Enterprise Data Storage: The Basics of What You Need to Know

By: Jay Nyland on October 31, 2019

Data storage is fundamental for any organization, from the smallest start-ups to the largest corporations. While a company might start off with one IT storage solution, it could quickly outgrow that system as it scales, forcing leadership to rethink how it manages and accesses data across its burgeoning network. Nowhere is this issue more important and complicated than when it comes to enterprise data storage.

Enterprise Storage Solutions

When an organization reaches enterprise-level, the data storage solutions that are in place may no longer be sufficient for higher volume workloads. Many enterprises operate an on-premises data solution, but they may need to migrate some resources into a colocation facility to increase capacity or implement redundancy for disaster mitigation. However the organization plans to grow, it must consider how its IT infrastructure will store and manage data throughout that process. Enterprise data storage must address a variety of user and customer demands while also positioning itself to handle the data demands imposed by new technologies.

SAN vs NAS Storage

For most enterprises, there are two primary choices when it comes to implementing data storage systems: Storage area networks and network-attached storage. Although they sound similar, they function quite differently in terms of how they view and manage data.

SAN Storage

Storage area networks (SAN) are dedicated networks that create high-speed connections between storage devices and servers. They typically use dedicated fiber channel interconnections to allow storage devices to share data more easily. SANs improve application availability and performance by keeping storage traffic separated from the rest of the network, which allows them to better manage and allocate storage resources.

Most SANs consist of two layers. The first layer establishes the connections between the various nodes in the network so that devices can receive commands and communicate their status. This network is controlled by the second SAN layer, which is software-based and allows users to define how data moves through the network. Storage capacity can be shifted between devices through virtualized partitions, allowing enterprises to maximize the capabilities and resources of existing servers and other hardware.

Data in a SAN is stored at the block level and is often used for structured workloads like databases. Blocks are assigned specific identifiers so they can be stored and retrieved, but they lack the metadata necessary to organize and access the files within these volumes. Each block of data (which could be anything from research data to email server files), acts as an individual hard drive, which makes SANs very useful for managing large quantities of data that can be grouped into different categories.

NAS Storage

Network-attached storage (NAS) is often used in conjunction with a SAN system as a way of accessing and managing the files contained within SAN blocks. Where a SAN consists of several devices, NAS applies to a single storage device. NAS servers tend to connect to the network through an ordinary ethernet connection and use a dedicated operating system to manage files through well-established protocols.

Many organizations use NAS systems for storing files that multiple users need to access and need to be backed up. A NAS device can easily be configured to create redundancy, backing up files quickly and locally to mirrored storage drives without having to transmit them elsewhere in the network or shift them to the cloud. Files can also be easily grouped and managed, with different access protocols to ensure that only authorized users can access certain files or data.

SAN vs NAS vs DAS

Many organizations start out using a direct-attached storage (DAS) system in which the storage device is attached directly to a host computer. In many cases, this is simply an external hard drive. There is no network involved, which makes it difficult for multiple users to access stored data or to share data across distances. Since DAS devices must be connected directly to a computer and don’t operate through a network, they are not very scalable or practical for enterprise-level organizations. They could provide an inexpensive IT storage solution for a small business that only needs to share data locally and doesn’t plan on growing quickly or delivering services over a network.

Unified Storage

Most enterprises need to manage data at a scale that is beyond the capacity of a NAS device, however. Organizing data at the file level might make sense for individual users or even departments, but this system can quickly become unmanageable due to the sheer volume of data involved. That’s why many enterprises utilize hybrid NAS devices that integrate with a broader SAN. Sometimes called unified storage or multiprotocol storage, these networks use devices that combine the capabilities of NAS and SAN storage, allowing users to store data at either the block or file level depending upon the application.

Choosing the Right Enterprise Data Storage Solution

With data management becoming more and more crucial to business success, it’s important for enterprises to select a data storage solution that best meets their needs. While smaller to medium-sized companies might be able to manage with a purely NAS approach, enterprise-level organizations generally need to incorporate SAN storage solutions into their IT architecture to ensure superior speed and performance for their networks. Building a network that incorporates SAN and NAS principles can provide them with the flexibility they need to meet the demands of big data and other technology innovations.

Speak to an Expert About Your Company's Specific Data Center Needs