NAS and SAN Storage Market Trends

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NAS and SAN Storage
Market Trends

by Faulkner Staff

Docid: 00021140

Publication Date: 1801

Report Type: MARKET


Storage area networks (SAN) and network attached storage (NAS) options allow companies to store large amounts of
data for archival or backup purposes. The two technologies are quickly
converging but there are still some differences. This report compares SAN and NAS systems
as well as the major manufacturers and the trends that are driving the market.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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Storage area networks (SANs) and network attached storage (NAS) are
business-class storage solutions that allow companies to archive and back up
large amounts of data. The two systems basically perform the same function, but
there are differences in the protocols they use, cost, ease of implementation, management, and scalability.


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The market for these services is increasing as companies produce more data and
are required to retain information longer to meet regulations like Sarbanes
Oxley. The main vendors for SAN and
NAS systems include many familiar names: EMC, HP, Dell, NetApp, and IBM.

The biggest trends shaping the SAN and NAS market are tied to advances in
technology. Faster networking technologies like 10GB Ethernet are improving
performance, and manufacturers are driving convergence between the two storage
solutions. Solid state drives are also starting to show up in enterprise storage
solutions. This technology offers a huge performance boost, but they are also
much more expensive. As a result, many companies interested in using
solid state drives are using hybrid solutions that combine them with traditional
storage arrays.

Current View

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SAN and NAS are similar in their capabilities as viable storage architectures in the
enterprise. Both typically use a disk array that is connected to a
corporate network and is backed up regularly. The biggest difference is the fact
that a SAN is made up of multiple devices, while a NAS is typically a single
device. There is also a big difference in how they are connected. SAN uses Fibre
Channel, while NAS uses TCP/IP networks, including Ethernet or ATM.

Storage Attached Networks

SAN is a storage solution where one or more storage devices are connected to a
server in a way that they appear to be directly attached to an operating system.
There is no limit to the number of optical jukeboxes, tape libraries, or disk
arrays that can be included in a storage area network. Just as a LAN
can be used to connect clients to servers, a SAN can be used to connect servers
to storage, servers to each other, and storage to storage.
SANs are very well suited for data-intensive environments such as video
editing, pre-press, OLTP, data warehousing, storage management, and server
clustering applications. They are also very useful for backing up data.

Network Attached Storage

NAS, on the other hand, is essentially a small, special-purpose server that
is optimized for file sharing. It uses file-based protocols such as SMB, NCP,
AFP, CIFS, FTP, NFS, or HTTP to transfer files. When a file is retrieved, a
computer requests a portion of an abstract file instead of an entire disk block. 

Benefits and Comparison

Some of the major benefits of using a SAN or NAS in the
enterprise over direct attached storage are:

  • Simple to implement and manage – SAN and NAS solutions are easy to implement and administer.
  • Ability to share information and resources – With network storage, companies can
    implement a single set of servers for the entire enterprise to
    share. This type of centralized architecture also allows
    companies to share information easily.
  • Highly scalable – Storage based networks are easy to scale.

The following table compares some of the features and functions of SAN and NAS

Table 1. Comparison of NAS and SAN
Feature NAS SAN

one device acting as a remote file server
devices interconnected as a fabric
Sharing Methodology
Protocols TCP/IP SCSI
is retrieved and transferred by file
is retrieved and transferred by disk blocks
Connectivity TCP/IP,
ATM, or Ethernet
of Administration
management so they are easy to administer
difficult to manage

NAS is not scalable.
Businesses can scale the size of a SAN by
adding more devices.

Backup and mirroring is done on files, not
up and mirrors are done on all disk blocks, even if they do not contain
any files.

secure; security is implemented at the file system level
More secure; uses logical unit security and

plug and play
complex implementation

expensive – High initial costs, but it is cheaper to add storage to the

Market Leaders

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The following companies are
considered the leading vendors in this sector.

Dell EMC

Dell EMC, which combined the two powerhouse vendors when
Dell purchased EMC in 2016, offers both SAN and NAS storage through the VNX product line. There are
increasing capacity and capabilities, including:

  • The VNXe Series is designed for small- or medium-sized businesses or
    branch offices, and they can accommodate up to 150 flash, SAS, or NL-SAS disk
  • The VNX Series

    is designed for larger businesses and can hold up to 1,500 flash, SAS, or NL-SAS
    drives that deliver 6 PB of storage


HPE offers both SAN and NAS solutions for small, medium, and large businesses,

  • File and object storage – HPE supports file
    and object storage through the StoreEasy product line, including
    the 1000 and 3000 models.
  • Storage switches – HPE’s storage switches
    include the StoreFabric models.
  • Storage gateways – HPE offers the StoreServ
    File Controller for Microsoft environments.


IBM offers several SAN products for medium- and large-sized businesses. Its products
provide multi-protocol local, campus, metropolitan, and global storage
networking. These include:

  • SAN directors
  • SAN switches
  • Extension switches

These products are designed to encrypt data at wire speed, centrally manage
storage- and fabric-based security resources, compress data and authenticate
integrity for tape backup, and provide online encryption for logical unit
numbers (LUNs) and the re-keying of LUNs without disruption.


NetApp (formerly Network Appliance) is one of the leading players in the NAS and SAN
markets. The company primarily markets its storage solutions for mid-sized businesses,
enterprises, and technical computing applications. These products are designed
to be protocol agnostic, so companies can connect the SAN products via Fibre
Channel, Fibre Channel over Ethernet, or Internet Small Computer System
Interface (iSCSI). Its NAS products can use Network File System or Server
Message Block.

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Even though companies continue to create and store more and more data, the
global demand for external storage has remained relatively steady in the past
few years. Most of the trends driving the SAN and NAS markets are tied to improvements in


and SAN systems are better suited for different functions, and they each have
their own sets of features and limitations. These two technologies have been
slowly converging over the last several years as businesses want to be able to
enjoy the benefits of both systems.

companies now offer NAS/SAN gateways that allow businesses to attach storage
area networks to a NAS device, which lets them to send files over an IP network
like a NAS but performs backups like a SAN. Gateway devices also allow companies
to manage their NAS and SAN systems from a single console.

Further Convergence: Unified Storage

market for SAN and NAS technologies are converging into a solution called
unified storage, which combines both types of storage architectures into a
single device. Unified storage solutions are starting to gain traction with
businesses of all sizes because they are relatively easy to install and manage,
and they are becoming more affordable.

storage solutions also allow businesses to use both block and file storage, but
IT managers only have to administer one system. The benefit of this setup is the
fact that a unified storage solution can store file data while still storing the
block-based storage that businesses typically need when backing up their
enterprise applications. However, unified storage solutions typically have less
control over file-based storage than block-based storage, so companies may have
performance issues.

Solid State Drives: Faster, More Expensive Technologies

Solid state drives are starting to
gain traction with companies that are willing to pay the steep price for the
performance they offer. Solid state drives can be attractive because they are much faster than
traditional disk-based systems, but they are also much more expensive. Some
companies are opting to invest in a moderate performance upgrade by using hybrid
systems that combine solid state drives with disk drives.

The downside to solid state NAS and SAN solutions is the size. These storage
networks have a maximum storage capacity of about 100 TB, while traditional SAN
and NAS arrays can store petabytes of information. These drives are also more
difficult to recover information from if they fail, so companies who use them
need to have a solid data backup and recovery plan.

Storage Virtualization

Some companies who are looking to get more out of their storage solutions are
using virtualized storage. Virtualized storage aggregates several physical
storage pools from multiple devices and presents them as a set of virtual
storage areas. It allows companies to store blocks of data across multiple
devices, enabling them to migrate data from one device to another without any
downtime. Virtualized storage solutions can also be allocated on an ad hoc
basis, providing a great deal of flexibility to IT managers.

Open Standards

is also a push in the SAN and NAS markets to develop open-source solutions.
NetApp and several other vendors are involved in an initiative called the Open
Storage Network (OSN), which is working to promote interoperability between
manufacturers. The organization believes that companies should spend more time
managing their data instead of the devices they use to store it.

Scalability and Clustered NAS

scalability is a major issue for growing companies. IT managers are constantly
faced with the challenge of growing storage capacity to keep pace with
increasing amounts of data. In a SAN, companies can just add additional storage
devices to the network to accommodate increasing demand. A NAS, however, is a
little different. One strategy that IT managers can use to scale their network
attached storage systems is NAS clustering, which combines multiple NAS devices
into a single unified file service utility, allowing companies to manage a group
of servers as if they were a single device. They can then add additional servers
to their cluster in order to increase server space.

Strategic Planning Implications

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Companies that are considering whether to invest in a NAS or SAN for their storage needs should
consider the following areas:

Cost. Companies who are looking at implementing a SAN or NAS should look
at the total cost of ownership when deciding which technology to implement
instead of just focusing on the initial equipment purchase.

Scalability. Businesses looking to implement a storage solution should look down
the road at their long-term needs when picking a technology. Storage area
networks are more scalable than network attached storage, but the cost and
challenges associated with managing them might outweigh the scalability.

Ease of Installation and Management. Companies with small IT staffs may
want to look at how easily they can install their storage devices. As
mentioned earlier in this report, storage area networks are not plug-and-play
technologies. Furthermore, SANs are more difficult to manage than network
attached storage; using a heterogeneous SAN made up of products from multiple
vendors can have compatibility problems that affect performance and reliability.

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