Network Attached Storage Technology You Need To Know

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In today’s businesses, the essence of collecting and generating data is often to capture its value and leverage it. This requires moving it from storage systems to servers or other systems on a network for processing, which usually means that some form of storage area network is involved.

There are different forms of Storage Area Networking, including Network Attached Storage (NAS) and Storage Area Networks (SAN). Essentially, they all provide data services from external storage systems over a network and allow multiple users or devices to share storage capacity.

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Network storage technologies

Here is a sampling of storage networking terms and technologies found in today’s businesses and data centers.

Store and block network storage

  • Network Storage (NAS)

    NAS systems or devices are specifically designed to provide file-level storage over a network using traditional Ethernet networks. Home to one or more drives, NAS devices allow multiple devices to access, save, and share files. Supported protocols often include Network File System (NFS) and Server Message Block (SMB). NAS systems can range from compact devices for small offices / home offices (SOHOs) to enterprise level racks.

  • Storage Area Network (SAN)

    A SAN is its own network of storage systems that provides block-level storage services to networked devices. SAN configurations are as diverse as the organizations that use them, due to their application requirements, storage usage goals, and countless other factors, but they all typically have a different set of factors. SAN fabric containing switches that connect servers or host systems to storage through host bus adapters (HBAs).

Storage network protocols and connectivity technologies

  • Fiber Channel (FC)

    The industry standard, Fiber Channel, often abbreviated as FC, is a networking technology that enables high-speed, low-latency, lossless transfer of block data to servers. In traditional implementations, this requires specialized cabling – this is where “fiber” comes in, as in fiber optics, in Fiber Channel – and networking components. Fiber Channel supports data transfer rates in the order of gigabits per second (Gbps).

  • Fiber Channel over Ethernet (FCoE)

    As the name suggests, the FCoE protocol enables lossless transport of Fiber Channel traffic over 10 Gbps Ethernet networks. This allows businesses to standardize their Ethernet-based network equipment rather than using Fiber Channel only for their SANs and Ethernet for the rest of their IT networking needs.

  • Internet interface for small computer systems (iSCSI)

    iSCSI, another SAN protocol, enables block-level storage operations over TCP / IP networks.

    An iSCSI initiator, a hardware device, or software that runs on a server, transfers data between iSCSI storage devices, and groups SCSI commands into packets that can be sent over a network.

  • Redundant array of independent disks (RAID)

    Formerly short for inexpensive redundant disk array, RAID is not exclusively a storage area network term, but it has a great influence on the operation of network storage systems. RAID is typically used to store the same data on multiple hard drives, ensuring that it remains accessible if a failure renders a storage drive unusable. This is considered a key component of many enterprise storage system deployments that are entrusted with critical data.

  • InfiniBand

    Used to provide high-speed connectivity between servers in High Performance Computing (HPC) environments, InfiniBand is available for enterprise environments that require the fastest performance from their network attached storage systems. Switched fabric technology can support speeds calculated in Gbps.

The enterprise storage network has a huge task: to connect the many distant parts of a modern business.

Selecting Network Attached Storage Technologies

As with most IT decisions, planning and deploying a NAS or SAN deployment is highly dependent on the business and performance requirements of your organization.

NAS for controlled access and file sharing

NAS is a compelling case in virtually all kinds of business environments, from small businesses to large corporations. The NAS can be used to provide users and their devices with secure and shared access to files, thereby facilitating collaboration.

Even with the advent of cloud-based file storage, sharing and syncing services, NAS makes sense for organizations with strict security or compliance regulations, or who simply want full control over data of their organization. That said, many storage vendors today sell cloud gateways and appliances that combine low-cost cloud storage costs with the security and business management capabilities of on-premises NAS environments.

SAN for enterprise workloads

For large organizations that run critical business databases and software, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) software suites that store and retrieve data at the level blocks, a SAN is pretty much a given.

Unified storage solutions that combine NAS file storage and SAN block storage are available from major storage vendors, meaning an organization’s SAN investment can be used to double file storage.

Going deeper, the underlying architecture of a SAN should reflect the needs of an organization.

As mentioned earlier, Fiber Channel is considered the go-to SAN technology for large enterprises. FCoE allows businesses to pass Fiber Channel traffic over Ethernet networks, provided they can handle the load properly.

Reflecting its HPC origins, InfiniBand is best suited for environments that run extremely critical workloads. Finally, small and medium-sized businesses that need a SAN will likely find iSCSI-based solutions to meet their smaller needs.

Putting networking storage to work

Storage networking is an area that borrows from many disciplines and categories of technology to facilitate the flow of data through a network to the various systems that make a business run.

From a talent perspective, a successfully deployed SAN project typically involves input from IT managers who know the data requirements and application workloads generated by different business units in an organization. Networking teams are essential to ensure that a NAS or SAN works well with other network resources in an organization.

Compliance officers and IT security personnel will likely want to have a say in how data is protected when it is stored on a NAS or circulated over a SAN. Of course, storage administrators will manage and maintain a SAN according to their organization’s standards.

Vendor lockdown is still a concern. While network storage environments are typically built on established and well-known technologies, individual vendors add their own twist. This can affect the way a NAS or SAN’s data and storage operations are handled, making it difficult to switch to another vendor or major technology upgrade.

Finally, keep an eye on the horizon as you build your network storage infrastructure.

Data volumes continue to grow by leaps and bounds as businesses collect more of it to power big data processing and artificial intelligence systems to leverage the value of their information. New emerging standards, faster interconnections, and innovations that increase storage capacity and performance will inevitably change the storage networking market in the years to come.

Further reading

10 expert tips for better storage

Storage networks in the company

Software-defined storage and networking


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