“When it comes to finding an appropriate data storage and management solution, the first step is to look internally. Your motivation for data storage will dictate your choices,” says David Staffel, product manager at OnRamp.
Choosing the right data storage solution for your business can quickly become overwhelming and complex. Steadily increasing data volumes (from e-mails to entire databases), compliance requirements, and changing business needs often complicate matters. And with more choices and providers than ever before, the selection process is downright confusing. Configuring your storage strategy correctly from the get-go makes a world of difference—and prioritizing scalability and flexibility for future needs is an integral part.
Let’s take the guesswork out of the equation by exploring the available data storage and management options and matching them up to your workloads. You’ll want to consider the capacity, performance, security, and utility for each type of storage.
Start with the basics.
Types of Data Storage
DAS was the first on the market, offering access to your data through your Local Area Network (LAN), and like the name implies, refers to storage directly connected to your computer. Because of its limitations, other storage methods have largely replaced it over time.
Sometimes referred to as a NAS server, NAS operates on a dedicated hardware device that connects to your LAN and offers storage space to your entire network. It’s most commonly used as a long-term data archive or as centralized storage for multi-server access.
SAN is a dedicated network of storage devices that work together to provide block-level storage. The mostly widely used type of enterprise storage, it lets you connect more than one host to a storage device and offers the best performance and availability for heavily-used applications. SAN delivers predictable, high-bandwidth connections that are optimized for performance.
Each type of storage is designed to satisfy certain business objectives—so you’ll likely use a combination of storage options. Even within each storage type (DAS, NAS and SAN), you’ll find varied levels of performance, capacity, security, and availability. You’ll want to find your sweet spot for each workload, anticipating your usage so that you’re not maxing out your capacity or underutilizing your storage, which results in unnecessary costs.
“Save money by only using your fastest storage, like SSD [SAN], for data that you actively use, and utilize less expensive platforms … to store your archival or backup data,” says the director of product management for MarkLogic, Aaron Rosenbaum, in an interview with CIO.com. “Make sure your systems can utilize different storage tiers so as the performance needs of an application change, you don’t need to re-architect.”
You’ll want to work with prospective providers to understand the nuances of each storage type and how they’ve structured their offering. For instance, at OnRamp, we offer 4 tiers of managed SAN storage, as well as managed NAS storage. The choices range from ultra-high performance, all-flash SAN (starting at 4 IOPS per GB) for high transaction scenarios to all-purpose SAN for those who seek reliability, but prefer the price and performance of a midrange solution.
Let Your Requirements Drive Your Storage Selection
This might go without saying, but we urge you to find a solution that fits your precise needs, and not the other way around. Prior to contacting any data storage providers, ask yourself the following questions:
- What type of data am I storing? Are there different types? (PowerPoint presentations, PDF files, images, credit card information, health records, databases, videos)
- What applications are business critical? Which ones are lower-priority?
- What level of security do I need?
- Am I subject to any compliance regulations? (HIPAA, PCI, HITRUST)
- How often does my team need to access this information?
- How long do I need to retain the data?
- Do I need data backup? If so, how often?
- Do I have any projects coming up that require changes in capacity?
- Does shared storage suffice, or do I need dedicated storage?
- What type of support do I expect?
Being able to identify your needs will make the storage and management selection process much easier, as you’ll be able to better communicate your requirements.
Using Real World Use Cases to Narrow Your Choices
Now that you have a foundation for the available types of storage, it’s useful to note how your peers are using each one on a daily basis. Plus, knowing the end goal can often naturally guide you through the selection process.
NAS Use Cases
NAS is an ideal option for sharing a large amount of data between computers, and as mentioned before, is a reliable method for accessing data that doesn’t need constant retrieval or transfer. NAS storage is available to cloud virtual machines (VMs) and physical servers. Uses include:
- Archival and long-term storage
- Document storage for compliance needs
- Data sharing among multiple load-balanced web servers
- Data backup/ data replication for recovery
SAN Use Cases
SAN is an ideal fit for those who need low latency, predictability, high performance, and scale-out options to quickly adapt their environment as necessary. Uses include:
- Private Cloud
- Server clustering
- Messaging apps like Microsoft Exchange
Of course, there are other use cases for SAN and NAS storage. We’ve only scratched the surface of what you need to know in order to make an informed decision about a managed storage solution, regardless of whether you’re starting from scratch or switching your configuration to be more efficient.
Continue learning about your ideal managed storage solution on our site, and stay tuned for part II of this post. We’ll address additional considerations that can make or break your storage selection, as well as include actionable tips to help you choose a storage provider that meets your business’ unique requirements.