5 Types of Enterprise Data Storage

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Enterprise data storage needs have expanded as data plays an increasingly valuable role in business. A good data storage platform is essential to security and success—huge amounts of data needs to be stored safely, kept readily accessible, and available for business intelligence (BI) and analysis. From local storage solutions to cloud platforms, there’s never been more options for enterprise-grade data storage. Here’s a high-level look at the different types available to businesses today.

Direct-Attached Storage

Direct-attached storage (DAS) is a form of data storage accessed through an external drive’s direct connection to a computer. Examples include external hard disk drives (HDDs) connected by cable to a desktop or laptop, and solid state drives (SSDs) connected by cable or an M.2 port on the motherboard.

Direct-attached storage is a quick way for users to access storage on a computer, but it’s one of the less flexible methods of data storage. Hard drive data can only be accessed on the computer it’s plugged into, unlike network-based storage, which can be accessed from multiple locations. It’s not as scalable, because you can only connect as many drives as the computer has ports. Depending on the drive used, storage space can be limited.

While HDDs may be considered too slow for many enterprises, they’re more affordable and have longer lifespans. SSDs using flash instead of mechanical parts are faster and more durable. They cost more, but the significant performance improvements they offer justify the price for many enterprise needs. Non-volatile memory express (NVMe), a protocol for solid-state drives, uses PCI express buses to connect storage to computer memory, enabling high sequential read/write speeds for stored data.

NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF) is largely a combination of DAS and storage area networks. NVMe devices connect to a computer, but the protocol is used over a network fabric through ethernet, InfiniBand, or fibre channel. This relatively new technology powers NVMe connections across a whole network rather than an individual machine, and is extremely fast. As a result, DAS variants remain viable, even for enterprises that require large capacities and high performance for their storage.

Network-Attached Storage

Network-attached storage (NAS) is a storage system that makes files stored in one device available to users in different locations over a network. NAS devices contain hard drives or SSDs, and can be use Random Array of Independent Disks (RAID) configurations that increase reliability by copying data from one drives to another in the event of disk failure.

NAS is a good choice for businesses that want lower storage costs than what cloud providers will offer. A good NAS device will cost money up front, but the lack of regular monthly payments can save buyers in the long run. NAS devices can also allow users to create access controls, so that they can manage employee file access—an important feature for enterprise security.

NAS vendors often target consumer and small-to-midsize-business users, but network attached storage can be a good choice for smaller enterprises that need on-premises backup solutions.

Storage Area Networks

Storage area networks (SANs) are high-speed data storage networks created among a group of specified devices, often in multiple locations. SANs often use fibre channel technology to transmit signals across copper or fiber cables. Switches direct network traffic between locations. Fibre channel is a good protocol for SANs. It’s fast, and it doesn’t drop packets—even when the network’s bandwidth is stretched.

SANs are popular with businesses that need to store important applications—databases, for example—while maintaining fast access to them. SANs are also a good choice for enterprises because the size of the network is scalable. Because many devices and servers can join a storage area network, it can be configured to any size that’s needed.

Software-Defined Storage

Software-defined storage is a method of managing data storage services through software rather than hardware. The software runs on hardware, but it’s not bound to it—it’s an abstracted layer and it can be moved between different pieces of hardware. Software-defined storage (SDS) is a flexible storage option, especially for companies with data centers, because it allows more hardware options—SDS infrastructure can run on a variety of hardware. This makes it much less susceptible to vendor lock-in, an industry term for customers getting trapped with a single vendor because of legal, monetary, or compatibility reasons.

SDS also offers multiple options for storing data, and can run in different environments. SDS architectures can automatically move stored data to different storage locations depending on how often it’s accessed. Moving data that isn’t accessed frequently, for example, to an archive platform could save a business more money because archive storage is less expensive.

Cloud Storage

Cloud storage makes stored data accessible from any location with an internet connection. It’s a reliable means of backup and can keep files available even in the event of an on-premises hardware failure or physical disaster. Cloud storage providers often store multiple copies of the data in multiple locations for reliability—if one data center has a power outage, for example, the data remains safe elsewhere. Cloud storage is also more scalable than on-premises server storage.

Businesses have three choices for cloud storage environments: public cloud, private cloud, and hybrid cloud. A public cloud environment is completely managed by a cloud service provider. A private cloud is managed by the business, often on premises and on company servers. Hybrid cloud combines cloud environments in whatever way a business needs.

Hybrid cloud is a competitive offering from cloud providers and offers businesses more flexibility for storing their data. Hybrid cloud is a good choice for businesses that have many different types of data and many workloads. Some data might need to stay on premises, but some data might be best in an object pool in a public cloud, for example. A hybrid environment provides more options.

Learn more about choosing the best cloud storage provider.

Bottom Line: Choosing an Enterprise Data Storage Solution

Enterprises have never had more options for data storage, both on-premises and remote. Choosing among them depends upon the specific needs of the business, but it’s not an either-or choice. Most businesses use more than one type of data storage. For example, you could keep the data for the most used critical applications on a storage area network or an all-flash NAS array as an affordable on-premises storage solution and back it up to the cloud for security and reliability. Look for the mix of solutions that best meet your needs and budget while also providing ample room for expansion as your business grows or your needs change.

Read next: Network Storage Comparison: DAS, NAS, and SAN

Jenna Phipps
Jenna Phipps
Jenna Phipps is a staff writer for Enterprise Storage Forum and eSecurity Planet, where she covers data storage, cybersecurity and the top software and hardware solutions in the storage industry. She’s also written about containerization and data management. Previously, she wrote for Webopedia. Jenna has a bachelor's degree in writing and lives in middle Tennessee.

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