Why SANs?

Over the last 10 years, large companies and enterprises have benefited enormously from massive, online data stores in the form of SANs, in their quest to accumulate and process increasingly sizable amounts of digital data assets. Just look around. Google, YouTube, Amazon, Facebook and others are harvesting and indexing data at almost unimaginable rates. SANs are a form of block-based storage which is a fancy way of saying that groups of hard drives (sometimes hundreds) can be viewed by computer servers as one big virtual hard drive. But the smallest unit of storage on each drive (i.e. logical block) can still be directly accessed if required.

Network-attached storage (NAS), modern day descendants of the file server concept, have also seen rapid growth over the years. NAS devices are generally considered to be a form of file-based storage. File-based storage combines hard drives into a big virtual hard drive and offers a network file system to connecting clients such as desktop PCs or laptops which can then use that remote storage. This makes NAS devices easy to share with multiple users over a network but the penalty is that users or servers cannot access logical blocks directly.

Let’s face it – if you own or manage a large corporation, then everything works in your favor. Some of the very best technologies and features within the commercial SAN and NAS markets are introduced into data storage products designed to be used by big businesses with larger budgets and more IT personnel. Nowadays, SAN and NAS products don’t need to be separate products as hybrid products are gaining in popularity and this is another evolutionary step for corporations to explore.

NAS devices, long considered to be easier to implement by regular users have made significant inroads in the small business markets. File-based storage provides a convenient abstraction away from physical hard drive storage which many users find to be easy to understand and therefore comforting. However, the mistake that many manufacturers make is to assume that a one-size-fits-all solution will accommodate all users and will keep everyone satisfied.

Small businesses and individual users alike are getting better at understanding and utilizing technology. There are now many small yet technologically savvy businesses out there that could benefit from the power of the SAN but may only have the funds to afford a budget NAS.

Consider the following:

1) Generally speaking, SANs scale better than NAS equipment. This means that more hard drives can be added over time to allow for data growth while preserving most of the performance.

2) Because SANs are block-based, the virtual volume can be formatted with any one of dozens of different file systems thereby giving users the widest range of choice in organizing their data. On the other hand, NAS equipment can only support a small variety of file systems.

3) SANs use well defined, architected methods to address single mount points or global namespaces. However, most NAS boxes sold to small businesses usually act as independently operating devices each with its own name and access is limited to different paths with different drive (letter) designations. Finding your information scattered across several NAS devices can be complicated and the workarounds to unify things don’t always work smoothly.

4) Databases like Oracle and software products like Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft SQL Server are designed to be used on a SAN. NAS devices cannot effectively or reliably support certain categories of software (e.g. databases) without applying a number of complex tweaks.

5) SANs, because they are block-based, don’t need to rely on higher file-based abstraction layers and so work closely with the hardware. This means that it’s very easy to convert a SAN to a NAS and still keep the function of the SAN intact. Conversely, it’s extremely difficult to convert a NAS to a SAN. For people attempting to try this, it could be a dead-end.

Unfortunately, today, there are only a few suppliers of true SAN products tailored for the average small business. We are hoping to change that situation with our comprehensive range of affordable ATA over Ethernet (AoE) SAN products. Our product family was created to offer businesses the correct product to suit their needs – when they need it. Users can start off with single hard drive, AoE Enabler solutions to evaluate our technology and later on they can acquire our desktop or rack mounted appliance which supports up to four SATA hard drives. Since SANs are scalable and use single global namespaces, those users can now experience benefits from the combined storage potential of five hard drives on their LAN. Require even more storage space? Add another four drive device. Now you have the combined storage of 9 drives. More appliances means more drives and even more capacity and you’re only limited by the number of Gigabit Ethernet ports in your LAN.

Our 4-bay appliances allow for hot swapping of drives and are shipped with Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) and hot spare technologies built right into the hardware. This provides a high level of availability to your business and no single drive failure can take the SAN offline. As per normal in the SAN industry, we still recommend backups and since our appliances are quite inexpensive, we believe that most companies would see the value and prudence in buying appliances in pairs.

Our products are available for sale on our website and we can ship to most countries.