NAS vs. SAN: What's the Difference?

Gurbir Singh

Nov 24, 2022 / 3 min read

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Network-attached storage (NAS) and storage area networks (SAN) both serve as key components for data storage, each providing multi-user access. This article aims to provide a clear understanding of NAS, draw comparisons with SAN regarding storage features, and evaluate the most effective storage type for cloud-based work.

What is Network-Attached Storage?

The term “Network-Attached Storage” (NAS) refers to file-level storage devices and servers connected to a network that provides data access to many users. A NAS system connects via a local area network (LAN) and has redundant data structures. It is an affordable, easy-to-maintain network storage solution.

What is Storage Area Network?

A “Storage Area Network” (SAN) is a dedicated network of storage devices that enables shared storage, appearing to users as if the storage was directly connected to their computers. A SAN uses Fibre Channel for connection and switches to manage storage data traffic. The system is designed for quick, low-latency data access and easy scaling.

NAS vs. SAN: A Comparative Analysis

Below is a comparison of the features of NAS and SAN:

Feature NAS SAN
Network Connects via a LAN Runs on high-speed Fibre Channel
Data Processing Processes file-based data Processes block data
Protocols Uses several different protocols to connect with servers, such as NFS, SMB/CIFS, and HTTP Uses the SCSI protocol
Scalability Not highly scalable Highly scalable
Performance Slower throughput and high latency High-speed data access with low latency
Cost Less expensive to purchase and maintain More expensive due to complex architecture
Management Easy to set up and manage Requires hands-on administration to configure and manage
Backup and Recovery Uses traditional network-based backup Enables swift backups without bottlenecks

Uses Cases for NAS and SAN

Network-Attached Storage (NAS)

Depending on your company's requirements, NAS can be a better choice:

  • Data analytics: NAS is the go-to option for storing and processing unstructured files, using analytics and integrating extract, transform, and load (ETL) tools.
  • File collaboration and storage: IT can consolidate multiple file servers with NAS storage for ease of management.
  • Archiving: A NAS is suitable for storing many files and creating an accessible and searchable archive.


Storage Area Network (SAN)

In other use cases, SAN is the preferred choice:

  • Backups and disaster recovery: Networked devices can be backed up quickly and directly to SAN storage since traffic does not travel over LANs.
  • E-commerce: Consumers expect online shopping to be smooth and quick. A SAN is a good choice for e-commerce companies because they need high-performance functionality.
  • Video editing: Large files require fast throughput and low latency. A SAN can be directly connected to the video editing desktop client, eliminating the need for extra server layers.

The Role of NAS and SAN in the Cloud

There are several areas where NAS and SAN solutions can benefit from cloud storage.

When using NAS, for example, companies can back up their files automatically from the NAS system to cloud storage using a cloud service provider. A backup from NAS to the cloud is generally charged based on the capacity used and any access fees.

Using a cloud NAS service may require upgrading the network to handle the traffic. High data volumes and heavy traffic may necessitate a costly telecommunications link to the service, which generally incurs significant upfront costs and ongoing expenses.

Suppose you’re using SAN. A virtual SAN leverages the flexibility, scalability, and security of cloud computing for storage and data access throughout an organization. Virtual machines and cloud storage accelerate SAN processing and scalability.

If you are a startup or small to medium-sized business, NAS is probably the better option since it is cheaper and less complicated. But SAN is better if you are a large organization where speed, high throughput, and low latency are essential. 

NAS and SAN are not mutually exclusive. They can be combined and complement each other with cloud storage for an enhanced data storage experience. Combining them into one storage solution could increase scalability and management complexity while lowering costs.

Synopsys, EDA, and the Cloud

Synopsys is the industry’s largest provider of electronic design automation (EDA) technology used in the design and verification of semiconductor devices, or chips. With Synopsys Cloud, we’re taking EDA to new heights, combining the availability of advanced compute and storage infrastructure with unlimited access to EDA software licenses on-demand so you can focus on what you do best – designing chips, faster. Delivering cloud-native EDA tools and pre-optimized hardware platforms, an extremely flexible business model, and a modern customer experience, Synopsys has reimagined the future of chip design on the cloud, without disrupting proven workflows.


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About The Author

Gurbir Singh is group director, Cloud Engineering, at Synopsys. He has a demonstrated history of leadership in the software industry. In his current role, he leads the development of the Synopsys Cloud product, which enables customers to do chip design on the cloud using EDA-as-a-Service (SaaS) as well as flexible pay-per-use models. Gurbir has run organizations to develop cloud SaaS products, machine learning applications, AI/ML platforms, enterprise web applications, and high-end customer applications. He is experienced in building world- class technology teams. Gurbir has a master’s degree in computer science, along with patents and contributions to publications.

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