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Demystifying Storage Area Networks (SAN)

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Storage Area Networks (SANs) represent intricate backend infrastructures that deliver robust and high-performance storage connectivity in enterprise environments. This blog post aims to delve deeper into SAN technology and explore key deployment considerations.

Understanding SAN

A SAN is a dedicated, high-speed network comprising storage devices and servers that offer block-level storage to servers managed as shared pools. Unlike local disks, servers access storage resources directly over the SAN. Essential components of a SAN include:

  • SAN Switches: Facilitate interconnection between servers and storage devices through high-speed networking. Common switch protocols are Fibre Channel and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE).
  • Storage Arrays: Specialized storage devices housing multiple disks aggregated into RAID-based shared storage pools with logical units known as LUNs. Notable SAN storage vendors include Pure Storage, NetApp, and Dell EMC.
  • Servers: Connect to the SAN via Host Bus Adapters (HBAs) or Converged Network Adapters (CNAs) to access storage LUNs mapped to them.
  • Management Software: Handles monitoring, configuration, and provisioning of storage on the fabric.

Benefits of SAN

  • Improved Performance: SAN offers faster data access through high-speed networks like 32 Gbps Fibre Channel, outperforming NAS file-level protocols.
  • Scalability: Easily scale SAN storage and interconnects by adding disks or switches.
  • Availability: Redundancy through multipath I/O and clustered servers minimizes disruptions in case of outages.
  • Centralized Data: Dynamically allocate resources from shared storage pools, ensuring efficiency and easy management.
  • Distance Solutions: SAN can be extended over long distances using Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) and similar protocols.

Use Cases

SAN is well-suited for mission-critical workloads demanding high throughput and low latency, such as databases, ERP systems, CRM applications, server virtualization, high-performance computing, big data analytics, and transaction processing.

SAN Deployment Best Practices

  • Performance and Scalability: Determine requirements for storage and network performance. Choose appropriate Fibre Channel speed and switch capacity.
  • Redundancy: Implement redundancy at all layers, including dual SAN fabrics, multipath configurations, and clustered servers.
  • Traffic Segregation: Segregate SAN traffic from LAN/WAN traffic using a separate switch fabric. Implement zoning for controlled access.
  • Management Strategy: Develop a comprehensive SAN management strategy covering storage allocation, performance monitoring, firmware updates, and data protection.
  • Capacity Planning: Size SAN storage capacity appropriately, leaving room for growth. Distribute workloads based on performance needs.

Despite the complexity of SAN deployment, the consolidated shared storage and high performance it offers justify the investment for critical enterprise applications.

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