Comparison and difference between storage area network (SAN) and network-attached storage (NAS)

Storage area network and network-attached storage are both types of storage networks used in enterprise environments. While both cater to the storage needs of organizations, they diverge in their fundamental approaches. SAN is designed for high-speed, block-level storage access, delivering direct access to raw storage resources. On the flip side, NAS operates at the file level, facilitating shared access to files over a network. Understanding the nuances and distinctions between SAN and NAS is crucial for organizations seeking the most fitting storage solution for their specific requirements.

What is a storage network?

Large-scale enterprises use storage networks to store large amounts of data and provide quick and reliable access to that data. Instead of using multiple storage arrays and data centers, organizations prefer storage networks because not only can they store data, but they also facilitate the sharing of data and resources across multiple devices (which can include servers, workstations, and storage arrays). So, in short, a storage network is a network of storage devices and servers that are interconnected to provide a centralized storage system. Storage networks are of four types:

  • Direct-attached storage (DAS): A storage device which can be directly attached to your computer.
  • Storage area network (SAN): Enables users to share block-level data over a network.
  • Network-attached storage (NAS): Enables users to share file-level data over a network.
  • Hybrid storage network: An amalgamation of DAS, SAN, and NAS.

Of these four, SAN and NAS are more technologically capable and versatile than DAS and hybrid storage network.

Storage area network

A SAN is a high-speed network that connects servers to storage devices, providing block-level access to data storage. A SAN functions by creating a separate network dedicated to storage, and allows multiple servers to access the same storage pool, enabling centralized management of data storage, backup, and recovery. They can improve storage utilization, ensure high availability, and reduce data access time, as well as make troubleshooting easier. They are often implemented using Fiber Channel or iSCSI protocols and require specialized hardware and software components such as storage arrays, switches, and host bus adapters (HBAs).

A SAN typically is comprised of hosts, storage arrays, switches, interwoven using fiber channels, and maintained by a Storage Management Software.

Hosts: The devices that require access to the storage system.

Storage arrays: The devices or systems that store the data.

Switches: Switches connect the hosts and the storage arrays.

Fiber Channel: A protocol for lossless data transmission between the hosts and storage arrays through optical fiber cables.

Storage management software:The central software that manages the storage devices.

What are the wide applications of SANs?

Typically, large enterprise-level environments that require high-speed, high-capacity, and highly available storage solutions reap the most benefits from using SAN. SANs are useful in the following ways:

  • Data storage and retrieval: SANs can handle large amounts of data for organizations such as healthcare providers, financial institutions, and research organizations.
  • Disaster recovery: SANs replicate data across multiple locations, which can be quickly restored in the event of a disaster.
  • Virtualization: Virtual machines can be migrated between different physical servers without requiring any changes to storage configuration using a SAN's common storage pool.
  • Video production and editing: SANs provide fast and reliable storage for video production and editing.
  • High-performance computing: Scientific simulations and modeling often need access to large amounts of data in a short period. A high-performance SAN can reduce the access time of such large files.

Network-attached storage

NAS is a type of storage device that is connected to a network, which allows multiple users and devices to access, store, and retrieve data from a central storage pool. NAS can be thought of as a file server that enables users to easily share and backup data over the network. It is easy to set up and allows multiple users in different locations to access data, making it valuable for collaboration within a company.

When a NAS is connected to the network, users can then access the NAS through the network—either directly or remotely—using various protocols like NFS or SMB. It is designed to handle file storage and sharing, so it can provide file-level access to users with different permissions and access rights. It can also function as a backup device, allowing users to back up their data and files to the device to ensure data safety. A NAS device has components such as operating system, hardware, RAID, file system, applications, network protocols, and user management.

What are the general applications of NAS?

  • File sharing: Users can share files and folders over a network, so the same data can be accessed from different locations.
  • Backup and restoration: As a centralized backup solution, NAS allows users to backup and restore data from multiple devices on the network.
  • Data protection and security: The RAID tech built into a NAS can protect data from unforeseen hardware failures, while also providing user access controls, encryption, and other security features.
  • Cloud storage: Synchronization of data from NAS devices with cloud storage services for additional storage space and data redundancy.


Aspect SAN NAS
Architecture High-speed dedicated network to store and share data. File-level storage connected through Ethernet.
Storage Primarily used for storing and accessing block-level data. Used for sharing file-level data.
Performance Higher performance due to dedicated network and complex architecture. Comparatively slower access to data than SAN.
Scalability More scalable, and multiple devices can be added Limited scalability due to reliance on Ethernet.
Management Calls for dedicated management due to the complex architecture and high-end devices used. Relatively easier to manage and configure.
Cost More expensive due to complex architecture and high-performance hardware. Generally cheaper and more cost-effective for small to medium-sized businesses.

What are the business use cases of a storage network?

Storage networks like SAN and NAS help improve businesses in the following ways:

  • Improved data accessibility: SANs and NAS devices provide centralized storage that can be accessed by multiple users simultaneously. This ensures that all employees have access to the data they need, which improves productivity and collaboration between users.
  • Enhanced data protection: SANs and NAS devices offer various data protection features like data replication, snapshots, and backup and recovery solutions. This ensures that the business data is secure and protected against disasters, which can be critical for businesses that rely heavily on their data.
  • Scalability: SANs and NAS devices can be easily scaled to meet the growing storage needs of a business. This means that businesses can add more storage capacity as needed without having to purchase additional hardware or disrupt their operations.
  • Improved performance: SANs and NAS devices use high-speed networks to provide fast access to data, which can significantly improve application performance. This is especially important for businesses that require real-time access to data, such as financial services or e-commerce.
  • Cost savings: SANs and NAS devices can help businesses save money by reducing the need for expensive server hardware and storage infrastructure. This is because the centralized storage can be shared across multiple servers, which reduces the overall hardware and maintenance costs.

How does OpManager supplement storage networks?

OpManager's storage monitoring capabilities help you monitor storage devices such as disk drives, controllers, virtual disk groups, and other storage devices. With OpManager, you can monitor your entire storage network environment from a single console. SANs help enterprises in a myriad of ways, but when a SAN environment is paired with OpManager, the benefits will be thousandfold. OpManager supplements the storage networks by providing the following features:

  • Real-time monitoring:OpManager provides real-time monitoring of storage devices and networks, ensuring that issues are detected and resolved quickly. The real-time monitoring functionality enables one to report on device performance instantly, in real time, without having to use another tool to remotely access the problem device. So, you can ensure the storage devices in a storage network are up and available at all times.
  • Capacity planning: It is important to plan an enterprise's storage spending, so there won't be any unforeseen need to buy new storage devices or free up storage space. OpManager uses machine learning and analyzes usage trends and forecasting capacity requirements to provide insights into efficient storage planning. This will ensure your storage network never runs out of storage.
  • Performance optimization: OpManager identifies bottlenecks and optimizes storage performance, ensuring that applications have the necessary resources to function seamlessly. So, whenever the devices or the network itself faces a performance issue, OpManager can assist the network admins to easily pinpoint the source. With OpManager's multitude of performance monitors, you can ensure the peak performance of the storage network.
  • Automated alerts: When a device in your storage network goes down, or if a storage device is facing performance issues, it is mandatory for the admins to be notified immediately to prevent future disasters. OpManager sends alerts when storage devices or networks experience issues, enabling administrators to take immediate action. If the alerts go unresolved, OpManger can escalate the alarms and will ensure that the issue comes under the radar.
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