Computers access disk storage in two ways. One way is via I/O ports (or host-attached storage); this is common on small systems. The other way is via a remote host in a distributed file system; this is referred to as network-attached storage
Host-attached storage is storage accessed through local I/O ports. These ports use several technologies. The typical desktop PC uses an I/O bus architecture called IDE or ATA. This architecture supports a maximum of two drives per I/O bus. A newer, similar protocol that has simplified cabling is SATA
High-end workstations and servers generally use more sophisticated I/O architectures such as fibre channel (FC), a high-speed serial architecture that can operate over optical fiber or over a four-conductor copper cable. It has two variants. One is a large switched fabric having a 24-bit address space. This variant is expected to dominate in the future and is the basis of storage-area networks (SANs). Because of the large address space and the switched nature of the communication, multiple hosts and storage devices can attach to the fabric, allowing great flexibility in I/O communication. The other FC variant is an arbitrated loop (FC-AL) that can address 126 devices (drives and controllers)
A network-attached storage (NAS) device is a special-purpose storage system that is accessed remotely over a data network. Clients access network-attached storage via a remote-procedure-call interface such as NFS for UNIX systems or CIFS for Windows machines. The remote procedure calls (RPCs) are carried via TCP or UDP over an IP network—usually the same local area network (LAN) that carries all data traffic to the clients. Thus, it may be easiest to think of NAS as simply another storage-access protocol. The network attached storage unit is usually implemented as a RAID array with software that implements the RPC interface
Network-attached storage provides a convenient way for all the computers on a LAN to share a pool of storage with the same ease of naming and access enjoyed with local host-attached storage. However, it tends to be less efficient and have lower performance than some direct-attached storage options
iSCSI is the latest network-attached storage protocol. In essence, it uses the IP network protocol to carry the SCSI protocol. Thus, networks—rather than SCSI cables—can be used as the interconnects between hosts and their storage. As a result, hosts can treat their storage as if it were directly attached, even if the storage is distant from the host
One drawback of network-attached storage systems is that the storage I/O operations consume bandwidth on the data network, thereby increasing the latency of network communication. This problem can be particularly acute in large client–server installations—the communication between servers and clients competes for bandwidth with the communication among servers and storage devices.
A storage-area network (SAN) is a private network (using storage protocols rather than networking protocols) connecting servers and storage units. The power of a SAN lies in its flexibility. Multiple hosts and multiple storage arrays can attach to the same SAN, and storage can be dynamically allocated to hosts. A SAN switch allows or prohibits access between the hosts and the storage.
As one example, if a host is running low on disk space, the SAN can be configured to allocate more storage to that host. SANs make it possible for clusters of servers to share the same storage and for storage arrays to include multiple direct host connections. SANs typically have more ports—as well as more expensive ports—than storage arrays
FC is the most common SAN interconnect, although the simplicity of iSCSI is increasing its use. Another SAN interconnect is InfiniBand — a special-purpose bus architecture that provides hardware and software support for high-speed interconnection networks for servers and storage units