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8 best practices for SAN deployment within SMBs

SMBs face a number of challenges when planning and performing a SAN implementation. Get out in front of an often intricate process with these best practices.

SAN systems -- even those designed for SMBs -- can be expensive and complex to implement. This makes it critical to carefully plan a SAN deployment.

For starters, identify goals and workload requirements, and plan the storage infrastructure accordingly. The best practices below can smooth the way for SAN implementation.

Although these practices can apply to organizations of any size, they're especially important to SMBs, which typically have fewer available resources.

1. Identify the SAN's goals. Regardless of its size, an organization should have a clear understanding of why it's implementing a SAN. For example, a common goal is to consolidate storage. Consolidation supports efficient resource usage and helps an organization meet security and compliance requirements. Other reasons to deploy SAN are to improve storage performance, maximize availability and implement DR.

2. Define the SAN's workloads. Proper SAN deployment requires an understanding of which applications will rely on the storage system. These applications might be database systems, email servers or virtual desktop infrastructure. Determine the storage requirements for each application -- performance, capacity, availability, etc. -- along with the anticipated amount of data and expected growth. SMBs tend to have limited budgets and resources, so this best practice ensures they implement exactly the systems they need.

3. Develop a detailed plan. Define the topology and components necessary to meet the SAN's goals and support its workloads. Consider each application's storage requirements. A SAN deployment plan should identify the specific network topology, such as core-edge or full mesh, as well as the primary networking technology, usually Fibre Channel (FC) or iSCSI. An iSCSI network tends to be cheaper, more flexible and less complex than FC, which can make it better suited to smaller organizations. In addition, the plan should detail the physical components, such as switches, host bus adapters (HBAs) and storage arrays. It should also lay out supporting technologies, including RAID levels, LUN mappings or storage efficiency features such as thin provisioning, deduplication and compression.

4. Think security at every stage. Although SMBs don't have the budgets and resources that are available to enterprises, they must be just as vigilant about security and comply with applicable regulations. Cyberattacks are on the rise against SMBs. They must take every precaution, especially if they use a shared iSCSI network for their data, an approach more common with smaller organizations. SMBs must put into place security protections that prevent unauthorized access to data and ensure applications can access only their allocated storage. Security protections include zoning, disabling unused ports, implementing access controls, logging events, setting up alerts, monitoring infrastructure and configuring policies.

5. Build in data protection. Even smaller SAN deployments should include DR mechanisms that protect against data loss. For example, implement synchronous or asynchronous replication to mirror stored data. Also use off-site backups or snapshots. Fully automate all safeguards to ensure continuous data protection and recoverability. Perform data integrity checks to verify data has not been corrupted.

6. Ensure reliability and availability. Just like enterprises, SMBs run mission-critical applications. These require storage that can deliver the reliability and availability necessary to ensure continuous operations. To meet these requirements, build redundancy into the SAN throughout its infrastructure to prevent any single points of failure. This can apply to HBAs, switches, power supplies, storage array access ports, I/O paths, RAID configurations, or any other components or configurations that ensure fault tolerance.

7. Develop a management strategy. SAN infrastructure deployment is only one part of the equation. A comprehensive approach to management is critical. IT staff must oversee SAN operations and proactively monitor the storage infrastructure. Look for SAN products that automate routine maintenance operations, make it easy to identify and troubleshoot issues, and facilitate remote management, especially in the age of COVID-19.

8. Plan for the future. To reconfigure a SAN is no small task, especially for an SMB with limited resources. The better prepared the SAN is for future workload requirements, the easier it will be to accommodate them. When planning a SAN deployment, think about the future. The SAN should be flexible enough to accommodate both the expected and unexpected. By deploying a flexible design, an SMB can start out small and grow the infrastructure as needed. The organization should be able to scale a SAN as future requirements change, with little to no downtime.

Challenges with SAN implementation in SMBs

SANs can offer SMBs many benefits, including high performance, scalability and availability, but they also come with several challenges.

  • Implementation can be a complex process that requires expertise to plan the network's topology, select the right components and deploy the physical network. A network features switches, cabling, HBAs, storage processor ports, storage arrays and other components. It can be especially challenging for SMBs with small IT teams and limited budgets.
  • SAN management brings its own layer of complexity. An IT team must be able to maintain, monitor and support all components of the storage network, which includes a variety of complicated systems and technologies. The team must also maintain security and data protection, keep the systems at peak performance and ensure ongoing reliability and availability. For some SMBs, this can be a challenge because they don't have the necessary expertise. Outsourcing or training investments might be necessary.
  • Most SANs come with a hefty price tag. Even a SAN geared toward an SMB requires redundant, high-performing components. Costs add up quickly. SAN deployment and maintenance expenses further contribute to the high cost of ownership, especially when an IT team must bring in outside experts or invest in training.

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