SAN Versus NAS: What’s the Difference and What Do You Need?


SAN Versus NAS: What’s the difference? First, let’s define what they are. SAN (Storage Area Networks) and NAS (Network Attached Storage) are both network storage solutions, and may seem very similar at first glance. In many cases, either will work about as well as the other. Both usually utilize data redundancy such as RAID, and both typically offer a variety of storage management and data protection features. In a cloud-based solution like Zadara’s, SAN and NAS are both supported, so that users can choose the architecture that makes the most sense for them.

SAN Versus NAS: Wiring and Protocols

When both SAN and NAS are supported, users have the flexibility to leverage the benefits of each as needed.

SANs typically utilizes Fibre Channel connectivity, while NAS solutions typically use TCP/IP networks, such as Ethernet. But the real difference is in how the data is accessed. A SAN accesses data as blocks, while a NAS accesses data as files. Storage architects will choose one over the other based on the type of data being stored and which architecture will provide the highest level of performance. Users may find published comparisons of FC and Ethernet performance data confusing as vendors have long argued over wire-speed, actual speed and protocol efficiency. Users should also consider availability of the protocol and knowledge-base needed to manage the configuration. Most any machine that is connected via LAN can use NFS, while only server-grade devices using SCSI Fibre Channel can connect via SAN.

SAN Versus NAS: Technologies

NAS requires a dedicated piece of hardware, usually referred to as the head, which connects to the LAN. This device is responsible for authenticating clients and managing file operations, a lot like ordinary file servers, using established network protocols. Additionally, NAS devices typically run a built-in OS, without a monitor and keyboard. Conversely, SAN typically uses Fibre Channel and connects via storage devices that are capable of sharing certain low-level data among themselves.

SAN Versus NAS: Usage

Vendors are working toward closing the gaps between NAS and SAN, making it easier to leverage NAS for high-speed transfer involving many terabytes of data. As the technology progresses, the weaknesses of each are gradually being overcome.

In enterprises, where it is necessary to support numerous high-speed file transfers involving terabytes of files, SAN is generally the best option. A single SAN with a high-performance disk array can offer the scalability and performance necessary to handle those kinds of workloads. Many businesses opt for cloud SAN, since it does require a highly specialized set of skills to configure and manage SANs. The use of SAN for large workloads eliminates the need for the collection of devices required to use NAS.

SAN Versus NAS: The Future

SAN is becoming more like NAS in that more SAN products are transitioning away from Fibre Channel to the more readily embraced IP-based approach. Along with drastic improvements in the storage capabilities of disks, NAS capacities and performance are also coming closer to what is possible with SAN. Cloud solutions like Zadara’s allow you to leverage the best of both worlds.

Research shows that IT environments are rapidly moving away from the Capital Expenditure (CapEx) purchases of both SAN and NAS infrastructures in favor of public and private cloud-based storage solutions that leverage SAN and NAS technologies. Zadara Storage offers the flexibility of using either block-based SAN or file-based NAS technologies and give you the flexibility of leveraging both architectures to ensure maximized performance, data-protection, and cost requirements.

To learn more about the differences in SAN and NAS and how these work in a cloud environment, download the whitepaper: Software Defined Storage vs. Traditional SAN and NAS Storage.

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