NAS vs. SAN: Navigating Storage Options Simplified

Posted by The Team at CXtec on Mar 29, 2024 3:08:04 AM

The demand for data storage solutions has reached unprecedented new levels. Network-attached storage (NAS) and storage area...

The demand for data storage solutions has reached unprecedented new levels. Network-attached storage (NAS) and storage area network (SAN) solutions have emerged as two primary technologies that decide how organizations manage and access their data. Both NAS and SAN are competitive yet complementary options, each serving distinct use cases and addressing unique organizational needs. While many organizations have both NAS and SAN systems, IT teams often struggle with prioritizing one over the other.

Whether you're a seasoned IT professional or aspiring IT enthusiast, understanding the functionalities, benefits and key differences between NAS and SAN is crucial for developing your data infrastructure.

Understanding the NAS option

NAS is a file-based storage device or server connected to a business network, usually through Ethernet cables. NAS provides centralized data storage and file-sharing capabilities to multiple users and client devices within the network. 

How NAS works

NAS operates on a file storage basis, organizing data into files with a hierarchy of directories and subdirectories. NAS devices contain a network interface card with a unique IP address, processor, RAM, and drive bay hosting disk drives (i.e., server-grade hard drives). NAS usually uses a Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) configuration where data is stored across various drives at the same time to introduce redundancy, improve storage allocation, and protect data integrity. The processor is used to manage an operating system and data management software.

Benefits of NAS

NAS offers plenty of advantages that make it ideal for storing and accessing data in a business network:

  • Inexpensive to maintain - For IT teams with minimal budgets, NAS is a relatively inexpensive way to exponentially improve data storage capabilities. NAS devices are also easy to configure and manage because all their major components are readily available on the market. NAS devices can be assembled and maintained by utilizing refurbished storage hardware, which helps lower costs significantly.
  • 24-7 remote availability and multi-user capabilities - NAS can be accessed remotely over a TCP/IP network making it a great choice for diverse teams and enterprises with remote employees. NAS systems can also serve multiple users at the same time making them ideal for enterprise storage.
  • Decent expandability - NAS systems are easy to expand to meet rising business demands and can be scaled as needed.
  • Low rate of failure and automatic backup - NAS systems boast exceptional reliability due to their robust hardware and software configurations. Through software, data can be stored across multiple drives and mirrored across drives, enhancing redundancy and minimizing the risk of failure.

Limitations of NAS

Despite their many advantages, NAS systems have three key limitations:

  • Scalability - While NAS systems are scalable to a certain extent by adding more drives or expanding storage capacity, they may not offer good scalability options, particularly for larger organizations with rapidly growing data requirements.
  • Latency - Ethernet sends data via packets, all of which need to arrive at the destination for the data to be accessed. For operations requiring a lot of data transfer between devices and storage (e.g., 3D modeling), Ethernet can become an obstruction for enterprises as it blocks the local area network (LAN) of an enterprise.
  • Single Point of Failure (SPOF)- While NAS systems are designed for reliability, they still represent an SPOF within the network architecture. If the NAS device encounters hardware failure or software issues, it can result in downtime and potential data loss until the system is restored or replaced.

Understanding the SAN option

SAN is a dedicated high-speed network that connects multiple storage devices to servers, providing block-level storage access to those servers. SANs are typically used in enterprise environments where high-performance, low-latency access to storage is vital for applications, such as databases, virtualization, and data analytics. 

How SANs work

SANs can be implemented using various technologies, and they offer features like storage virtualization, data replication and centralized management. SANs consist of three layers - storage, fabric and host. The storage layers comprise the physical drives and data centers that store data in a block format. The storage layer is built to be redundant and enable automatic traffic rerouting for data to be available even if a server crashes.

The fabric layer is how storage connects to the user through network devices and cables, such as Fibre Channels and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE). The host layer is where local servers or host systems connect to the SAN infrastructure to access storage resources. This layer is responsible for managing the communication between the servers and storage layer.

Benefits of SAN

SAN helps navigate the limitations of NAS servers and offers major advantages, including:

  • Fast data access - The SAN host layer treats the entirety of the network as a large hard drive, meaning that data transfer between server and destination is extremely fast. This is especially advantageous for enterprises that require a high degree of data transfers between systems.
  • Scalability - SANs can easily scale to accommodate growing storage requirements by adding additional storage arrays or expanding existing ones without disrupting ongoing operations.
  • Centralized storage management - SANs provide centralized management of storage resources, allowing administrators to efficiently allocate, monitor and manage storage capacity, and performance.
  • Dedicated network - Unlike NAS, which is hosted over the Ethernet, SANs run over its own high-speed Fibre Channel freeing your LAN bandwidth.

Limitations of SAN

SANs are much more demanding than NAS systems and come with their own limitations, such as:

  • Cost - SANs typically involve significant upfront costs for hardware, software and implementation, making them less feasible for smaller organizations. Some of the costs required to deploy a SAN, however, can be offset by using refurbished server equipment, such as network switches and data centers.
  • Administration - Implementing and managing a SAN infrastructure is complex and requires specialized knowledge and expertise, particularly in larger environments with diverse storage devices and connectivity options.

Key differences between SAN and NAS

Both NAS and SAN are capable methods of storing data for a business. Key differences though between the two data storage methodologies exist:

Category NAS SAN
Use case Ideal for archiving, simple databases, unstructured data storage and file collaboration Best for high throughput data activities, such as media production, data analytics and financial services
Cost Usually inexpensive to deploy and maintain Requires high upfront investment and dedicated administration team
Data access Data is stored in files that are organized in a hierarchy of directories and subdirectories Data is stored in blocks that are connected via Fibre Channels
Speed and network Speed is dependent on the bandwidth of the LAN and Ethernet Speed is much faster because data is hosted on its own unique network
Scalability Best for the requirements of small- or mid-sized organizations Can be scaled for larger organizations easily and combined with virtual SANs for increased functionality

Building your organization’s storage solution with CXtec

Enhancing your organization's data infrastructure requires careful consideration, and both NAS and SAN offer possible solutions. Regardless of your choice based on current needs, you can substantially reduce implementation costs by leveraging refurbished hardware.

It's important to note that components designed for servers and data centers are built with durability in mind, ensuring longevity even when refurbished. With equal2new®, businesses of all sizes gain access to certified refurbished hardware, backed by our stringent quality standards and OEM maintenance under RapidCare®.

When it comes to NAS and SAN solutions, CXtec offers a comprehensive range of data storage servers from leading brands, such as Dell and HPE. From entry-level systems to enterprise-grade solutions, our refurbished hardware delivers exceptional performance and reliability at a fraction of the cost of new equipment. Trust CXtec to provide the refurbished infrastructure you need to enhance your data storage capabilities while maximizing your budget efficiency.