A storage area network (SAN) connects most or all of a system’s servers and storage devices. In the unmodified data center, servers can access and utilize only the storage devices that they have a direct connection to. To locate a specific file in a non-SAN system, users may have to search each server and its associated storage devices individually. With a virtualized storage area network, however, these disparate “siloes” of information will appear and perform as a single, gigantic file system. Servers in SAN can connect to a large number of storage devices and, vice versa, a storage device can connect to a large number of servers. SAN makes it easier to 1) access records; 2) perform tasks that require high amounts of both processing power and data; 3) transfer or back up large amounts of data. Common uses of SAN include email servers, databases, and high-capacity file servers. Computer animation studios famously utilize SAN in order to process and share their huge video and graphics files. DreamWorks Animation, for example, recently placed this job ad requesting a Storage Engineer with the responsibility of “Storage Area Network (Zoning / Alerting, monitoring, analysis, solution identification).”
InformationWeek has published some recent articles (1) (2) arguing that SAN’s role in the data center will decline in importance as companies emphasize performance over the flexibility, security, and high-capacity of a storage area network. The high processing requirements of applications and virtualization solutions require a faster solution than SAN, the author says. In the new data center, SAN will become less involved in processing and frequently accessed data and will turn into more of a records management and data backup system. Frequently used and accessed data will be located on the actual servers with “server-side caching,” eliminating the time and energy spent retrieving the information from storage devices. But the author also admits, “We have seen SAN-attached flash-based storage appliances that are optimized for high-network throughput and low-latency flash memory turn in performance results that are only a couple of dozen microseconds slower than of a directly attached PCIe card [the preferred hardware for server-side caching].” And he adds, “This is not an either-or situation. A mix of the technologies is probably more appropriate than going all in on one or the other. For the typical data center, it makes sense to use flash-only or flash-enhanced shared storage for the bulk of the workload. Then use PCIe SSD for a smaller set of workloads that have unique performance demands.”
Many of IronOrbit’s cloud-based solutions employ some form of SAN. A storage area network allows our virtualized desktop infrastructures and hosted applications to function as singular systems despite being spread across multiple servers and storage devices. SAN accounts for the scalability of our clouds, allowing additional processing power and storage capacity to be quickly and simply integrated with the existing system. By permitting large-scale and high-speed transfers of data, SAN also accounts of the ability of our clouds to maximize available resources and to be frequently, consistently, and completely backed up. From top to bottom, IronOrbit incorporates the latest and best technologies into all of its cloud-based solutions, including SAN, Atomic Speed Technology, Orbital Security, and industry-leading products such as VMware ESXi virtualization platforms, Citrix VDI-in-a-Box virtual desktop management, and Windows Server 2008.