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What is a Storage Area Network?

SAN or storage area network is a popular storage solution that interconnects shared pools of storage devices with several servers. SANs attach storage directly to the devices’ operating system, centralizing storage and allowing these devices to communicate faster and efficiently over media.

Unlike the traditional direct-attached storage (DAS), where storage is tied to a physical server, SAN provides dedicated, high-speed, and highly scalable network storage, allowing for easy organization and management. In other words, it allows businesses to treat storage as one collective resource, which can be replicated centrally, protected, and optimized to enhance storage resilience. We have covered how SAN works, use cases, benefits, and more in the sections below.

How Storage Area Network Works?

Ideally, a SAN takes storage from individual servers and puts them in one place for easy management. This kind of storage centralization can be done physically, e.g., by placing disks into a dedicated storage array, or through virtualization using software, e.g., VMware vSAN. Most SAN deployments seek to connect the storage to servers via a separate network to boost storage traffic performance, thanks to the reduced competition for LAN bandwidth. A storage area network is often categorized into three main layers. These are:

  • The Host Layer: It represents the servers attached to the SAN. These hosts mainly run enterprise workloads and typically use traditional Ethernet for connection. It also features a dedicated network adapter designed for SAN access. SAN technology is a critical component of the host layer that allows the workload to relay data and storage commands through the operating system (OS) to SAN and its storage resources.

  • The Fabric Layer: this represents the network and cabling devices interconnecting the SAN storage and the SAN hosts. These networking devices include switches, routers, gateways, and protocol bridges. For long-range communication, the fabric devices often deploy optical fiber connections. 

  • The Storage Layer: This layer consists of storage devices collected into storage tiers or pools. They include HDDs, SSDs, CDs, tape drives, and DVD drives. Most of these storage devices are organized into RAID groups to help boost storage capacity and reliability.

The Rise of SANs in Enterprise Storage

Storage area networks have been in the market for quite some time, but their adoption picked momentum recently. Digital transformation initiatives and the shift to cloud and multi-cloud solutions are some of the critical aspects that have forced businesses to rethink their data storage solutions. Simply put, the advanced level of digitization is challenging the tech used to collect, manage, store, and back up data. Below are the other push factors that have seen several companies embrace SAN:

  • Businesses need to provide their clients and customers with fast and reliable access to critical data.
  • The amount of data, both structured and unstructured, is growing immensely.
  • Companies using diverse application environments want to avoid bottlenecks and performance issues while accessing data.
  • Organizations are focused on safeguarding their data through disaster recovery and wish to consolidate it into a reliable SAN network that makes replication easier. 

From the above reasons, it’s evident that businesses are moving to SAN storage solutions because they want to enhance data access capabilities and application workload availability. They also want to ensure that storage performance requirements are modern and optimized to meet current and evolving challenges.

SAN Benefits

Storage area networks are finding acceptance in most enterprises due to their unique benefits, which include but are not limited to:

  • High performance and scalability. SAN typically uses a separate network fabric designed for storage tasks. This boosts traffic performance and enhances the user experience. Storage area networks can also support large deployments, comprising thousands of storage devices and host servers. Similarly, you can successfully add new storage and hosts to meet your organization’s unique needs.

  • High Availability. A fully-configured SAN network has no point of failure between the storage devices and host/servers. That means the communication and data across the fabric layer can always find alternative paths to maintain storage in case of failure.

  • Enhanced management. SANs support various enterprise-grade data storage and management features such as storage replication, data deduplication, and data encryption. Other capabilities include self-healing technologies, which help maximize storage capacity, data security, and resilience. Most of these features are universally centralized and can be deployed to all the storage devices or resources on the SAN.

From the benefits above, it’s apparent that SAN finds relevance in nearly all businesses, especially where virtualization and database management systems are crucial. Even still, SAN is not an all-size-fits-all solution. There are use cases where other storage options such as direct-attached storage or network-attached storage may be preferable. Refer to this SAN vs. NAS vs. DAS guide to help choose the best storage option that meets your business storage needs.

The Bottom Line

With several vendors offering SAN deployments and solutions, choosing the right provider with the perfect package for your business can be daunting. Ideally, you want to understand your storage needs and decide on the ideal architecture considering factors like network fabric, hosts/services, and the storage subsystems or components you need. Where possible, consider working with an expert IT consultant or company for the best results.

About the author

Atish Ranjan

Atish Ranjan is an established and independent voice dedicated to providing you with unique, well-researched and original information from the field of technology, SEO, social media, and blogging. He has in-depth knowledge of computers and tech as he pursued computer science.

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