SAN, NAS, or both: Which is best for your users?

When customers outgrow their current storage environment, or are trying to add new storage to their networks, I’m often asked what type of storage they should buy. The answer is easy. Customers should go with the top storage solutions that have always been available: network attached storage (NAS) and storage area network (SAN). What’s harder is determining which solution is ideal for different scenarios. Today, I’ll be outlining the differences between the two, and going over when customers should combine them.

NETWORK ATTACHED STORAGE: File-level storage used for collaboration

NAS, the first type of storage solution available, is file-level storage, and it’s mainly used for collaboration. So if a customer needs a solution that will accommodate many users all collaborating on a single project simultaneously, NAS is the way to go. It eliminates the confusion of keeping and storing multiple copies of a document as it goes through revisions in local storage, and cluttering up the storage space. NAS also provides data protection, so if you lose your laptop or your hard drive crashes, the files you’re working on are not lost.

STORAGE AREA NETWORK: Application-based storage used for shareability

The second solution, SAN, is application-based storage in which each server controls its own portion of the storage. It consists of one large storage area that’s divided for easy utilization and shareability. This is opposed to having local storage in each individual server. With SAN, administrators don’t have to worry about purchasing internal storage, because they can manage it as one centralized item and it becomes easier to manage and expand. Finally, administrators don’t have to worry about maintaining individual servers — they can do it all from one storage array.

However, most companies will not be able to operate with NAS or SAN alone. Both types of storage are usually needed because there will be certain groups in every company that need to store and share files, while others have applications sitting in their environment that need block-level storage. In the past, administrators would have to purchase and dole out storage capacity as two separate entities.

But now, manufacturers are introducing unified storage solutions that combine the capabilities of NAS and SAN. So instead of buying however much storage for NAS and however much storage for SAN, administrators can buy a single amount of storage and give each one what it needs. It’s easier to manage, and gives administrators higher utilization rates.

When trying to decide between these types of storage solutions, customers should analyze the changes they are making to their IT infrastructure. If they are upgrading their servers, they might decide on a shared storage device. If they have older file servers that they’re trying to retire, they can move everything to one NAS device. If they’re looking into newer technology, such as virtualization, they’ll need some form of shared storage.

Almost every user will need to store their files using NAS or SAN at some point. And while some administrators still want and need to keep their storage solutions separate, we’re finding more and more customers that want to consolidate their storage into one so they can enjoy better utilization rates. If you’re looking into storage, and want to know which solution will work best for your company, reach out to me in an email.

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