Can anybody recommend some good places to get started for learning how SANs operate and the differentiating factors to take into account when shopping for them? I have been tasked with recommending and purchasing a SAN and would appreciate any advice the experts here can give.
If you like reading Using SANs and NAS is a good introductory book. There are some others that go well beyond that which I will add later.
SNIA has some resources including a Storage Networking & Information Management Primer and they offer training which isn't vendor specific:
FastLane also have a Storage Foundation (SAN) course which appears to be vendor independent.
To get a handle on the different technologies used by the Vendors go to their websites and start researching or contact them and talk to their techs. If you are able to, go and visit their technology centres and see the gear and software in action - I have learnt a lot by just talking to the vendors and taking notes of what they say which is always good for comparing and contrasting the different approaches they take.
If you have got the budget find a trusted third party consultant and engage them as a learning resource and sounding board. We found that really valuable when we started our SAN purchasing especially for interpreting the vendor spin that we had to deal with. If you don't have the budget try and find other companies or organisations in your area that have storage experience and ask them as most people will be willing to share information.
Some things to note and look out for when dealing with storage companies are:
You need to decide which two of the following three characteristics are most important to you as you can't have all three;
Once you've figured out these priorities you'll be far better armed to ask more specific questions. It also might be worth searching on this site for a few keywords as there's been a lot of vaguely similar ones asked previously.