Top Picks for napp-it and OmniOS HBAs (Host Bus Adapters)

Napp-it and OmniOS is a storage platform that utilizes ZFS in its (near) native environment an OpenSolaris OS. The fact that it uses a mature enterprise file system and it is free means that it is extremely popular among IT professionals who are on constrained budgets. At STH we test hundreds of hardware combinations each year. From this experience, we are going to keep a running log of the best Napp-it and OmniOS HBAs. We are going to focus this guide on Napp-it and OmniOS servers with under 120 storage devices and will periodically update the listing.

Like most ZFS systems, the real speed comes from caching. ZFS is designed to make effective use of RAM and solid state drives for caching but data is still generally stored on slower and cheaper hard drives. We generally suggest using your motherboard’s chipset SAS and SATA controllers first as those are the least expensive ports and often among the best performing and lowest power. Some platforms have only 6, 8 or 10 chipset ports which are not enough for many storage applications. As a result, the number of hard drives and solid state drives often exceeds motherboard ports. At that point, it is time to look at add-in cards to increase the number of available ports in a system.

Top Picks for napp-it and OmniOS HBAs

Our general guidance is to use the newest and highest port count HBAs you can find. Most HBAs on the market these days are SAS capable. Skip anything that is SAS1 only. That includes chassis with SAS1 expanders as well. When using SATA hard drives with SAS HBAs, you want at least a SAS2 generation part (e.g. the LSI SAS2008 controller.) Previous generations of cards also had issues with larger hard drives so stick to newer controllers. At STH, we note onboard HBAs including their controllers in our motherboard reviews.

LSI SAS HBA Chips to Look For

Here is a list of the LSI SAS HBA chips you should look out for in order of desirability:

  1. SAS 3200 (SAS 3224 and SAS 3216)
  2. SAS 3008
  3. SAS 2308
  4. SAS 2008

Anything older (e.g. 1068) skip at this point. They are not SAS 2 6.0Gbps cards and sometimes have issues with larger drives.

The SAS 2008 is an interesting case. It is by far the most recommended HBA for FreeNAS. Despite the SAS 2008’s age, it is still considered a top HBA. The primary issue with the SAS 2008 is speed. It was designed in a time where hard drives dominated. It simply does not have the I/O performance to handle arrays of even modern consumer SSDs.

The new SAS 3200 series controllers have the least testing time on them. For arrays of 4-8 drives getting SAS 3008 HBAs is likely more economical. For larger arrays or where PCIe slots are limited, the new HBAs make sense.

Microsemi / PMC-Sierra / Adaptec SAS HBAs

Generally, the recommendation for HBAs is to use the LSI series of HBAs as they are the most widely used. The newest generation of Adaptec 1000 series HBAs is now out but OmniOS is not on the driver support page (last checked 2016-10-27). Given that pricing is comparable to LSI offerings, get LSI. Leave the Microsemi / PMC-Sierra/ Adaptec HBAs to Windows, VMware, Citrix and ZFS-on-Linux servers.

Internal HBAs

Internal SAS HBAs for FreeNAS generally fall into two categories based on their connector types. SFF-8643 is the newer SAS3 connector on LSI’s 12.0gbps controller cards. SFF-8087 is the older connector found on SAS1 (3.0gbps) and SAS2 (6.0gbps) generation cards.

SFF-8643 Connector HBAs

For larger systems where you will need at least 16 HBA ports, get the SAS 3200 generation cards. If you only require 8 or fewer ports, get the SAS 9300 generation cards.

  1. Best: SAS 3200 generation – LSI SAS 9305-16i / 9305-24i
  2. Good: SAS 3000 generation – LSI SAS 9300-8i

SFF-8087 Connector HBAs

  1. Good: SAS 2308 generation – LSI SAS 9207-8i
  2. Good (older): SAS 2008 generation – LSI SAS 9211-8i

External HBAs

What happens when you need to have more than one chassis? Perhaps you have purchased a SAS expander disk shelf (please ensure it has a SAS2 or SAS3 expander) and need to connect it to the main controller. Another scenario is that you need more space but want to continue using a single head node. In those cases, you will want a HBA with external ports. As with internal ports, there is a 12.0gbps SAS3 connector (SFF-8644) and a  6.0gbps SAS2 connector (SFF-8088.) You can get adapter cables but we suggest using the appropriate HBA in the first place. If you are unsure what you will need in the future, get a 12.0gbps SAS3 external controller.

SFF-8644 Connector HBAs

For larger systems where you will need at least 16 HBA ports, get the SAS 3200 generation cards. If you only require 8 or fewer ports, get the SAS 9300 generation cards.

  1. Best: SAS 3200 generation – LSI SAS 9305-16e
  2. Good: SAS 3000 generation – LSI SAS 9300-8e

SFF-8088 Connector HBAs

  1. Good: SAS 2308 generation – LSI SAS 9207-8e
  2. Good (older): SAS 2008 generation – LSI SAS 9200-8e / SAS 9200-16i

Internal and External

Every so often there will arise a need to get cards that mix internal and external connectors. For example, if one wants the ability to use an external disk shelf but still requires four additional internal ports. We use one of these cards in a small FreeNAS system. In LSI naming convention you will see the last portion of the part number have both an i and an e with numbers preceding the letters. This tells us the port counts. For example, our test system uses a LSI SAS 9300-4i4e. That means it is a SAS 3008 based card that has four internal (4i) and four external (4e) ports. Four ports map to one physical connector so there will be one SFF-8643 (internal) and one SFF-8644 (external) port to use.

RAID Cards

Skip them. Seriously, do not use RAID cards with ZFS.

For ZFS, you do not need a heavy RAID engine since parity is managed in software running on CPUs. They introduce another layer of complexity into the system that is unnecessary. They have onboard RAM that uses additional power. Finally, they can introduce additional steps to even get the drives recognized in FreeNAS. Simplify your experience and do not use RAID cards, you want HBAs. A key tip is to look for onboard RAM amounts. If you see a SAS card listed with 256MB, 512MB, 1GB or similar cache, you do not want it.

SAS HBAs from Other Vendors

At this point, the supply of LSI cards is enormous. Both in the primary and secondary markets. That makes it easy to purchase replacements quickly.

You can see more of our napp-it and OmniOS Buyer’s Guides here.