What is the Storage Area Network (SAN)?

SAN is a technology where storage has been moved into the network rather than directly connected to the servers. In this tutorial, we will learn what is Storage Area Network, Unit of storage or LUN, Protocols, advantages, and disadvantages.

What is SAN?

SAN stands for Storage Area Network.   It is a high speed dedicated network, which has interconnected storage devices.  The network consists of Fibre switches and cables. Servers use SAN as a shared pool for storing filers and data.

Local Storage:

In traditional storage, each server has its own dedicated hard drives, that are local to a server.  All files and applications are saved in drives. Wirth the time, increase in the number of applications, and data the drives start getting exhausted.  For example, if a company running a shared hosting server, soon there will be no space for more websites.

While other servers may have free space, but the overloaded server can not access it. The solution is to install more storage on the server. But it is time-consuming and adds some additional cost.  Again note that the free space is there, but with another server, so can not use it. We can feel that there should be a pool of all hard drives and a server can use a portion or full.

Storage when NO SAN is used.

Storage With SAN:

With the SAN, the storage becomes shared and works as a pool of storage segments.  A  server may initially opt for basic storage and later can scale up dynamically without adding any new hardware.

Storage with SAN using switch
Storage with SAN using fiber switch


What is LUN?

LUN stands for logical unit number.  All devices execute input/output has a logical unit number.  A computer uses LUN to work with the storage device as defined by the Small Computer System Interface (SCSI). SCSI works for data transport between services and storage devices using transport protocols such as Internet SCSI and Fiber Channel.  The server has a SCSI client and storage have a server or LUN. The LUN identifies a full storage device, collection of storage devices, or a part of a large storage device on the host computer. An admin can assign the permissions of specific LUNs.


Advantages with SAN:

  • Centralize Access: The storage is central, it brings easy to implement new policies.
  • High-Speed Network: The switch and cables are based on fiber optics. This brings tremendous speed while access data.  A computing device has the impression that data is locally present.
  • Fast recovery after failure: The processing servers and all storage (applications and data) are decoupled. So when server hardware fails, all data is still present to recover business.  Once the server back to business, it loads data and starts working immediately.
  • Failover – When a server fails another server in SAN start processing the data requests. It does automatic rerouting to the backup storage.
  • Scaling –  Any time more storage devices can be added to the SAN if applications require more capacity.
  • Security –  There can be user-based access for the storage so that only allowed person can access it.

Disadvantages of SAN:

There are a few disadvantages to SAN. The first is the initial cost. A storage area network requires a high initial setup cost as compared to traditional storage.

Impact of cloud computing with SAN?

An increasing number of businesses are using the cloud for servers and storage. A cloud service can be only for data storage too. There are many companies that are providing services.  With the cloud, one can choose minimal storage to start with and later keep on increasing as requires.  The difference between SAN and cloud is that SAN is local to a company where servers are connected to storage with high-speed switches and fibers.  While storage in the cloud is through the internet, that may bring latency.  A company may choose a hybrid approach, where lesser critical storage to the cloud and critical in local SAN.

Communication Protocols for SAN:

The server and storage connect to each other over a network.  When a  server needs to access the storage, it issues a command to the storage and in answer gets the designed files or other resources.  Like other network communication, there are protocols between the two. Following is a list of protocols for the storage area network.

  1. Fibre Channel Protocol (FCP)
  2. Fibre Channel Over Internet
  3. NVME
  4. iSCSI