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Taming HBAs

Installing, configuring and maintaining Fibre Channel host bus adapters (HBAs) is the bane of many SAN administrators. Thankfully, these new cards offer better management tools.

Installing, configuring and maintaining Fibre Channel (FC) host bus adapters (HBAs) is the bane of many storage area network (SAN) administrators today. Often challenging to configure during installation and sometimes requiring server reboots after the initial deployment, the HBA becomes yet another maintenance nuisance for SAN administrators. But help is on the way: Some new HBA cards offer better management tools that should simplify HBA administration tasks and extend the capabilities of this vital SAN component.

SANs already contain many points of complexity. Compatibility matrices require SAN administrators to double check HBA driver and firmware levels before doing even the most basic tasks. Storage arrays come and go from storage networks, necessitating that HBAs be reconfigured to discover the new logical unit number (LUN) assignments on the arrays. And as data continues to grow, LUNs must be allocated, so server reboots become mandatory for some operating systems in order for their HBA to discover these new LUNs.

With so many other administrative tasks, the last thing a SAN administrator needs is a long HBA to-do list. HBAs continue to improve, but SAN administrators can't assume that even the newest HBA will resolve all their existing issues or work in their environment. Each vendor's HBA comes with its own set of considerations that administrators must evaluate before looking to deploy and maintain.

The next generation of HBAs offers some features that shops may or may not want to introduce into their environments such as world wide name (WWN) spoofing and support for the recently proposed Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) common interface model (CIM) standard protocol. So let's take a look at what issues users face with HBAs today, examine how the latest HBAs try to answer these questions and look at what new features HBA vendors offer today in anticipation of tomorrow's challenges.


Finding the right HBA

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