NAS vs SAN: What's the Difference

Here’s a definitive guide that helps you distinguish between NAS and SAN configurations.

For any network configuration, deploying a reliable storage configuration is crucial. It minimizes data loss and allows for seamless access for multiple users simultaneously. While there are several options available, system administrators find SAN or NAS viable for most situations.

find out whether you want san or nas

However, applying one presents several benefits and disadvantages. If you're looking to streamline your network data storage, here's a short guide detailing the difference between SAN and NAS. We'll also let you know which applications are best suited for either one.

Part 1. Storage Area Network (SAN) Overview

You might prefer a SAN configuration for your network if you want high-speed connections. It is suitable for fiber channels and often utilizes physical cables. Several LAN gaming modules use SAN to reduce controller latency and make the software more responsive to user input.

san offers more speed than nas

Storage area networks separate the connections between the clients and servers using host bus adapters (HBAs). Those can allow limited access from the users, thus reducing the load on the servers. Since you can also connect server storage independently, each server can contribute towards the storage pool and maximize the available storage.

The Most Common SAN Protocols

The Fiber Channel Protocol (FCP) is SAN's most widely used protocol. It consists of three separate layers of connections:

  • Storage Layer: Also known as the data center, this is where the storage servers are connected into various pools and tiers. It allows plenty of flexibility with block-level storage for more convenient data distribution. Thus, any client can access the desired data quickly and allow the system to reroute traffic should a single host become too crowded.
  • Fabric Layer: It acts as a bridge between the storage network and the users. You can create a fabric layer with fiber cables or through network devices using FCoE (Fiber Channel over Ethernet). Both of them reduce the pressure on the LAN present on either side of the network by absorbing the traffic. It is also the part where the HBAs are present and configured.
  • Host Layer: The host layer comprises the applications and hardware that facilitate data storage access. It lets the system treat the storage network as a hard drive, accelerating the file transfer and simplifying authentication.

Benefits and Limitations of SAN

Pros

You can scale up your SAN configuration to near-limitless levels.

SAN avoids server overloads and bottlenecks on the network, as no component interferes with the LAN connection of the core servers.

Since all devices share the same local network, it's easier to implement or modify security measures. The administrator can conveniently isolate the drives with sensitive data. Moreover, modifying the firewall for one server does the same for the rest as well.

Cons

You can only maintain this storage network by shutting down the servers. Thus, it's not ideal for services that rely on continuous or emergency services.

The excessive connections and control make SAN configuration quite expensive. It can be a dealbreaker for SMBs with limited budgets to scale their network storage.

Part 2. Network Attached Storage (NAS) Overview

Compared to SAN, NAS slows down the connection speed between devices. However, you trade it for more reliability and increased security. In a NAS configuration, you can access the storage separate from the servers using a switch. All the drives are created as a redundant array of independent disks (RAID), with each disk capable of backing up the data should the previous one fail.

nas servers are more robust compared to san

The Most Common NAS Protocols

For the users, the NAS is displayed as one or more drives. They can connect to the storage using Ethernet. A NAS configuration supports almost any protocol for connection, including TCP/IP, NFS, and HTTP. You can apply them to regular LAN devices through Wi-Fi or similar technology. It doesn't require you to be an IT expert, either. Most of the hardware comes with a simple instruction manual, and you can create a robust system within a couple of hours.

Benefits and Limitations of NAS

Pros

The architecture of NAS makes it easier for the end-user devices to identify the drives. You don't need additional software or protocols to modify the systems.

NAS devices are straightforward to secure as they are separate from the primary servers.

The NAS configuration is relatively inexpensive to implement when compared to SAN. That makes it ideal for SMBs that usually have a limited budget.

NAS offers reliable maintenance capabilities because you can remove and repair individual drives without shutting down the servers or denying service to the end users.

Cons

NAS usually has a slower connection speed than SAN. So, you may require faster LAN capabilities to balance the input or file transfer lag.

Removing connection overloads or bottlenecks can be challenging since there is no high-density pathway to free the network.

Part 3. SAN vs NAS Storage: The 7 Main Differences Explained

There are specific criteria that can help you determine whether you desire SAN or NAS for your network. Let's compare those head-to-head for both configurations.

Fabric

When it comes to NAS, you can obtain a more straightforward setup by utilizing run-of-the-mill hardware. You don't need to create specialized software or retrofit devices. Administrators can avail most of the tools from regular sources and create the entire network storage without any formal training.

In contrast, SAN requires you to create multiple layers of infrastructure that require precise specifications to remain compatible. While it offers faster communication, flash-based devices are closing the gap for SAN vs NAS speeds.

Data Processing

NAS offers file-and-folder data access that is more straightforward for data processing. The users read the drives as if they were connected externally. The configuration operates with a global namespace, so the experience of using the data is the same regardless of the user's device.

On the other hand, SAN processes the data in a block format, which requires a few mandates for all connected devices. There is also the possibility of the system restricting access to devices other than the ones authorized for use. It may occur when an employee tries to find a project with their smartphone instead of their workstation.

Protocols

When it comes to SAN vs NAS IP, the latter supports broader and more accessible network protocols that you can conveniently utilize from the internet. Most of them like TCP/IP, HTTP, and NFS are open-source, so administrators don't have to worry about licensing fees.

SANs typically use more specialized protocols like SCSI and FCoE, which provide higher speeds but are more complex and expensive to implement. Although, more SAN setups today are moving towards IP instead of FCoE to save costs.

Speed and Performance

SAN is optimized for high speed of file and input transfer, which allows it a far better response and traffic management than NAS. That's why you'll find most dedicated servers for video games use SAN. With an excellent SAN configuration, you can achieve speeds anywhere from 2 GB/s to 128 GB/s.

Regarding SAN vs NAS speed, the latter can allow you up to 20 MB/s with eSATA drives. However, you can quickly scale that past 1 GB/s using faster LAN devices and SSDs. Still, there can be issues in the form of bottlenecks, which the administrators must account for ahead of time.

Scalability

Both SAN and NAS networks are highly scalable. You can even upgrade NAS configurations without shutting down the servers. That's why it's more desirable for emergency and government services. Nevertheless, scalability can be an issue for low-end NAS hardware, which is why most corporations prefer building their network with SAN.

Price

When it comes to installing and running costs, NAS is the clear winner. You can configure it precisely to your needs for lower investment and save those funds for future upgrades. But, past a certain point, you may need to swap out the entire system for a fresh one.

That's not an issue with SANs. Once you conclude the initial installation, the system can scale to near-unlimited storage. Yet, those initial costs can be a problem for enterprises with limited starting capital.

Ease of Management

For SAN, you can conduct management cycles faster due to a centralized structure, but it requires that you shut down the servers. On the flip side, NAS maintenance can be done with active storage servers, but it usually takes longer to detect and rectify any faults.

Part 4. SAN vs NAS - Comparison Chart

Fabric
SAN
NAS
Data processing Data-block format File-and-folder format
Protocols SCSI, iSCSI, FCoE TCP/IP, NFS, CIFS, HTTP
Speed 2 GB/s to 128 GB/s 20 MB/s with entry-level devices, can be scaled up to 800 MB/s with dedicated hardware
Scalability Convenient for near-unlimited storage Limited scalability, especially with older equipment
Cost High Relatively low
Ease of management Quicker maintenance. Can’t maintain without shutting down the system Longer maintenance cycles without shutting down the system
Type of Data Storage Integrated, less space required RAID, more space required
Appear to Users as Local drive Network-mounted drive
Use Cases Enterprises and big businesses Domestic and SMBs

Part 5. SAN vs NAS: Use Cases

Given the various differences between NAS and SAN, they are suitable for different applications. You can find out more about them in the details below.

NAS Use Cases

NAS is best used for applications that have limited budgets and can’t afford to remain offline. You can find such configurations in emergency services, government offices, domestic systems, and big data applications for SMBs.

SAN Use Cases

Since SAN is concerned with speed without worrying about costs, it’s mostly used by big corporations. It’s the go to for e-commerce sites and video game developers to provide a stable platform during high-density sessions.

Part 6. NAS or SAN: Which One Should You Choose?

Given all the above information, predicting which configuration suits you best in the long term can be challenging. Here's a simple checklist to help you decide whether you desire SAN or NAS.

  • How much data do you require?
  • What's your budget?
  • What's the average user density you're expecting?
  • Do you require speed or storage?
  • Are you upgrading the setup soon?
  • Would you prefer faster maintenance or repairs without shutting down the system?

Top NAS Vendors

The following vendors are the best to approach for a NAS configuration.

  • Synology
  • Dell
  • HP
  • NetGear

Top SAN Vendors

SAN equipment is usually costly. Thus, it's best to get it right the first time and avail of it from the following vendors.

  • IBM
  • Infinidat
  • StarWind
  • Hitachi

Part 7. NAS and SAN Convergence

Unified SAN/NAS combines file and block storage into a single system. Those unified systems support up to four protocols simultaneously. The storage controllers allocate physical storage for NAS vs SAN processing. Thus, you get the benefits of both worlds while keeping the hardware costs relatively low.

Such configurations are prominent for mid-range enterprises that need both SAN and NAS but lack data center space and specialized admins for separate systems.

Conclusion

And that concludes our guide to the difference between SAN and NAS systems. We hope this guide grants you enough information to make the appropriate decision for your business. Remember, no matter how robust you make the system, there's always a chance that you might need to recover data from the NAS drives. For such scenarios, check out Wondershare Recoverit NAS Recovery from the official page.

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