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How to better manage HBAs

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With so much time spent managing host bus adapters (HBAs), here are some tips to minimize the hassles:

Configure it right the first time. Update the firmware and driver software as soon as you install it and set the HBA defaults to your company's standards.
Use third-party storage resource management (SRM) tools for reporting. Almost every SRM tool will provide basic HBA information such as the driver level, firmware, manufacturer and number of LUNs accessed by the HBA. You need this information to track which HBA is doing what.
Start testing and using vendor-provided failover and load balancing drivers. If you are not already using an HBA driver provided by a storage array vendor such as EMC Corp. or IBM Corp, the HBA vendors' drivers provide similar functionality without any storage array dependencies and will help increase a server's availability and performance.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Obviously, one wants to stay current with regular maintenance updates, but with so many things that can go wrong with HBAs--especially on older servers running older operating system versions--it's best to leave things the way they are instead of applying every new firmware or driver update that comes out.
The system administrator executes the command, crosses his fingers and hopes for the best.

A few seconds later, the computer returns a response and the administrator relaxes. The server's host bus adapter (HBA) has discovered the newly assigned LUNs without another midnight reboot.

After years of managing HBAs with a hope and a prayer, the tasks of installing, configuring and managing HBAs are finally getting easier. And just in time. With storage area networks (SANs) moving out of Fortune 500 companies and into small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), the traditional hassles long associated with HBAs won't fly in these smaller shops. By mimicking the same principles that drove the widespread adoption of IP network cards, HBA vendors are working hard to help HBAs shed their image of being hard to configure and manage.

Inaccessible server-based management tools are an annoyance of the past. New HBAs built upon industry standards such as the Fabric Device Management Interface (FDMI), the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) and the Storage Networking Industry Association's (SNIA) HBA API, come with better driver software and point-and-click install tools. Management software such as Emulex Corp.'s AutoPilot and LSI Logic Corp.'s MyStorage--along with light versions of Applied Micro Circuits Corporation (AMCC) EZ Fibre and QLogic Corp.'s SANsurfer--go a long way in making HBAs simpler to install, as well as easier to configure and manage. Improved HBA drivers for operating systems permit administrators to discover and configure new LUNs without reboots.

HBAs for SMBs
Driving the trend of easier HBA management has been the growth of SANs in SMBs. These storage environments require lower costs, minimal setup time and relatively simple maintenance because they lack the staff to specialize in the intricacies of SAN management. Depending on which vendor's HBA gets deployed, SMBs can expect the following benefits:

  • Lower HBA prices
  • HBA drivers that provide host-based mapping, failover and load balancing
  • Wizard-based configurations
  • Central management console for driver and firmware upgrades
  • Standards compliance
  • Ability to integrate with third-party SRM tools
These features will come at a price. Users should expect less:
  • Onboard memory
  • Operating system support
  • Protocol support
  • I/Os per second (IOPS)
  • Transactions per second (TPS)
  • Interoperability testing
Emulex entered the SMB market with the release of its LightPulse LP101 HBA and its AutoPilot management software. Aimed at the Windows and Linux server markets, the LP101 will only support the SCSI protocol, about 25,000 IOPS and 100 concurrent TPS. The price for the LP 101 is expected to start at under $500. Lower-priced HBAs will obviously not offer the same functionality as their higher-priced siblings. For example, Emulex's premium LP10000 supports all operating systems, a wide range of protocols including FCP, IP and FICON, up to 140,000 IOPS and thousands of concurrent TPS.

Emulex will offer new management software, AutoPilot, to complement its new LP101s that will function as an installation wizard, allowing for the quick setup and configuration of these new HBAs. Users needing failover and dynamic load balancing capabilities will still need to look to Emulex's MultiPulse software that works with their premium HBAs, supporting up to four of them.

HBAs Head to head

This was first published in June 2004

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