In 2018 Marvell announced the 88NR2241 Intelligent NVMe Switch: the first—and so far, only—NVMe hardware RAID controller of its kind. Now that chip has scored its first major (public) design win with Hewlett Packard Enterprise. The HPE NS204i-p is a new RAID adapter card for M.2 NVMe SSDs, intended to provide RAID-1 protection to a pair of 480GB boot drives in HPE ProLiant and Apollo systems.

The HPE NS204i-p is a half-height, half-length PCIe 3.0 x4 adapter card designed by Marvell for HPE. It features the 88NR2241 NVMe switch and two M.2 PCIe x4 slots that connect through the Marvell switch. This is not a typical PCIe switch as often seen providing fan-out of more PCIe lanes, but one that operates at a higher level and natively understands the NVMe protocol.

The NS204i-p adapter is configured specifically to provide RAID-1 (mirroring) of two SSDs, presenting them to the host system as a single NVMe device. This is the key advantage of the 88NR2241 over other NVMe RAID solutions: the host system doesn't need to know anything about the RAID array and continues to use the usual NVMe drivers. Competing NVMe RAID solutions in the market are either SAS/SATA/NVMe "tri-mode" RAID controllers that require NVMe drives to be accessed using proprietary SCSI interfaces, or are software RAID systems with the accompanying CPU overhead.

Based on the provided photos, it looks like HPE is equipping the NS204i-p with a pair of SK hynix NVMe SSDs. The spec sheet indicates these are from a read-oriented product tier, so the endurance rating should be 1 DWPD (somewhere around 876 TBW for 480GB drives).

This solution is claimed to offer several times the performance of SATA boot drive(s), and can achieve high availability of the OS and log storage without using up front hot-swap bays on a server. The HPE NS204i-p is now available for purchase from HPE, but pricing has not been publicly disclosed.


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Source: Marvell, HPE



View All Comments

  • Spunjji - Wednesday, October 7, 2020 - link

    Honestly, I got the impression that redundancy was the entire point - even so it should still be faster than solutions using SATA or some other form of hack. Reply
  • James5mith - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - link

    It's cute that you think a "read oriented" drive is 1DWPD. Realistically, they are probably 0.3DWPD max. Reply
  • schujj07 - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - link

    These are enterprise grade drives. They will work for the 1DWPD rating as it would be very expensive for companies to have to replace them too early. Reply
  • Kevin G - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - link

    I wonder if there will be a variant of this chip that supports six NVMe drives in RAID6 using a PCIe 16x link. The bandwidth would still be there for four drive reads and the ability for the controller to generate the two different sets of parity for the remaining two NVMe drives. SSD's are generally more reliable their mechanical counter parts but that just reduces the likelihood of a failure for an array, not making it a impossibility. As such, there will always be that niche market that wants the redundancy to ensure data integrity while increasing speed. Reply
  • npz - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - link

    Broadcom / Avago / LSI has those e.g.
    this one is pcie 4.0 x8 though.all of them using sas to u.2 connectors

    Highpoint also offers them, with pcie 3.0 x16:
    some with m.2
  • asmian - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - link

    The Broadcom site doesn't work in my browser configuration , but the Highpoint products are all RAID 0/1/10, no 6 anywhere. They are not the droids you are looking for... Reply
  • MenhirMike - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - link

    Curious, how does the Host system know if there is a RAID failure? Is it exposed via S.M.A.R.T., or as a sensor, or using something proprietary? Reply
  • npz - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - link

    I have to assume there's a separate proprietary driver to monitor and configure the card. Given the native nvme boot interface the card presents, the RAID management must be on a out of band/side channel type of interface Reply
  • Desierz - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - link

    What happens if one of the drives becomes corrupt? Won't the corrupt data be mirrored onto the other drive? Reply
  • Dug - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - link

    Yup, but that's not what RAID is trying to prevent. That's what backups are for. Reply

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