Know Storage Area Network basics before you buy a SAN

As the size of an organization grows, the need for bigger storage also grows. Finally a moment comes when it is no longer feasible to store data in each server’s local hard disk. The more efficient method is to set up a SAN (Storage Area Network) and relocate all data into it.

Before proceeding to benefits of SAN, let’s have a look at the basics of SAN.

What is Storage Area Network (SAN)?

According to the Storage Networking Industry Association’s dictionary (and who knows better than them?):

A storage area network (SAN) is any high-performance network whose primary purpose is to enable storage devices to communicate with computer systems and with each other.

It is basically a collection of storage disks which run on its own network to ensure fast transmission speeds.This means that disk storage is seen by a server as if it were local and not on a network. Also worth keeping in mind is that a storage array by itself is not a SAN; a SAN is the combination of the shared storage array, the network and other devices as a whole connecting it to the servers or hosts.

Benefits of Storage Area Network (SAN)

There are many reasons why you may want to buy a SAN. Some benefits of a SAN include the following:

* Pool disk storage resources and allocate to systems as per need instead of allocating entire disks to systems.

* Storage is shared at the block level instead of at the file or directory level, which implies that individual systems can format the disk space as required or use raw volumes.

* SAN that does scale provides an extra application performance boost by separating high-volume I/O traffic from client/server message traffic, giving each a path that is optimal for its characteristics and eliminating cross talk between them.

* In case one of the disks in the SAN is faulty, the SAN is able to rebuild data from the faulty disk onto a spare disk, depending on the RAID technology practiced.

What type of SAN should small businesses buy?

There are two main types of SANs available: Fibre Channel (FC) and iSCSI, which are basically protocols used to access block-level storage.

iSCSI SANs are more accessible to small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) than Fibre Channel SAN solutions due to the cost of equipment. Also, it is required to acquire new skills to manage the Fibre Channel network when a FC switch is used. You can deploy an iSCSI SAN using a conventional high bandwidth IP network while leveraging existing IP network skills.

Components required to deploy a SAN

* Shared storage array with iSCSI ports.
* Storage management software.
* High-bandwidth dedicated IP network segment.
* iSCSI hardware and software initiators (host adapters)

Things to consider before implementing SAN

* Number of hosts supported – The storage array must be able to support the number of servers that will share storage.
* Redundancy – SAN must have include internal components redundancy and the ability to replace them without taking an outage.
* Data protection – Traditional data backup might still be required for offsite data protection though a SAN might come with data protection features.

The author has more than 10 years of experience in IT storage and networking and enjoys writing on Storage Area Network (SAN). He is also into business selling storage, server and networking solutions to his customers in Toronto (GTA), Canada.
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