storage area network (SAN)

Definition: Learn what a storage area network (SAN) is, what the three components of a SAN are and why iSCSI has made SAN management easier.

A storage area network (SAN) is a dedicated high-speed network (or subnetwork) that interconnects  and presents shared pools of storage devices to multiple servers.

A SAN moves storage resources off the common user network and reorganizes them into an independent, high-performance network. This allows each server to access shared storage as if it were a drive directly attached to the server. When a host wants to access a storage device on the SAN, it sends out a block-based access request for the storage device. 

A storage area network is typically assembled using three principle components: cabling, host bus adapters (HBAs) and switches.  Each switch and storage system on the SAN must be interconnected and the physical interconnections must support bandwidth levels that can adequately handle peak data activities.

Storage area networks are managed centrally and Fibre Channel SANs have the reputation of being expensive, complex and difficult to manage.  The emergence of iSCSI has reduced these challenges by encapsulating SCSI commands into IP packets for transmission over an Ethernet connection, rather than a Fibre Channel connection. Instead of learning, building and managing two networks -- an Ethernet local area network (LAN) for user communication and a Fibre Channel SAN for storage -- an organization can now use its existing knowledge and infrastructure for both LANs and SANs.

This short video provides a brief overview that explains the differences between a storage area network and network attached storage.

See also: virtual SAN, SAN-in-a-box, SAN file system, virtual SAN appliance (VSA)

This was first published in August 2014

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