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What is a SAN?

A storage area network (SAN) is a dedicated network that connects servers to storage devices such as disk arrays or tape libraries, providing block level access to shared data storage. Unlike direct attached storage (DAS) that attaches storage devices locally to each server and provides file level access, a SAN allows every server to be physically connected to every storage device via SAN switches. In other words, because storage is externalized, it can be functionally distributed across the organization, performance is not impacted by other network traffic, and storage devices can be clustered together for better scalability and manageability.

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    With all the storage information located in one area and accessed by many computing devices, SANs must have high availability and provide reliable, low-latency high-speed transmission. High-density fiber optic cabling infrastructures are therefore the primary media used for establishing redundant connections within a SAN. Connections between servers and SAN switches often use high-speed 40 gigabit QSFP+ or MTP fiber via fiber patching for manageability while storage devices are connected to the SAN switch via 1 or 10 gigabit SFP/SFP+ ports using transceivers or LC or mini LC fiber jumpers.

    The primary protocol used for transmitting the data is Fibre Channel, which can operate at various speeds with 8 Gb/s and 16 Gb/s being predominant. Fiber Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and Small Computer Systems Interface over Internet Protocol (iSCSI) are also becoming popular due to their ability to extend distances via IP-based networking.

SAN Diagram

Technology and Media

Technology Rate (bits/sec) Rate (bytes/sec) Media
Fast Ethernet 100BASE-X 100 Mb/s 12.5 MB/s Cat 5e or higher
Gigabit Ethernet 1000BASE-X 1000 Mb/s 125 MB/s Cat 6/6A, Cat 7/7A, LC Fiber SFP twinax and transceivers
10 Gigabit Ethernet 10GBASE-X 10 Gb/s 1250 MB/s Cat 6A/7/7A, LC Fiber, SFP+ twinax and transceivers
40 Gigabit Ethernet 40GBASE-X 40 Gb/s 5000 MB/s MPO/MTP Fiber, QSFP+ twinax and transceivers
2/4 Gbps Fibre Channel 2/4 Gb/s 400/800 MB/s LC Fiber Jumpers and Patching
8/10 Gbps Fibre Channel 8/10 Gb/s 1600/2400 MB/s LC Fiber Jumpers and Patching
16 Gbps Fibre Channel 16 Gb/s 3200 MB/s LC Fiber Jumpers and Patching

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