SAN, NAS, ILM, SAS -- your boss doesn't care

Storage acronyms: one confusing mess?

Storage is awash in TLAs (three-letter acronyms). LUN, SAN, NAS, ILM, SWD, SAS, HBA, DAS, CAS and FAN are all acronyms that regularly appear in storage-related literature, publications and columns. But to many IT managers, they provide no meaningful information, and for storage technicians who use them too frequently without context, they may alienate rather than connect them with their manager.

Storage-area network (SAN) and network-attached storage (NAS) are examples of acronyms that can drive a wedge between managers and techs. The acronyms look similar (NAS is SAN spelled backward), they both reference storage networks, and nearly every organization uses both SAN and NAS. Yet to say there is no difference in the acronyms is akin to saying oil and water are the same because they are both liquids.

The trouble with trying to explain the meaning of these acronyms is that it requires using language that confuses rather than clarifies the situation. To the individual steeped in storage, it is intuitively obvious that a SAN only carries block-based storage over either an Ethernet or Fibre Channel infrastructure using iSCSI or Fibre Channel protocols while NAS only carries file-based traffic over an Ethernet network.

Provide that same explanation to your IT manager and he will look at you like you have two heads. Storage techs tend to forget that management lacks the time to learn every storage acronym. Though some managers just don't care, many more are consumed with setting corporate initiatives and meeting quarterly numbers than spending time trying to understand the differences between SAN and NAS.

The use of acronyms is a clever way to appear knowledgeable and smart. But when your use of acronyms confuses the situation and leaves management in the dark, you are probably helping no one and only hurting yourself.

Jerome Wendt is the president and lead analyst with DCIG. He may be reached at

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