After finding some PDFs with various bit of info on LSI’s range of host bus adapters (HBAs) I thought I would bring them here to help anyone looking at using one. LSI HBA cards are great way to add fast storage beyond the motherboard supplied SAS and SATA ports. A LSI HBA is a simple disk controller and is great for adding well supported, reliable and low cost SAS and SATA ports to a server. One additional benefit of the LSI HBA line is that you can pass disks directly through to the OS, without needing a RAID layer. This is important for advanced storage systems such as ZFS where you do not want hardware controllers to interfere. These LSI HBA’s often come in configurable Firmware options ie IT for JBOD only, or IR mode for simple RAID (RAID 0, RAID 1 and RAID 10.) Another key benefit is that the LSI HBA lineup tends to be very popular with OEMs such as IBM, HP, Dell, Oracle, Fujitsu, Intel, Supermicro and others, so driver support is generally strong regardless of the OS you are using.
The below chart shows what each LSI HBA controller is capable of, how their ports are configures (ie internal or external), PCIe lanes and generation, what drive connector types and the default firmware mode the HBA ships with. Some firmware versions can be changed to add additional features to the cards below.
Looking at the above the LSI 9211-8i and LSI 9210-8i can also be found in OEM versions. Examples are the popular IBM ServeRAID M1015 and just released IBM ServeRAID M1115. The IBM ServeRAID M1015 and M1115 LSI HBAs are natively similar to LSI 9240-8i LSI MegaRAID controllers. The big difference between the M1015 and the M1115 is the placement of the SFF-8087 connectors. With a firmware crossflash they can then become fully fledged LSI 9210-8i /9211-8i controllers. The IBM ServeRAID M1015 and M1115 cards behave identically to the LSI 9210-8i and 9211-8i, and can be a much cheaper substitute. RAID 5 on these cards flashed to LSI 9240-8i firmware has proven to be a huge stumbling block for these low end controllers as they do not have onboard cache to help buffer write operations. I wrote a guide to cross flashing the IBM ServeRAID M1015 firmware which has been very popular among those looking to save some cash.
The LSI9210-8i and LSI 9211-8i controllers with simple RAID have proven very capable with handling anything thrown at them, including SSDs. Now, the current generation of SSDs are now beginning to be bottlenecked by the controllers ability to process the incoming/outgoing data under very heavy usage scenarios. Therefore I no longer recommend firmware based RAID of any kind on these HBA’s using 6x SSD or more current SSDs if one is looking for performance. This also includes the very latest LSI HBA cards such as the LSI 9207-8i and LSI 9217-8i controllers. Once the RAID is gone and the drives are passed through and the OS takes care of striping and Parity these controllers simply fly.
A couple of LSI HBA controllers worthy of a mention are the LSI 9202-16e and the not yet released LSI 9206-16e, these 2 cards come with dual controllers on one card. The LSI 9202-16e has 2x SAS2008 controllers and a PLX8632 bridge to split them from the PCIe Gen2 16x slot that it need to plug into (all other HBA’s need 8x slots.) Jeff recently posted his LSI 9202-16e review which showed over 5GB/s of performance and over 700,000 IOPS. The new LSI 9206-16e will come equiped with two SAS2308 controllers, no PLX bridge and on a more standard PCIe Gen3 x8 interface. It will be very interesting to see how the new dual controller LSI HBA stacks up against the older version.
For the next part of this mini-series, we’ll take a look at power consumption of each controller. Power consumption is a very important buying criteria for those wanting to keep their machines on 24/7 while not driving up the power bills.
I hope this has been of help, and comments are always welcomed. The above table was taken from LSI’s ‘PCI Express® to 6Gb/s Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) Host Bus Adapters- User Guide – June 2012′