Data Storage Options
As companies expand their networks to accommodate business growth and the integration of new systems, data storage becomes a big concern. The cost of data storage is always decreasing, though, so companies looking into data storage solutions have more options now than ever before.
Consider data storage solutions of the past. As little as 10 years ago, 100GB computer hard drives were considered massive and a terabyte drive was the stuff of science fiction. Now an internal terabyte drive can be had for $40 and an external 2TB hard drive can be picked up for less than the cost of a nice dinner for two. It's no wonder companies are moving away from server-based data storage solutions to options like disk drives and tape libraries for backups and online data storage products like a NAS or a SAN.
Data Storage: A Look Back
In the past, when physical servers ruled and data storage options were limited, companies simply had to rely on onboard server storage. IT departments would estimate storage space needs when ordering a server and hope for the best. This approach was wasteful and dangerous at the same time.
Server-based storage was wasteful because if departments overestimated needs, they'd be paying for disk space they would never use. The flip side of this made it dangerous as well. What if your IT department bought a file server and assumed 700GB of space would be enough? A few years and several phases of unplanned growth and good fortune later and this drive space became full with not many options for that struggling IT department. Luckily, online data storage has come along with solutions to both of these problems.
Online Data Storage: the SAN
A SAN - Storage Area Network - is an online data storage solution that can take the guesswork out of capacity planning and drive purchasing. A SAN is essentially a large array of hard drives assembled into one device, attached to servers typically through fast fibre channel connections. All this drive space is divided into partitions called “LUNs”, Logical Unit Numbers. A LUN is assigned to only one server and that server sees the LUN as a local hard drive. LUNs are assigned to specific server according to space requirements, and they can be grown as needed just by assigning more space.
It is important to note that in the SAN model of online data storage, this is a one-to-one relationship. One server sees a block of data assigned to it as a drive. This is different from a NAS.
Online Data Storage: the NAS
Among data storage solutions, the NAS "Network Attached Storage" is one of the most effective and simple to implement. A NAS is just a large connection of space divided into shares. There is no need for the special management software or complex fibre hardware solution of the SAN in this data storage product. Instead, a NAS is just a large amount of space on a server being managed by a specialized operating system like Windows Storage Server. A NAS lives on your existing network as a server, accessed by clients over existing Ethernet connections.
There are no LUNs or blocks with a NAS solution. Instead, shares are established on the NAS using the OS, same as you would share a folder on your desktop. Many network clients can then access these shares to work with the files on them.
Disaster Recovery: Offlilne Data Storage
When it's time to back up important data, a few different offline data storage solutions are available. For easiest access and write speed, disk array products like EMC'S Data Domain or HP's MSA are available for backup systems to write data to disk. Tape backup data storage solutions haven't gone out of style, either. They've just grown. Tape-based storage and backup products are still the go-to technology for companies who need stable backups and need to store their disaster recovery media offsite. Tape size and write speed gets better each year, as does the size and convenience of tape library systems.
How Data Storage Impacts Infrastructure
We find ourselves back here, looking at the old physical server. It's like a desktop computer, but flat. It has a limit of what it can hold and what it can do, and then you need to buy another one. Now consider the impact of data storage on this model of IT infrastructure. With data storage solutions getting bigger and cheaper all the time, server needs have changed. Companies can get by with blade servers and even virtual servers, using just enough hard drive resources for the OS and relying on a SAN for any other space they need. In the past decade, the cost of data storage has dropped while storage technologies have made leaps, changing the face of IT infrastructure for good.