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Troubleshooting Fibre Channel host bus adapters in PCs

Installing HBAs to connect a desktop system to a SAN doesn't always go smoothly. This tip will help you get the HBA working in short order.

Installing a Host Bus Adapter (HBA) to connect a desktop system to a SAN doesn't always go smoothly and you can waste a lot of time getting the card to work. The good news is that almost always the problem results from one of a limited number of conditions, and by taking a layered, methodical approach you can get the HBA working in short order.

The first step, of course, is to see just where in the connection process the card is failing. Each step, from being recognized by the BIOS to logging into the Fibre Channel switch, has its own set of possible problems. By identifying where in the start up sequence the HBA is failing you can narrow down the possibilities.

A check of the BIOS scan will show if the PC is recognizing that the card is installed. If the HBA doesn't show up on the BIOS, the most common cause is that the card isn't properly seated and the problem can usually be resolved by re-seating the card. Another possibility is that for some reason that HBA won't work in that slot. Try the adapter in another slot.

The third common cause of failure on the BIOS level is that the firmware has become corrupted. Most modern HBAs use flash memory to store firmware, so this problem can be fixed by downloading the latest version of the firmware from the vendor site and re-installing it on the card according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Once the BIOS recognizes the card, it has to be seen by the operating system. If the operating system doesn't find the HBA, but the BIOS does, the problem is usually with the HBA driver. Make sure the driver is properly installed and re-install if necessary. Also check the driver version and the firmware version (usually displayed on the BIOS scan) to make sure they match. If they don't, get the appropriate versions from your vendor.

If you get this far and the system freezes on startup, suspect either another cable problem or a device conflict. Disconnect the devices from the HBA and reboot. If the problem goes away, check the connections carefully. If the problem persists, start pulling non-vital cards from the system to check for a PCI bus conflict. If you still have a problem, try the HBA in another machine. If it works there, consider the possibility of a conflict between the PC and the HBA. Use the card's setup utility to check for conflicts and resolve them before reinstalling the HBA.

Problems logging into the SAN with a new HBA most often either cable-related or port related. The cure for cable problems is to inspect, clean and repair or replace the cables. The most common kind of port problem is a mismatch between the port and the HBA, for example trying to use an HBA configured for an FL_Port (fabric loop) port on an F port. Make sure you know which kind of port you're trying to connect to and then configure the HBA for that port.

ATTO Technology describes the process of troubleshooting Fibre Channel HBA installations in a technical note on its web site at

Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term meant an 80K floppy disk. The computers he learned on used ferrite cores and magnetic drums. For the last twenty years he has been a freelance writer specializing in storage and other computer issues.

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