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In an ever-expanding data-driven world, choosing the right storage solution is a big deal. Storage area network (SAN) and network attached storage (NAS) are two of the most popular storage system types. They’re both designed to manage data storage centrally and share stored files among multiple devices at once, making them good enterprise storage options.

However, despite their similar acronyms, SAN and NAS function differently. To understand the difference between SAN and NAS, let’s look at both systems to see how they’re built, how they operate, and which works best for specific needs. 

NAS is a device used exclusively as a single centralized storage location for multiple devices on a network while SAN is a high-speed network of several interconnected devices operating as a data storage unit

What is Network Attached Storage?

Network attached storage (NAS) is a device used exclusively as a single centralized storage location for multiple devices on a network. An NAS device connects directly to a switch or a router on an existing network, usually via ethernet, and contains multiple drives arranged in a RAID configuration for redundancy. Once connected, NAS allows data to be accessed as a shared folder by other computers and devices on the network.

An NAS system is relatively affordable and convenient to set up. User permissions are easily administered, files can be available to single users or groups, and access can range from basic to full. To maximize data protection, NAS also makes it possible to configure automatic backups to other devices and the cloud.

However, if the local area network (LAN) has high traffic, users may experience delays or have limited access to files. The file transfer speed may also be too slow for very large files or high-performance applications. NAS systems are not highly scalable either, as running out of storage space would require investing in another NAS.

Although system performance could be boosted significantly with a  memory upgrade, ultimately environments without high-traffic such as home settings or small to mid-sized offices may benefit the most from a NAS system. 

What are the benefits of NAS?

  1. Relatively inexpensive
  2. Simple to set up
  3. Easy administration
  4. Remote access
  5. Data redundancy
  6. Automatic backups

What are the disadvantages of NAS?

  1. LAN may become congested
  2. File transfer speed may lag
  3. Not highly scalable

What is a Storage Area Network?

A Storage Area Network (SAN) is a high-speed network of several interconnected devices operating as a data storage unit. SAN connects directly to a server, computer or host through fiber channel technology and creates a separate network dedicated to data transfers.

The creation of this additional network frees up LAN bandwidth and reduces latency issues. When a server accesses data on a SAN, the operating system (OS) recognizes it as a local hard drive, which also ensures quick processing speeds and data transfer.

Since a SAN system is a cluster of devices working together, it offers a high level of redundancy. There are always multiple devices to rely on if one malfunctions. SANs are also highly scalable, allowing more storage devices to be added over time without affecting network integrity.

This comes with a higher price point and level of complexity in setup and administration. SAN tends to be better suited for larger companies with massive data storage and processing needs.

What are the benefits of SAN?

  1. Facilitates rapid data access
  2. Creates a separate network to reduce LAN traffic
  3. Highly scalable
  4. Excellent redundancy
  5. Fast backups

What are the disadvantages of SAN?

  1. Higher price point
  2. Complex setup requires more technical knowledge and management

What is the difference between SAN and NAS?

NAS SAN
Lower cost upfront Higher cost upfront
Easy setup Complex setup
Connects directly to ethernet network Connects via high-speed fiber channel
Easily managed and requires little technical knowledge Requires higher technical knowledge and management skills
Appears as a shared file or drive Appears as a local hard drive
Slower system means higher latency Faster system keeps latency low
Not highly scalable Highly scalable - allows for more storage devices to be added to the cluster
Optimal for homes or small businesses with low traffic Optimal for large companies and organizations requiring high-speed traffic

Choosing the right storage for you

So, SAN vs. NAS — which is right for you? It comes down to what matters most for your storage needs. Consider nuances like cost, setup time, speed, accessibility, protection and scalability. Both NAS and SAN have a lot to offer. You may find that one fits your needs more than the other — or you might even decide to invest in both!

The opinions expressed in these articles are those of the individual authors and not Micron Technology, Inc., its subsidiaries or affiliates.  Upgrading your systems and components can cause damage to the system or components, including potential data loss.  Micron is not responsible for any damage or harm, including data loss or system interruptions, that may occur.  All information is provided “AS-IS” and neither Micron nor the author make any representations or warranties with respect to the information provided.  Neither Crucial nor Micron Technology, Inc. is responsible for omissions or errors in typography or photography. Micron products are warranted as provided for in the products when sold, applicable data sheets or specifications. Information, products, and/or specifications are subject to change without notice.  Micron, the Micron logo, Crucial, and the Crucial logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Micron Technology, Inc. Any names or trademarks of third parties are owned by those parties and any references herein do not imply any endorsement, sponsorship or affiliation with these parties.