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SAN vs NAS: Difference Between Storage Area Network and Network Attached Storage

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When you are looking for a local storage for business, there come two options: NAS (Network Attached Storage) and SAN (Storage Area Network). Today you will find out whether it is NAS or SAN that fits your needs.

What Is NAS?

Network Attached Storage (NAS) is a device for storing data over the network. It has dedicated hardware and a pre-installed by manufacturer OS. The main characteristic of the NAS is the number of bays you can insert hard drives into. From the hardware standpoint  you need to be aware of the NAS CPU and RAM.

NAS is a computerized box for hard drives that can be accessed by multiple users or applications over the network.

This is a Synology NAS device

This is a Synology NAS device

Typical NAS use cases:

  • Data storage
  • File sharing
  • Backup

NAS should be connected to a local network. It then can be accessed by multiple users. It can also be configured as a network share for simpler user access.

Network storage devices do not have pre-installed hard drives - you should choose them.

Typical NAS infrastructure model

Typical NAS infrastructure model

Are you tasked with choosing a NAS for your company or your clients? Check out our 5-steps guide:

Further reading Choosing a NAS Backup Solution for MSPs and SMBs

What Is SAN?

Storage Area Network (SAN) is an array of disks, which are attached to the server via a special network. In SAN you get access directly to the storage, as if it was your local hard drive. That makes storage area network fast if configured correctly.

The right SAN infrastructure consists of a dedicated network typically relying on a fiber-optics, enterprise-grade storage systems, and special connecting hardware. The wrong SAN setup leads to network overload and instability.

SAN is a bunch of disks that act as one storage device over a network.

Typical SAN infrastructure model

Typical SAN infrastructure model

The management of the IT infrastructures with SAN requires a knowledge of low-level block protocols and their hardware and software medium, such as FC switches, optical cables, SCSI-powered protocols, etc.

SAN switch with optical Fibre Channel connectors

SAN infrastructure implementation costs are high from a hardware and management perspective.

Typical SAN use cases:

  • High speed server transactions
  • Data mirroring

SAN switch with optical Fibre Channel connectorsNAS can also be made faster by using the high-end devices, routing planning, using a dedicated network and overall optimizations. Both storage solutions are often used within one organization. You may have a file server for storing user files and a block storage for the disaster recovery at the same time.

Conclusion: SAN vs NAS Comparison Chart

Now you are aware of fundamental differences between SAN and NAS devices and can find your bearing on the storage technologies ground. We have created a comparison chart with the key features of both storage types so you could choose the right one.

SAN

NAS

Block-level access

File-level access

High performance due to the infrastructure nature, commonly faster

High performance can be achieved using the network and software optimization, commonly slower

May be configured in a very custom way

Easy to configure a basic data storage use case

Needs changes in the existing network

May be published in a network as it is

Needs separate servers for application or user access

Independent device with server functions

Suitable for any apps

Suitable for latency-tolerant apps

Grants read and write access for multiple users using external manager

Grants read and write access for multiple users out of the box

Costs more due to the infrastructure expenses

Cheaper due to the simplicity of deployment

Durable

Scalable

Effective for big data or performance-crucial business

Can be handy for a business of any size

Should You Choose a NAS or a SAN?

Whereas NAS is an endpoint device, SAN is a network of devices that act as  one. Network area storage device is far simpler and cheaper to buy and maintain. Setting up a storage area network requires knowledge, practice and continuous maintenance. It also costs a lot to build one.

If you need storage for backup or data sharing within small teams - you are better off with a NAS. Still not sure which local data backup strategy to choose?

Further reading Local Storage as Backup Destination Guide

If you require high input/output speeds, you have servers and applications that need to communicate with each other - hire a professional to build you a SAN.

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