Computer Network Storage Explained

NAS, SAN, and other types

Digital illustration of endless server room floating in clouds

 Getty Images / Chris Clor

Network storage is a term used to describe a storage device (usually many devices grouped together) that is available to a network.

This kind of storage maintains copies of data across high-speed local area network (LAN) connections and is designed to back up files, databases, and other data to a central location that can be easily accessed via standard ​network protocols and tools.

Why Network Storage Is Important

Storage is an essential aspect of any computer. Hard drives and USB keys, for example, are designed to hold personal data in a place that's close to where they need to access the information, like directly inside or next to their computer.

However, when these types of local storage fail, and especially when they aren't backed up online, the data is lost. Additionally, the process of sharing local data with other computers can be time-consuming, and sometimes the amount of local storage available is insufficient to store everything desired.

Network storage addresses these problems by providing a reliable, external data repository for all computers on the LAN to share efficiently. Freeing up local storage space, network storage systems also typically support automated backup programs to prevent critical data loss.

For example, a network with 250 computers spanning a large building with multiple floors, would benefit from network storage. With network access and proper permissions, users could access folders on the network storage device without worrying that those files are affecting their local storage capacity.

Without a network storage solution, a file that needs accessing by multiple users who are not physically close would have to be emailed, moved manually with something like a flash drive, or uploaded online only to be downloaded again on the destination side. All of those alternative solutions pose time, storage, and privacy concerns that are alleviated with central storage.

SAN and NAS Network Storage

SAN is typically used on business networks and utilizes high-end servers, high-capacity disk arrays, and Fibre Channel interconnection technology. Home networks usually use NAS, which involves installing hardware called NAS devices onto the LAN via TCP/IP.

Network Storage Pros and Cons

Here's a summary of some of the benefits and disadvantages of file storage over a network:

What We Like
  • Provides an easy way for networked devices to access the same files

  • It's easier to back up data for many users when they store their files in the same area

  • Network storage saves local storage devices from reaching their capacity

  • Less local storage needs to be purchased for users if they store most of it on the network

What We Don't Like
  • Devices not connected to the network cannot access the data (e.g. a down network prevents users from reaching their files)

  • Serving shared files to users requires proper permissions to be set up, which can be time-consuming when lots of new users are configured at once

  • More network storage requires more backup storage space