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Are the Storage Wars over?

Convergence of once-competing storage architectures will leave businesses with smarter solutions.

One thing is for certain (besides death and taxes): The amount of storage required to run our businesses will only increase. In fact, the explosion in rich media types (e.g., video, audio, and images) will only further stress available storage resources. Luckily, prices for various types of storage devices have come down.

But we have to get smarter about storage. We have more information that requires storage, and the way we access information today is much more distributed, which can make storage a complex issue.

You’re probably familiar with the directly attached storage that might be integrated into an end-user machine or a server. You might have even implemented a shared disk array. But the access times to these types of storage in networked environments can be slower than the newer storage technologies available today. And there are distance and operating system complexities to deal with.

For some time, there has been a debate concerning two newer storage technologies: Storage Area Networks (SAN) and Network Attached Storage (NAS). Many people have argued for and against using one or the other, but there’s good news: The two technologies are coming together and now they may be used individually or jointly to improve storage management.

A SAN is a special type of high-speed network, or a sub-network, that links different types of storage devices (e.g., disk, tape). SANs usually use high-speed Fibre channel architecture to provide fast connectivity between devices. They also typically include management tools. But until recently, there have been distance limitations with SAN technology. And implementing a SAN can be pretty expensive.

NAS is simply storage that is configured to have its own network address instead of being attached directly to a computer that is serving applications. NAS devices are usually attached to a LAN–typically via Ethernet–and assigned an IP address. Requests for information are usually mapped between computers and the NAS devices. Generally, a NAS consists of hard disk storage–oftentimes with multiple disk RAID systems–as well as software for setting up mapping locations.

You now can implement NAS devices on a SAN. Or you can configure your SAN to include NAS devices. There also has been recent progress in the area of connectivity and storage technology: For example, it is now possible to tunnel the Fibre channel technology used by SAN through an IP connection. Soon, engineers hope to have Fibre channel technology running over IP, which would simplify configuration and expand the reach of a SAN.

Your business operations and budget should drive the selection of the next generation of storage technology. For example, if you merely which to expand data sharing among your staff or with outside suppliers, either NAS or SAN technology will work quite well. But if you want to support serverless backups or consolidate servers, a SAN would be the better choice.

You might start by implementing some NAS devices if your budget is limited now. As SAN technology matures, I expect prices will come down. If you choose to start with NAS now and then progress to a SAN later, be sure your NAS devices will be able to interoperate with SAN technology.

For more information, see:

National Storage Industry Consortium:

SANS Institute:

Storage Networking Industry Association:

Will your storage get smart this year?

Contributing Editor Maggie Biggs has more than fifteen years of business and IT experience.

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