Evolution of Storage Area Network and History

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Last Updated - January 29, 2020
Evolution of Storage Area Network
Evolution of Storage Area Network

If you are familiar with different types of storage systems, you will have heard the name SAN by this time. SAN aka Storage Area Network is a special type of storage network. To elaborate, this type of storage system offers block-level network accessibility to the storage with a high-speed network. In this system, fiber cables are used for data transfer. Thus, the user can transfer data at very high speed.

SANs are widely used in various medium to smaller sized businesses or organizations as an option for storing and managing their data. But over time, SAN has improved and gone through a lot of changes. In this post, we will be talking about all the highs and lows of SAN. In doing so, we will also cover up the history and evolution of the Storage Area Network (SAN).

So, let’s get started…

The Evolution of Storage Area Network (SAN)

Why SANs are Used?

  • High Speed: SAN uses the FCP (Fiber Channel) protocol and fiber optic cables for data transfer. That is why it can achieve about 20 times faster speeds in transferring data than usual copper cables.
  • Application Availability: Due to block-level access, SAN provides improved application availability.
  • Secure and Dynamic Failover Protection: SAN is very secure compared to other similar storage network system. Also, it comes with high-end data fair over protection.
  • Backup: Even if you lose your data, you will have multiple backups of the data to restore from. It is because SAN uses a centralized backup system for reliable disaster recovery

The Beginning of SAN

Storage Systems were evolving since when we were introduced to this technology. It was likely 1993 or 1994 when a new storage technology emerged named Storage Area Network aka SAN. At first, it was not that popular as you know it can happen with any new technology. 

Also, the cost of developing a newly arrived storage system was a crucial factor. As you know the users need various types of components to build a SAN. For instance, you will need SAN switches, servers, storage disks, tape libraries, and JBODS, etc. So, overall the price of this technology was very expensive at that time.

Due to that, only the big companies could take advantage of this brand new storage system. With the passing of time, a lot of data storage system providers from all around the world started to offer pre-built SAN storage to businesses and organizations. As a result, the competition between those companies grew and the price of the components also came to a lower level. And, SAN became a popular alternative to store and manage data.

Added to that, when people saw that it uses fiber channel technology and fiber channel protocol for transferring data, it was a hit. We will talk about the popularity of SAN in the later section of the post in detail. But overall, we can say that SAN came into the scene back in the 90s and dominated the storage system market for over a decade and a half.

Improvement and Innovation of SAN Technology

As like any other popular technologies, SAN also was improved and developed in many ways. As the competition between the providers was fierce, they started to improvise and customize the technology in their own way. Let’s learn more about this…

SAN SSDs

At first, the users would use HDD (Hard Disk Drives) as the storage disks for storing the data in a SAN system. Later, with the introduction of SSDs (Solid State Drive), they started to integrate SSDs on the SAN storage system. As you might have already know that SSDs are about 5 to 25 times faster than a standard HDD. So, the integration of SSD has made the technology faster than ever before. Over time, almost every SAN providers around the world started to offer SSD in the place of HDD.

SAN Virtualizing

Server virtualizing was big news back in the days. When the virtualization technology was introduced, the storage system providers combined all the prevalent storage protocols like SAN, DAS, and NAS for making a virtual pool of storage with all these protocols. That way, a user could use more than one storage system at once without losing data transfer quality.

However, virtual SAN was separate from the traditional SAN at that time. But, with the commercialization of the virtual server technology, it had to replace the traditional SAN technology. That is why you will see the virtual SAN system is more prevalent than the traditional SAN nowadays.

SAN: Becoming Popular

Before SAN, people used to store data in servers that were connected directly to the storage disks. Thus, the storage capacity of a server was limited. So if the user needed more storage they would need to add new disk drives to their servers. It was both time-consuming and costly.

That’s when SAN came into the play. SAN solved that problem with the introduction of the accessibility to block-level data storage. That way, the user could create LUNs and assign them to different servers and storage blocks at will. Also, SAN was very fast compared to the other data storage solutions at that time.

Lastly, with the decrease in the price of the SAN components, SAN started to become mainstream. It was 2000 when SAN became popular. For that reason, organizations and businesses from all around the world started to use SAN as their primary storage managing system. It was reliable, fast, and feature-rich. So, SAN was the next best storage managing network system in the making.

The Current State of SAN

New technologies get outdated and replaced by another new one. It is the ultimate truth in the tech industry. And this is also applicable to SAN. Even though it was a very popular and most commonly used storage system, the popularity of SAN has started to decline. There are a few key reasons why it is happening. Here’s more on this…

Why SANs Popularity is Declining?

The software-defined storage system has improved a lot in the last decade. With the introduction of hyper-converged storage infrastructure, we don’t necessarily need all the components like the switches, servers, etc. All of these now can be combined into one with the help of the new cloud and hyper-converged technologies.

As a result, now, you will find that most of the SAN providers are offering software-defined storage (SDS) solutions in alternative to SAN. These are more reliable, always-on, high performance, scalable, and yet affordable system. 

Wrapping it up

Remember even though, SAN is not that much popular as a storage solution nowadays, still, it is being used by a lot of organizations at the moment. Also, without the introduction of SAN, the storage solution industry would be the same. SAN revolutionized the storage solution and management industry, indeed.

Also, it solved a lot of critical issues by streamlining the process of data storage networking. On top of this, because of SAN, we are now using software-defined storage systems. So, SAN might get outdated in the near future, but it will still be here in the form of an improved version of a storage networking solution.