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.


Related Reading

Source: Marvell, HPE

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  • goatfajitas - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - link

    Looks alot like the Dell BOSS drives I've been using on my servers for a few years.
  • bigi - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - link

    apparently, one can use the BOSS card in Dell server only.
  • goatfajitas - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - link

    Yeah, this Marvell one is faster too. The Dell one is 3 years old and only SATA... Most servers these days are HyperV or VMware hosts so its fine for that. If it was a specific purpose driven server that needed extra i/o speed the Marvell would help.
  • DigitalFreak - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - link

    I hope you're not one of those people that store their SQL Server enterprise databases on the C: drive...
  • goatfajitas - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - link

    Of course not. Mine is safe in HyperV RAID'd out and backed up with Veeam.
  • damianrobertjones - Wednesday, October 14, 2020 - link

    But... isn't that the safest place for it?
  • Santoval - Thursday, October 15, 2020 - link

    Surely you jest right?
  • damianrobertjones - Wednesday, October 21, 2020 - link

    I am. :)
  • ToTTenTranz - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - link

    So if this is limited to PCIe 3.0 x4, for the high performance NVMe drives that saturate the PCIe 3.0 NVMe bus this is only useful for the redundancy aspect of RAID1. There's no reading performance ever going above 4GB/s.
  • schujj07 - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - link

    As a boot drive in either a Hyper-V or ESXi environment that will be plenty fast. We use SATA SSD for our ESXi boot drives and they have plenty of performance for that. Most of the boot time on a server deals with all the BIOS checks.

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