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Are SMB HBAs good enough?

As HBA vendors pare prices by stripping out infrequently used features, storage administrators need to ask if the next generation of less-costly HBAs will be good enough.

This article first appeared in "Storage" magazine in their June issue. For more articles of this type, please visit

What you will learn from this tip: Whether the cheaper HBAs with fewer features will meet your company's needs...


Existing host bus adapters (HBAs) offer a number of configuration options such as context switching, data buffers and data integrity fields. Yet some HBA vendors project that at most only about 50% of the users take advantage of any of these functions. Field engineers are even more pessimistic, estimating that fewer than 10% use these features.

As HBA vendors pare prices by stripping out infrequently used features, storage administrators need to ask if the next generation of less-costly HBAs will be good enough. The short answer is yes. The following questions will help you decide if these new HBAs will fit in your environment.

Is the HBA going into either a Windows or Linux server? If so, then an SMB HBA will likely meet the need. Exceptions may include where a server hosts a performance-intensive application or accesses storage at a remote site where latency comes into play.

Does your environment require storage vendor certification for support? If yes, steer clear of SMB HBAs. Much of the cost of premium HBAs today is tied to the interoperability testing they go through.

How large will your storage area network (SAN) environment be? While HBA vendors recommend deploying SMB HBAs into environments of 10 servers or fewer, their estimates usually tend to be conservative. Users will likely find that these HBAs will work satisfactorily in SANs with server counts of up to 20 or more.

Do you have other flavors of Unix in your environment? Environments running AIX, HP-UX, Sun Solaris or any others should avoid SMB-targeted HBAs for now, especially environments with enterprise and midsize servers.

Is it safe to buy right away? Yes. The new lower-cost HBAs will closely resemble -- if not be identical to -- the ones shipping now and the drivers will most likely be the same ones used in enterprises. Also, many of the hassles associated with Fibre Channel SANs and HBAs have been worked out and should be minimal in small environments.

For more information:

Tip: Troubleshooting Fibre Channel host bus adapters in PCs

Tip: Configuring the SAN: Zoning, HBAs and switches

Advice: How many HBA adapters are required in a SAN environment for backup and restore policies?

About the author:

Jerome Wendt is an independent writer specializing in the field of open systems storage and storage area networks. He has managed storage for small and large organizations in this capacity.
This was last published in July 2004

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