Storage Basics: When to use SAN v. NAS

Crowdsourcing is one of the true revolutions of the Internet. It’s nothing short of remarkable, the ability to work collectively with a group of people remotely at a scale and responsiveness that could never have been imaged in ages past. Of course, like much of the issues surrounding the Internet, at scale, very rare problems in most other instances seem to pop up with regularity.

One of the earlier crowdsourcing efforts was also one of the most dubious: Yahoo Answers. It turns out when everyone can ask and answer anything, it’s not always the best resource for cogent information. Luckily, from that inspiration Quora emerged as a slightly tamer version. J Michael Metz certainly found an interesting question to answer, when should you use SAN vs NAS? Aside from being interesting as a palindrome, he provides a thoughtful answer!

J Michael Metz gives a good basic breakdown. SAN is based on block storage, directly accessing whatever you’re using for storage media. This is fast and very good for structured data. NAS devices are based on file storage. This is easier to manage, makes working with unstructured data a lot easier, and is built for sharing. It also, as far as my research has shown, has nothing to do with hip hop pioneer Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones.

The piece get’s into some of the further details of deployment, but it’s a great primer to get you started. For most admins, NAS and SAN are very much used in conjunction with each other. It becomes more about understanding the abilities of both and what you need your data to do, rather than setting up a hard and fast rule.

J Metz’s Blog comments:

This is my answer to a question that came in via Quora:

When should a administrator use a storage area network technology and when should he use a network area storage technology?

“Network Area Storage” is not a commonly used term. The correct expansion of the NAS acronym is “Network Attached Storage,” which might make the the comparing/constrasting make a little more sense.

The decision to use one versus the other is not necessarily an “all or nothing” deal. Administrators almost always find use for both block storage (upon which SANs are based) and file storage (upon which NAS devices are based).

What is block storage, and what is file storage? Bear with me a moment and I’ll try to synthesize, at the risk of oversimplifying.

Read more at: Storage Basics: When to use SAN v. NAS

About the author

Rich Stroffolino

Rich has been a tech enthusiast since he first used the speech simulator on a Magnavox Odyssey². Current areas of interest include ZFS, the false hopes of memristors, and the oral history of Transmeta.

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