Marvell and HPE Introduce NVMe RAID Adapter for Server Boot Drives

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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