SAN vs NAS

Everyone needs storage nowadays. Some more than others, ranging from a few gigabytes to several terabytes. No matter how much data storage you need though, a backup should always be kept. How you backup your data is ultimately up to you. It can be as simple as an external hard drive, or you might want to choose a different solution such as a NAS or a SAN. There can be some questions regarding the differences between the two and which one is better. We will look at a quick overview of what the differences are.

So let’s start with a NAS since this one is typically easier to configure than the SAN solution. NAS stands for Network Attached Storage, and what this does is provide a dedicated storage device to save your files on from any device on your network. You can either buy a device that is already set up as a NAS, or you can use an old PC with some hard drives in it. You would then install an operating system such as FreeNAS, for example, on that PC to turn it into a custom NAS. The configuration on the network is really simple with this type of setup. You plug the NAS into the network using an ethernet cable like any other machine. A picture to help visualize this is at the bottom of this post.

Now it is time to get a little more complicated. SANs, or Storage Area Networks, provide a dedicated set of storage like a NAS. However, the configuration is quite different. For most SAN solutions a specific type of hardware and protocol is used called fiber channel. This can be difficult to configure if you don’t know what you are doing. Some SAN solutions are going away from the fiber channel technology and moving toward using iSCSI. The design of a SAN is stated in the name, it is an area network dedicated for storage. So you create a network segment that consists of multiple SAN components, such as a fiber channel switch, to set up the SAN. You then have a head unit and add storage shelves to it. With that said, I am not going to cover the details of setting up a SAN. Instead this post is a quick overview of the differences between the two network based storage solutions.

To help remember the difference between a NAS and a SAN, I have come up with easy to remember phrases for the acronyms.

NAS – No Additional Switches
SAN – Some Additional Networking

Here is a simple diagram of the two storage designs:

NAS-vs-SAN

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