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ESRI Systems Integration Technical Brief
Enterprise GIS Storage Options – Exploring the Differences Between DAS, SAN, and NAS

Rev. 2 December 22, 2005

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is a high-speed storage interconnect standard that provides up to 400 MBps of bandwidth (4 Gbps) in a given Fibre Channel segment or loop. iSCSI speeds today are 1 Gigabit with 10 Gigabit on the way. Many areas pertaining to the various storage options will be mentioned in brief and the reader is encouraged to research these areas further. Storage Interconnect Options Prior to diving into the storage options. These two storage interconnects provide the necessary path for SCSI storage commands to be encapsulated and sent from the host to the storage controller for processing. This technical brief will briefly explain the three primary options: Direct Attached Storage (DAS). The main characteristic of DAS is that the storage connection from the server to the storage is non-virtualized and is hard-connected. Storage Area Networks (SAN). the performance of iSCSI is adequate and the storage industry is experiencing a shift towards iSCSI deployment. or Internet SCSI (iSCSI) is an IP based storage interconnect standard that provides an alternative to traditional Fibre Channel SAN fabrics by using standard Ethernet networking hardware to create the back-end storage network. or with a completely external storage subsystem that includes the controller and disks. or Fibre Channel-Arbitrated Loop (FC-AL).Systems Integration Technical Brief Introduction Several storage options exist to support enterprise GIS systems. and Network Attached Storage (NAS). Figure 1 Internal Controller/Disk DAS Configuration 3 . Direct Attached Storage (DAS) Direct Attached Storage (DAS) involves the direct connection of servers to storage. Fibre Channel. This connection is typically through a direct SCSI cabled connection (Figures 1 and 2). An FC-AL loop can support 126 devices with host to server distance up to 10 km. Fibre Channel typically out-performs iSCSI but for many cases. First. the various storage interconnects should be introduced. This can either be with the use of an internal server disk controller with either internal or external drives. SCSI over IP. The two most widely know and used are Fibre Channel and iSCSI.

In this configuration. server A may own part of the storage while server B owns a separate part of the storage. Clustering is also supported with shared DAS storage where the clustering software determines which server can see a particular logical disk at any one time. Figure 3 External Controller/Disk DAS Configuration 4 . For external controller DAS. the number of servers that can directly connect to an external storage subsystem is typically limited to no more than eight (vendor dependent). Multiple host cable paths to the storage array are encouraged for high availability requirements and various RAID solutions are used to protect data at the disk level. a Fibre Channel or iSCSI interconnect is used. Some flexibility can be achieved with DAS by using a completely external storage subsystem (Figure 3) which allows a minimal number of servers to directly connect without creating a storage network. However. only the host server has access to the storage and therefore owns all of the connected storage.Systems Integration Technical Brief Figure 2 Internal Controller/External Disk DAS Configuration With an internal DAS controller solution. because of cabling and storage design constraints.

Because a SAN is a back-end storage technology and is several layers removed from the application layer. heavy use of DAS among multiple server racks can result in an inefficient use of storage as unused per-server capacity begins to accumulate. Management of various DAS islands of storage can also become inefficient and expensive. Figure 4 Storage Area Network Configuration 5 . Storage Area Networks (SAN) Storage Area Networks (SAN) are. The real strength of a SAN is that storage can be assigned and later reassigned as needed to support the changing needs of specific servers. Initially. it is possible to configure a SAN with potentially thousands of hosts in the data center. it can be used to support GIS databases with no integration issues. A SAN should be considered when supporting many servers as part of an overall data center storage design concept. A SAN provides flexibility for "carving" out storage for multiple servers where the servers can be spread out across a data center. Figure 4 depicts a typical SAN configuration. Using SAN switches. as a data center grows.Systems Integration Technical Brief DAS is a fairly straightforward solution for small implementations with few servers. This results in the efficient use of storage and minimizes unused storage capacity for a given server. A typical SAN is configured with multiple switches and multiple server Host Bus Adapters (HBA) to create a high-availability storage configuration and various RAID solutions are used to protect data at the disk level. as the name implies. building a SAN is more expensive than DAS or NAS and requires expertise with specific hardware and software used to configure the SAN. back-end storage networks that connect multiple hosts through a switched fabric such as Fibre Channel or iSCSI. ArcSDE databases with known storage sizes are good candidates for DAS since storage size can be determined fairly accurately thus limiting unused storage capacity. However. Clustering is supported with a SAN in a similar fashion as DAS via shared logical drives.

while DAS and SAN provide blocklevel I/O. since a NAS is a file server. there are potential performance issues related to the file based protocols that need to be considered. One major difference with NAS is that it provides file-level I/O via traditional CIFS and NFS network file shares. Figure 5 Network Attached Storage Configuration 6 . Also. a NAS can be used with clustering if specific clustering requirements can be met. Figure 5 depicts a typical NAS configuration. One unique feature of a NAS is that it solves the CIFS/NFS interoperability problem by allowing either Windows or UNIX clients to access its file shares without the need for additional software. Therefore. NAS systems can be used to support ArcSDE databases as well. NAS devices are fairly easy to implement and offer storage consolidation and file sharing of data over a standard Ethernet network. assuming adequate bandwidth is available and latency is reasonable. A NAS is essentially a file server and storage that often integrates an optimized operating system dedicated to file sharing. Like DAS and SAN. This is important to consider for performance since there can be performance penalties associated with the use of file-level I/O with a high-performance storage solution. it is recommended that you check with your storage vendor on the appropriate use of NAS for database applications. it does provide disk-level high availability with the use of various RAID solutions. which is required for clustering solutions such as Microsoft Cluster Server. though cluster solutions usually involve DAS or SAN. some NAS vendors support clustering with the use of software that allows a network drive to appear as a local drive to the database server. Though NAS devices are primarily used for flat-file storage. For example. Finally.Systems Integration Technical Brief Network Attached Storage (NAS) Network Attached Storage (NAS) differs considerably from DAS and SAN. it can be concurrently accessed by client systems throughout the enterprise. However.

com.com/systemsint/kbase/strategies. For technical support. cost. Choosing the correct one depends on several factors including performance.Systems Integration Technical Brief Conclusion Several storage technologies and configuration options exist to support GIS client/server enterprise requirements. and supportability. contact ESRI Technical Support at http://support. Support Enterprise GIS system design is addressed in the System Design Strategies technical reference document at http://www. ESRI software.esri. ease of implementation.com.html. including ArcSDE. contact ESRI Professional Services at sihelp@esri. has been successfully deployed in the GIS enterprise using all three aforementioned storage configurations.esri. For answers to additional GIS capacity planning and solution questions. 7 . scalability.

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