS environment. Planning and understanding future business goals and strategies are key to choosing the solution that is best for your enterprise.
Pick a Partner
Vendors such as HP, IBM and EMC are just a few who offer NAS and SAN solutions. They cannot only provide the hardware, but can help in the training and implementation aspects as well.
If you’ve chosen to implement a SAN and you don’t already have a vendor, or even if you do, it is to your benefit to shop around, ask lots questions and partner with a vendor that has a proven track record. Ask for case studies and ask for recommendations.
If you have an opportunity to network with someone who has just gone through the SAN implementation process, take advantage of it. If you aren’t up to speed on the technology, hopefully that was considered before it was decided to take the plunge. Take advantage of all the training you can get for you and your team.
If you chose a SAN solution, scalability, speed and traffic management are probably the reasons, so be sure your partner understands the company goals and can help you plan an architecture that will continue to grow with your company.
If you’ve chosen to implement a NAS solution, it would still be beneficial to shop around. Not only will you gain some bargaining leverage if you have an existing vendor, you may come across information of which you were not aware that will fit your needs. While NAS implementations tend to have less of a learning curve than a SAN implementation, it can only help to learn all you can.
There are many NAS options and complementary technologies that can enable much of the same flexibility and speed of a SAN to you NAS environment. So if you were on the fence, discussing both SAN and NAS options with potential partners may help with your decision and help with you business case.
Making the Case
You almost can’t go wrong with properly implementing an enterprise storage solution. However don’t let the powers that be make the decision on a SAN because it is the cool acronym of the day.
While you may be in a situation where a SAN is the perfect fit and you can take advantage of most or all of the features and benefits a SAN can provide, many of you will probably not fall into that category. If your business does not require a SAN now or for the foreseeable future, but the boss wants to jump on bandwagon, try bundling a NAS solution with one of the other top 100 priorities that have been set for the IT department this year.
Whatever you decide, be it NAS, SAN or a combination of both, understanding the long term goals of the company will be the biggest help in determining an appropriate route.