NAS VS SAN: What’s Right for You


The world is going digital, and everyone communicates through the internet. So, you cannot ignore the importance of data storage. Earlier, you used to look for external disk drives to store data; now, your personal computers come with terabyte hard drives.

There are several advanced storage solutions by Microsoft windows: SAN, NAS, and DAS.

However, selecting a storage solution depends on many factors. This article will discuss two leading storage solutions, i.e., NAS vs. SAN

Table of Contents

NAS (Network Attached Storage)

NAS is a file-level data storage that connects to a computer network. It is a network node similar to a computer and other TCP/IP devices. It has its IP address and uses an ethernet connection for sending and receiving files. It provides data storage and access to files from a central location to other network users or clients.

You can get files from one or more hard drives arranged in RAID arrays. With more drive bays within the NAS, you get a more extensive and flexible storage option.

NAS is not like a general server, but vendors are adding new software to improve server functionality on NAS.

Image: network-attached storage

NAS Benefits

  • Simple built: NAS is a plug-and-play single storage device that is easy to operate. You do not need to change your existing architecture. The easy setup and deployment are the primary strength of NAS. The simple build of NAS makes it fit for small-sized businesses. 
  • Cost-effective: The price of the NAS varies on its size and quality. However, overall, it is an affordable data storage solution.
  • Reduces wasted space: Compared with DAS or SAN, NAS reduces wasted space significantly.
  • Access to multiple users: Multiple users can access the storage drive simultaneously. You can easily collaborate with other employees, respond to your customers, and work on joint projects. Also, you can access the data remotely via Ethernet.
  • Reliable: NAS is only for storage, making it more reliable. You cannot use it for any searches. There is no risk of viruses; thus, it is more efficient. Also, NAS offers automatic backups to cloud storage or other network devices.

NAS Limitations

  • Minimal speed: Due to high latency and slower throughput, it is not fast for high-performance applications. When there are hundreds of users, you will see performance losses. However, high-speed networks can overcome latency issues.
  • Requires knowledge: You need basic network knowledge to use it.
  • Network dependant: You share files over the Local Area Network (LAN) with NAS devices. As a result, any network congestion or traffic in LAN can affect its performance. Its functions depend on the chip and the firmware.
  • Limited scalability: NAS has limited resources, and thus, you can only scale it up by adding another NAS. 
a row of hard drives

Photo: a row of hard drives

NAS Use Cases

  • File storage and sharing: small and medium businesses and remote offices majorly use NAS for storage. With a single device, you can combine multiple file servers. As a result, it makes storage simple, easy to manage, and saves space and energy.
  • Archived data: for long-term archives, less exp, expensive devices such as tape or cloud-based storage are a viable solution. NAS is one solution to store active archives that you can search and access anytime. With high-capacity NAS, you can replace tape libraries also.
  • VDI: Several mid-range and high-end NAS devices support data management features. These features help the Virtual Desktop interface, and these features are fast desktop cloning and duplication of data. 
  • Big Data: For big data, you can opt from several choices. These are scale-out NAS, all-flash arrays, object-based storage, or JBOD nodes. You can use scale-out NAS for intelligent data services, processing large files, and ETL. Further, NAS is reliable for video streaming, surveillance, and post-production storage.
  • Virtualization: NAS was not very popular; however, now VMware and Hyper-V support NAS databases. As a result, businesses are using NAS for their small virtualization environments. 

SAN (Storage Area Network)

SAN is a high-performance block-based storage network. It forms a complex interwoven system of storage devices, switches, and hosts. In SAN, a device does not connect to LAN; instead, it creates a separate, organized, and high-speed environment.

Each OS client can access this as direct-attached storage. Servers can connect to the SAN fabric through HBA or host bus adapters. As servers consider it a local storage pool, multiple servers combine to form a large storage pool.

Most high-end enterprises use SANs for better performance and efficient capacity usage. San comprises 2/3 of the total network storage market.

IT consultant install new SAN hard drive

Image: IT consultant installs new SAN hard drive

SAN Benefits

  • High performance: If you use SAN, it means you need not use local storage. As a result, your devices run much smoother. Further, as the servers will not use internal hard disk drives, they will use less power. Thus, it is an ideal fit for enterprise databases. Further, low latency and high I/O processing speeds make it perfect for large enterprise environments.
  • Fast Backup: As SAN works on a separate network, every client sees it as attached storage. Thus, it allows rapid backups. SAN is a distinct network, and this won’t cause bottlenecks. 
  • Quick recovery: You can easily replicate your data to move SAN to any other location. Thus, it reduces the time of data recovery. 
  • Better redundancy: all the servers on SAN work as one cluster. Thus, you need not access one particular device. If one server does grow, the other devices on the same network will compensate for that slack. You cannot get such redundancy in other storage solutions.
  • Scalable: You can add the storage capacity of SAN by adding hundreds of disks to meet data requirements.

SAN Limitations

  • Complex built: Block-based SAN is a complex network of interconnected devices. Implementing SAN requires you to make significant structural changes. You need professionals to deploy SAN.
  • Costly: SAN requires high administrative costs. Maintaining a separate ethernet network and implementing a fiber channel network make it an expensive storage solution. However, you can get the returns within one year. 

Photo: network server with hot-swap hard drives

SAN Use Cases

  • Oracle databases: this is a business-critical application that needs high performance. Also, it needs to be available all the time.
  • Microsoft SQL Server databases: these databases also store some valuable data of the enterprise and need to be available and perform better.
  • Virtualization: SAN can help run extensive virtualization. With the help of VMware, KVM, and Hyper, you can run many virtual machines that support various Operating Systems and applications. These applications require different performances. As virtualized environments share many applications, it is crucial for infrastructure to be reliable. SAN works with such a virtual environment and offers continuous and dependable support.
  • Large VDIs: with VDIs, you can provide virtual desktops to different users. Some VDI environments have thousands of virtual desktops. With SAN, you can centralize these virtual desktops, which helps better data management and security.
  • Video editing: You need low latency and high data transfer rates in video editing applications. With SAN, you get this as it directly connects to a video editing desktop client. 
  • SAP and other related environments: For ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and CRM (customer resource management), SAN offers an excellent infrastructure.

NAS vs. SAN: Differences

You cannot compare their advantages; it depends on your requirements and what you want to deploy. Maybe it’s SAN, NAS, or a combination of both.


NAS is an independent network, while SAN forms a network of interconnected storage devices. NAS uses TCP/IP networks like Ethernet while SAN run-on high-speed fiber channel networks. Now, SAN is adopting IP-based fabric as the fiber channels are expensive and complex. SANs need to work faster, and flash-based fabric protocols help them to achieve that.

Data Processing:

Data processing is one of the most significant differences between these two storage solutions. While NAS processes file-based data, SAN processes block data. However, SAN also has a unique file system. You can share files with servers connected on the same logical unit number (LUN) on SAN.


You can connect NAS to an Ethernet by clicking a cable into an ethernet switch. You can use NFS, SMB/CIFS, and HTTP in NAS to communicate with the server.

On the other hand, SAN connects to the servers through a SAN disk drive with the SCSI protocol, and SATA fabrics comprise the network in the case of SAN. Further, SAN also creates a network by mapping layers to other protocols like FCP (Fibre Channel Protocol).


For e-commerce websites or high-speed traffic environments, SAN is a better performer. Conversely, NAS has a slower file system layer. As a result, it has low throughput and high latency. However, NAS can perform well in high-speed LANs.

Due to this, SAN is suitable for the larger organization. On the other hand, NAS is a much better option for small businesses.


Entry-level or primary NAS devices are not scalable. However, high-end NAS is scalable. You can use either scale to petabytes using clusters or by using scale-out nodes. On the other hand, SAN is scalable disk storage.

This scalability is the primary driver for its high demand, and its built structure allows you to scale up or scale out its performance and capacity.


NAS is less expensive than SAN. However, the former is cheaper when you compare entry-level SAN with high-end NAS.

NAS is a device with few hardware and software components; thus, you can easily manage it. On the contrary, SAN is a storage area network that is complex and needs considerable investment.

Ease of management:

NAS is easy to manage as it is a simple plug-and-play device with a simple management interface. On the other hand, you need to make physical changes to the data center when deploying SAN, and further, you may require specialized personnel for its installation. 

NAS vs. SAN: Convergence

SAN is beneficial, but its cost is a significant drawback. Thus, many vendors are finding SAN-like products that can work without fiber channel networking. For this, they converge NAS vs. SAN approaches rather than purely SAN.

One of its examples is Fiber Channel Over Ethernet or FCoE. Here, you can get block-level transfers at standard LAN speeds.

Another is iSCSI, which sends SCSI commands in IP packets on a LAN. Although these convergence ideas give slower block-level access, they are less expensive.

Another way of converging is combining SAN/NAS files and block storage into one network. Here NAS vs. SAN processing gets a separate hold.

Such unified storage systems support four protocols. In multiprotocol, you can use the same physical storage NAS and SAN. Though converged SAN/NAS is less prevalent, these ideas show steady growth.


So, these technologies are entirely different, offering dedicated storage space options for different needs.

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