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Fibre Channel Host Bus Adaptors



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Choosing the correct Fibre Channel Host Bus Adaptor

There are numerous Fibre Channel (FC) Host Bus Adapters (HBAs ) available today. Prices on HBAs can range from three-four hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. Features and quality vary even more widely. How do you choose the right HBA?

You can approach the choice of FC HBAs in two stages: first, the functionality, then the quality. The functionality takes precedence over quality for obvious reasons: it might be the best performing HBA on earth, but if it does not support the protocol or the OS you need, then it will be a waste of money and production time.

Here, we will try to give you an overview of features and compare how different HBAs stack up. This is by no means an exact, scientific or exhaustive comparison. It is mostly based on our own real world experience, data available on the net and some anecdotal evidence from our friends who work in the field of data storage.

1. Speed: 1 or 2 Gbps?
As of late 2002, Fibre Channel equipment is available in two speeds, one and two Gigabit per second. One Gigabit equipment, including HBAs, is beginning to drop in price. This certainly does not mean it is dropping in quality. Besides, the PCI bus most commonly used in desktops today and in some servers (the 32 bit 33 MHz kind), in real life can only deliver about 90 MegaBytes per second, which amounts to about 0.70 Gigabit per second (90*8/1024=0.7). So, if you are looking to connect a machine with 32bit/33MHz bus to a Fibre Channel network or directly to some storage subsystem, no reason to waste money on the 2 Gigabit gear. This is true even if you have a 2 Gbps device on the other end, such as a switch or a RAID array. Your switch will happily work with the 1 Gbps HBA. You will also save a couple bucks on the GBIC and cable.

The 64 bit 66 MHz and faster PCI/PCI-X buses are capable of delivering full 2 Gbps throughtput with the right HBA, but you have to keep in mind that if a 33Mhz card is installed in a different slot of the same bus, the etire bus is slowed down to 33 MHz and this will reduce the Fibre Channel throughtput down to about 1.5 Gbps.

2. OS support
As you can see, your existing equipment may determine what kind of HBA you need. If you are planning to use your new HBA in a Windows 2000 machine, then there are a lot of choices, but for other operating systems only a few HBAs will work well. Here is our summary of driver support by HBA vendors for various non-Microsoft OS's:

Solaris Linux Mac
OS AIX NetWare Tru64
Unix HP-UX Unixware
Qlogic X X X X
ATTO Technology * * X * X
Emulex X * X X X
LSI Logic X X
Compaq * X

* - We do not recommend using items marked with "*" for various reasons such as poor driver quality, compatibility issues, awful or non-existent support.

Please note, that driver availability also depends on the HBA model and the version of the operating system. Please, follow the links under manufacturer's names in the table above to check driver availability for your OS version.

Qlogic has robust drivers, very reliable cards and good service.

LSI Logic seems to have very good boards at very reasonable price. Drivers seem to be stable, and support is reasonable. LSI seemed to have joined the ranks of HBA manufacturers later then Emulex and Qlogic, so their MPT technology, although seems very interesting, might not be as stable and mature as the other ones yet.

Emulex seems to have produced so many drivers for their LP8000 and LP9000 series cards that you might spend a lot of time looking for the right driver. There also seems to be a lot of confusion with the firmware versions, and bios boot agents, and whatever else you might need to upgrade on that shiny new board you just got. Oh, and by the way, the firmware does not fit on a floppy. This is why we always supply Emulex boards with the latest version of firmware installed. If you need certain version of the firmware and/or boot code let us know, and we will be happy to pre-install it for you.

3. Copper or Optical version?
Both the 1Gbps and 2Gbps types of Fibre Channel come in two physical media kinds: copper and optical. Depending on the physical media and speed, your Fibre Channel equipment may have different connectors. Here is the summary of various connectors:


1Gbps Dual SC
2Gbps Dual LC



The above table is only a general guide. In practice, LC connectors can be used with 1Gbps equipment and SC can be used with 2Gbps. Same goes for copper connectors.

So, how do you choose between Copper and Optical versions of Fibre Channel equipment?

Very simple: get optical wherever possible. It is an urban legend that optical cables are more brittle then copper. In fact, it is much easier to damage the shielded twin twisted pair copper cable then your average orange multimode optical cable by stepping on it. Copper equipment is priced about the same or marginally less then optical, and some HSSDC and HSSDC2 cables are even pricier then the optical ones. Copper Fibre Channel has much shorter distance limitations and is very picky about quality of the cable and quality of the grounding. We know only of two reasons when you might want to select a Copper FC HBA: when the device at the other end already has a non-removable copper connector (i.e., not a GBIC), and when you want to connect a bare hard drive via a T-Card for testing, experiments or some other temporary reason.

4. Short Wave or Long Wave?
Optical Fibre Channel comes in two wavelengths: 850 nanometer and 1310 nanometer. The 850nm kind is sometimes called short wave or multi-mode. The 1310nm counterpart also goes by long wave and single-mode names. As a general rule, the long wave (1310 nm) type is only used in long distance links greater then 500 meters - which is the limit for short wave kind of Fibre Channel. The reason is simple: long wave equipment is significantly more expensive. The single-mode cables are also very pricey. Usually long-distance links are implemented between two switches, so you would rarely need an HBA with a long wave interface. If you have such a rare case, then look for a removable GBIC-based version of the HBA. Both Qlogic and Emulex have HBAs with removable GBIC interfaces. They almost never come with a long wave GBIC, so you will probably need to pick one up separately.

5. Fabric support and other features
Some FC HBAs, notably the older Qlogic QLA2100 adapter, do not support full fabric login. This means that these adapters will not work when connected to Fibre Channel switches in certain configurations, for example when WWN-based zoning is enabled on Compaq (now HP StorageWorks) switches. In fact, the QLA2100 is only good for directly connecting one host to one storage device in our opinion, but considering the price, it might be a good choice for such an application. Keep in mind, that it does not support the FC-Tape protocol either, so it is best to avoid it if you have a Fibre Channel tape drives or libraries.

6. Performance.
In our experience, the HBA itself rarely presents a bottleneck. Most frequently the bottleneck is a narrow or overcrowded PCI bus, the storage itself, a misconfigured switch or a crowded loop. Another factor is a quality of the driver for the HBA.

However, in one case, we have seen a significant difference in performance between two of the most widely used 1Gbps HBAs: Qlogic QLA2200 and Emulex LP8000/LP9000. The test setup was very simple: the target was a 3U InfoSlice RAID subsystem with 12 80GB hard drives in RAID-0 configuration which was directly connected via optical Fibre Channel link to a Windows 2000 machine. IOmeter was used to test performance of 3 different HBAs.


The tested Emulex HBAs seem to handle small sequential writes better then the tested Qlogic HBA. This can be attributed to more efficient driver, but our gut feeling is that it is actually the HBAs themselves.





























Fibre Channel Host Bus Adaptors

Wholesale distributors of data storage drives, tape libraries, storage media and archival solutions.

Global Value-Added Distribution of new, used and refurbished computer periphery by a family-owned and operated company since 1979- distributing internationally computer related peripherals on the new, used and refurbished levels. HP, COMPAQ, IBM, CISCO, 3COM, SUN, APPLE, SEAGATE, and other major branded products as well as a MAJOR focus on Mass Storage related drives, media, storage racks, tri-optic barcode labels, libraries, autoloaders, duplicators, jukeboxes, HBA's, JBOD, Raid, SAN, NAS and software solutions.

Representing storage media manufacturers like:
BASF, Canon, DEC, Dysan, Ecrix, Emtec, Exabyte, Fuji, Fujitsu, Graham, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Imation, Iomega, Kodak, Maxell, Maxoptix, Onstream, LMSI, Panasonic, PinnacleMicro, Phillips, Pioneer, Plasmon, Ricoh, Sony, Syquest, TDK, and Verbatim

Fibre Channel Host Bus Adaptors

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ADIC, Archive, ATL, Benchmark, BreeceHill, Colorado, Compaq, DEC, Ecrix, Exabyte, EZQuest, Fujitsu, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Iomega, Irwin, Kodak, Lacie, LMSI, M4 Data, Maynard Maxtor, Maxoptix, Micronet, Mitsubishi, Mountain, OnStream, Olympus, Overland Data, Panasonic, Philips, Pinnacle Micro, Plextor, Quantum, Ricoh, Rimage, Seagate, Smart and Friendly, Sony, Spectralogic, StorageTek, Straightline, Sun, Tandberg, Teac, Tecmar, WangDat, Wangtek, Western Digital, Xcerta, Yamaha

Fibre Channel Host Bus Adaptors

Including all major storage platforms such as:
DLT, AIT, LTO, SUPER DLT, Mammoth, Optical, 4MM, 8MM, Magstar, Travan, ", ", Reel-to-reel, 3480, 3490, 3570, 3590, 9840, 9940, JAZ, ZIP, CDR-RW, DVD-R/RAM

And support peripherals, host adaptors, controllers, bridges, routers and enclosures from the leaders in the market with:
Adaptec, ATTO, CI DESIGN, Emulex, GadZoox, Initio, JMR, JNI, Qlogic, Slim

Fibre Channel Host Bus Adaptors

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© Copyright 2003.
*Price and availabilities subject to change without any notice. Not responsible for typographical errors.

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