SAN vs. NAS Storage: What’s The Difference?
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Businesses need dependable data storage systems to house their important digital information. Two of the most common types of storage are storage area networks (SAN) and networked attached storage (NAS).
SAN and NAS offer two distinct ways of achieving the end goal of data storage. While both methods share similarities, their differences dictate the situations in which one is ideal over the other.
In this post, we’ll discuss the advantages, drawbacks and differences between SAN and NAS.
What Is SAN?
SAN, which stands for storage area network, is a storage system that establishes a private data storage network. The network consists of a conglomeration of disk arrays, switches and servers. The servers and other connected devices can access the network in seconds, much as if it were a local hard drive.
Fiber optic cables connect the disk arrays, switches and servers, enabling high-speed communication. The fiber optic cables transmit data at speeds between 2 and 128 gigabytes per second.
SAN storage is ideal for large enterprises, as it offers high speed, storage capacity and security. Some companies choose the similar Internet Small Computer Systems Interface (iSCSI) instead of fiber, which reduces the price but limits speed.
Benefits of SAN Storage
SAN storage offers numerous advantages, making it a popular choice among large corporations.
- Redundancy: The multitude of disk arrays establishes thorough redundancy, which prevents system failure. The disk arrays share data. If one disk array fails, the others in the network will continue supporting the data.
- Scalability: Reliance on numerous disk arrays opens the door to scalability. A company can bolster its SAN storage system with additional disk arrays at any time and keep the network running in the process. It’s also easy to remove disks as a company’s needs change.
- Speed: SAN systems transmit data with incredible speed and minimal latency. There are two reasons — the fiber cables and the closed network. Fiber cables are the faster available for data transmission. In a SAN system, fiber cables carry data in a self-contained network with minimal interference. The private network and fiber cables become an open highway for data to move at full throttle.
- Data accessibility: The ultimate benefit that SAN storage provides is widespread accessibility. Teams can collaborate on projects from separate devices in real time, which is ideal for tasks like video editing and software development.
Constraints of SAN
While businesses can experience multiple benefits from implementing a SAN storage system, some companies are better off using a different kind of storage network. SAN is expensive to implement, costing more than many small and medium-sized businesses can afford.
There are two factors that drive SAN’s price, one being the network’s complexity. Running a redundant SAN network requires the installation of numerous disk arrays, servers and switchers. The hardware is expensive to purchase, install and maintain. A business using a SAN will require internal or external IT management services.
The other factor contributing to SAN’s cost is the price of fiber cables. Fiber cables feature durable, conductive materials that enable high-speed, low-latency transmission with minimal disruptions. The benefits that fiber optic cables yield lead to high demand and correspondingly high prices. A business can reduce the price of using a SAN system by downgrading to iSCSI instead of fiber, but doing so will compromise speed.
What Is NAS?
Network attached storage, or NAS, is a data storage system that is far simpler than any SAN system. NAS systems comprise one central data storage location that all devices on the network can access. Users will see the NAS as a shared folder they can access like any other.
The central point of access in a NAS system is a box containing multiple hard drives. The hard drives are in a redundant array of independent disks (RAID) configuration. RAID configuration allows businesses to spread data across multiple hard drives rather than one.
The hard drive box also features a network interface card that connects to a signal router. The router transmits data to a network that is accessible to various devices, including laptops, tablets, smartphones and servers.
NAS systems are most common for small and medium-sized businesses. They offer enough data storage, speed and security for small-scale data storage but cannot handle the needs of most large corporations and enterprises.
Benefits of NAS
NAS offers many benefits for small and mid-sized companies upgrading from hard drives:
- Ample storage: NAS offers more storage space than an individual hard drive, making it an excellent option as a first upgrade. A business can store 16 to 108 terabytes on a NAS system.
- Simplicity: Setting up a NAS device is easy for most operations. NAS systems contain fewer components than options like SAN, which simplifies installation and setup.
- Low costs: NAS systems feature simple hardware that organizations can acquire in a single purchase, resulting in a lower cost than SAN systems.
- Moderate redundancy: NAS systems feature numerous hard drives that work together to offer greater redundancy than a single drive.
- Remote data access: NAS systems hold data within a network that users can access at any time and from any location. A business’s staff can use the devices they prefer to access data and collaborate with co-workers.
- Scalability: A company can add hard drives to the NAS system or upgrade existing hardware with ease.
- Cloud integration: NAS systems support cloud storage. Companies can enable automatic cloud backups to protect data against system failure.
Constraints of NAS
NAS is an excellent first upgrade for small businesses that need more than a single hard drive to hold data. However, a few limitations prevent NAS from being an ideal choice for larger organizations.
The most significant disadvantage of using NAS is that it has a single point of failure. One issue with the disk array can cause the entire system to shut down, leaving data temporarily inaccessible. NAS is also slower than SAN, topping out at 1 gigabyte per second.
Key Differences Between SAN and NAS
SAN and NAS feature some similarities, such as their ability to store data with some level of redundancy while providing widespread access to the entire company’s digital resources. However, the distinctions are considerable. Understanding the difference between NAS and SAN can help a company’s decision-makers decide which is best for the situation.
SAN is faster than NAS. While NAS offers speeds up to 1 gigabyte per second, SAN transmits data at 2-128 gigabytes per second. The speed increase is due to SAN’s use of fiber optic cables that transmit data as pulses of light. NAS uses ethernet connectivity, which is fast enough for many small and mid-sized businesses to use, but too slow for major enterprises or companies offering online services.
NAS and SAN use different types of networks. NAS operates on a Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) network, while SAN uses a fiber channel network. A fiber channel is more complex, allowing for greater speeds.
NAS and SAN use different communication protocols. The communication protocol establishes the parameters for communication between devices in a network.
NAS uses one of three protocols — Network File System (NFS), Common Internet File System (CIFS) or hyper text transfer protocol (HTTP). NFS and CIFS allow devices to access network files as if they were local files. HTTP encrypts data to improve cybersecurity. The system may use a combination of the three to broaden the range of servers with which it can connect.
SAN uses Small Computer System Interface (SCSI), Internet Small Computer Systems Interface (iSCSI) or Fiber Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) protocols. SCSI allows the servers to communicate with other devices. FCoE and iSCSI control SCSI access over the fiber channel or TCP/IP.
A data storage system is redundant when it stores data in more than one place. Low redundancy renders data unavailable if part of the system fails.
SAN is fault-tolerant due to the inclusion of multiple disk arrays, making it the most redundant storage system — if one fails, data can transmit from the others. NAS offers some redundancy since the hard drive box contains numerous discs. However, NAS systems have a single point of failure. If one part stops working, the entire system goes down.
Scalability is a valuable characteristic for any technology a business implements. Needs change, so it helps to have a flexible data storage system. SAN is the most scalable type due to the ability to add disks to the disk array, letting businesses expand their SAN systems’ performance and storage capacity. NAS systems offer limited scalability.
Ease of Use
NAS is the easiest type of data storage system to use and manage. Small businesses can set up and coordinate the NAS system in minutes. Operating a SAN system is more complicated, requiring various types of physical and virtual management. Most enterprises using SAN hire an experienced internal IT department or outsource IT management services.
Choose the Right Storage System for Your Business
Choosing the right data storage system for your business will ensure fast, reliable access to critical company data and facilitate a positive experience with your customer-facing programs. NAS is the ideal choice for small and midsize businesses, while SAN offers the speed and capacity that the largest corporations need.
At Kirbtech, we connect businesses with dependable information technology equipment and offer IT management services in south central Pennsylvania. We encourage you to contact us online for more information about our IT solutions.