What is Storage Area Network (SAN)?

Technology Overview, December 12, 2017

SAN Definition

SAN is the shortened form for “storage area network”, which is basically a much secured network of speedy data transfers, providing complete access to fused block-level data storage. SAN helps in making a storage devices’ network accessible to more than one server. The SAN storage devices usually show up as attached drives to the servers, thus, wiping out any conventional network bottlenecks. SAN networks sometimes get referred to different nomenclatures (albeit in a redundant manner); such as SAN storage or SAN network or even network SAN etc. These came into existence in the first half of the year 2000; at that time, SAN storage was restricted to only enterprise-level computing basically. But, today, with the gradual dropping of the costs for fast-speed disks, SAN or the storage area network have somehow become a foundation for superior organizational data storage.

Let’s have a detailed glimpse of the SAN storage basics…

2 Types of SAN Storage Solutions

  1. FC (Fiber Channel): Storage as well as the servers in this are fully connected through speedy network of inter-connected FC switches, which is of much use in case of mission-critical computer applications, where nonstop access to the data is needed.
  2. iSCSI Protocol: iSCSI means Internet Small Computer System Interface. Such type of infrastructure provides the flexibility of a lesser-cost IP network.

Both of the 2 types of SAN storage solutions give advantages that are based on the various business requirements.

Storage Area Network Advantages

  • Virtualization in Data Storage: The capacity of a server these days is not anymore constrained to the single storage device, as big/consolidated data storage pools are readily available these days for various software applications.
  • Fast-Paced Disk Technologies: An example for this is the Fiber Channel that gives enormous data retrieval speed, which even exceeds around 5 Gbps. Now, storage-to-storage transfers of the data are also being available through direct transmissions of the data from the source device to the targeted one with minimal intervention or even at times, with no server interference, at all.
  • Centralization of Backups: In a SAN system, the servers will view the stored data on the local disks, instead of the multiple disk & server connections. There are also many advanced features for the backups, like the block level backups as well as incremental backups, which help in streamlining the responsibilities of an IT technician.
  • Dynamic Failure Safety: SAN gives a continual operation of the network even in the cases of server failures and server downtimes due to maintenance, which facilitates automatic re-routing of the traffic and built-in redundancy as well.

SAN Storage Tutorial

Implementation of SAN

A simple SAN infrastructure needs only 3 main components, which are as follows:

  • A SAN switch
  • A server, and
  • A storage device

You will also need cables for connecting multiple elements together. In most of the real-life SAN settings, it includes SAN switches, server and storage devices, but sometimes, it is most likely to include bridges, routers, and gateways too for extending the storage area network solutions over larger areas and for connecting SAN to other segments of the network of the data center. Basically, the topology of a SAN network depends on the size and requirements of the enterprise for which it is being deployed.

3 Step SAN Deployment Process

  1. Design the SAN, and take into account the current requirements as well as future scalability needs.
  2. Select a vendor/vendors for providing the hardware/software needed, and also for other related services.
  3. Install the essential hardware and finally, install as well as configure the software for SAN management.

SAN deployment is rather an intricate process and often needs specialized technical know-how for the same and a great deal of planning and execution goes into this deployment, specially if for large SANs.