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January 11th, 2021

Industry’s First NVMe Boot Device for HPE® ProLiant® and HPE Apollo Servers Delivers Simple, Secure and Reliable Boot Solution based on Innovative Technology from Marvell

By Todd Owens, Technical Marketing Manager, Marvell

Today, operating systems (OSs) like VMware recommend that OS data be kept completely separated from user data using non-network RAID storage. This is a best practice for any virtualized operating system including VMware, Microsoft Azure Stack HCI (Storage Spaces Direct) and Linux. Thanks to innovative flash memory technology from Marvell, a new secure, reliable and easy-to-use OS boot solution is now available for Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) servers.

While there are 32GB micro-SD or USB boot device options available today with VMware requiring as much as 128GB of storage for the OS and Microsoft Storage Spaces Direct needing 200GB — these solutions simply don’t have the storage capacity needed. Using hardware RAID controllers and disk drives in the server bays is another option. However, this adds significant cost and complexity to a server configuration just to meet the OS requirement. The proper solution to address separating the OS from user data is the HPE NS204i-p NVME OS Boot Device.

Thanks to innovative NVMe technology from Marvell, this award winning boot device from HPE delivers reliable and easy-to-use server boot capability for system administrators deploying HPE servers. The HPE NS204i-p is a standalone solution that requires a single PCIe slot in the server and uses standard OS NVMe drivers to provide 480GB of secure RAID 1 storage for the OS data. No special software is required for the RAID management as everything is self-contained in the hardware.

The target customer is anyone using HPE ProLiant or HPE Apollo servers with VMware or any other virtual server OS looking to optimize server platform density by eliminating the need to use drive bays for OS data storage. That also means it is ideal for any hyperconverged infrastructure solution, as they are all based on virtual server operating systems. This includes HPE vSAN ready nodes, HPE ProLiant DX servers for Nutanix, Microsoft Azure Stack HCI implementations and HPE Nimble DHCI, to name a few. This also provides another option for HPE ProLiant customers wanting to deploy diskless servers that connect to shared storage disk arrays, such as HPE Primera or HPE Nimble storage.

The HPE NS204i-p is the industry’s first NVMe boot controller. This single-slot PCIe controller includes 480GB of integrated RAID 1 storage that provides complete isolation of the OS data from the user data in the server. The HPE NS204i-p supports secure firmware update and is designed to allow the OS to be installed on the device using mirrored RAID 1 storage. The new boot device is supported on select HPE ProLiant and HPE Apollo server and systems as shown in the list below.

It should be noted that no user data should be stored on the NS204i-p, only Server OS and boot data. The drives used are read-intensive, so they are ideal for booting an OS, but are not optimal for random access to user data. In addition, there are only two lanes of the PCIe bus connected to these drives, meaning random access performance would be limited. The enterprise-class M.2 drives support Power Loss Protection and are replaceable should a failure occur.

The solution is centered around the Marvell 88NR2241 NVMe RAID accelerator. This device connects to two 480GB M.2 NVMe drives over a PCIe bus on the board and provides two critical functions. First, the Marvell 88NR2241 ASIC provides automatic RAID 1 protection and management for data stored on the drives. In addition, it presents a virtual drive to the host CPU over the server PCIe bus, making the entire device look just like a single 480GB NVMe drive. Because it is presented as a standard NVMe drive, native OS NVMe drivers are used for VMware, Microsoft and Linux operating systems. With no special drivers or software to install, this solution is greatly simplified as compared to traditional RAID controllers or software RAID installations.

Management for the HPE NS204i-p is built into the device itself. There is no user configuration or setup required. The administrator can access the device using the HPE iLO and UEFI system management console. Device configuration details, firmware versions and RAID configuration information can be viewed by the administrator. This information is read-only, and there is nothing for the administrator to configure on the device. The administrator can execute what is called “Media Patrol” on the device, which performs a sector-by-sector data consistency check on the two M.2 NVMe drives. But that’s it. There is nothing else to configure or manage on the HPE NS204i-p.

In summary, when deploying HPE ProLiant servers or HPE Apollo systems with virtualized operating systems, the HPE NS204i-p NVMe OS Boot Device is an ideal default setup for server configurations. This device provides a simple, secure, reliable and cost-effective way to separate the OS and user data within the virtualized server. For more information view the product overview video, or for questions contact the Marvell HPE team.

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