Frequently Asked Questions about Intel® Virtual RAID on CPU (Intel® VROC)

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08/01/2019

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What is Intel® VROC? Intel® VROC stands for Intel® Virtual RAID on CPU. It's an enterprise RAID solution specifically designed for NVMe*-based solid-state drives (SSDs).
What is the biggest advantage of Intel® VROC? The biggest advantage of Intel® VROC is the ability to directly connect NVMe-based SSDs to the new Intel® Xeon® Scalable processor PCIe* lanes, then make RAID arrays using those SSDs without using a RAID host bus adapter (HBA). As a result, Intel® VROC unleashes NVMe SSD performance potential without the complexity and power of a traditional hardware RAID HBA. In this way, Intel® VROC was designed specifically for NVMe SSDs, and is positioned to appropriately support this technology and help transition the market to these faster drives.
Since Intel® VROC can RAID SSDs directly connected to the CPU, does that mean hardware RAID HBA is no longer needed? Hardware RAID HBAs have been serving the RAID industry for dozens of years in support of legacy SATA and SAS HDDs and SSDs, and are evolving to add NVMe functionality. Intel® VROC doesn't need a hardware RAID HBA for NVMe-based SSDs, but this doesn't mean this industry doesn't need it. Intel® VROC provides a compelling alternative way to RAID NVMe SSDs. Our goal is to migrate SSDs from the legacy SATA/SAS interfaces that were designed for much slower HDDs to the modern NVMe protocol.
How is Intel® VROC performance and CPU utilization compared to a hardware RAID HBA solution? Intel® VROC is a data center quality product with performance and CPU Utilization metrics befitting such applications. New NVMe enabled hardware RAID HBAs are new to the market as well. Performance does vary depending on configuration and testing parameters, but generally, data transfer rates are comparable between the two technologies. HBAs do have on-card silicon to perform RAID calculations, so typically they use fewer CPU cores. However, from a system perspective, Intel® Xeon Scalable processors are efficient CPUs and RAID calculations with VROC typically use a small fraction of the total cores available. Additionally, it's important to look at the work those cores are doing while being utilized, such as IOPS/CPU utilization.
Which platform will support Intel® VROC? Intel® VROC is primarily targeted to professional workstations and server platforms. It requires the Intel® Volume Management Device (Intel® VMD), a hardware feature only available on the new Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors. Because the types of RAID support are very specific to the OEM platform configuration, it's up to OEM/ODM to decide whether to offer Intel® VROC. Please consult your server or workstation provider for specific information. There's also limited support on X299 systems on high-end desktops. See the next question/answer.
We saw Intel® VROC on an Intel® Core™ processor and X299 chipset-based high-end desktop motherboard shown at Computex 2017. Will Intel® VROC be supported by this platform? Intel® VROC is primarily targeted to professional workstations and server platforms at launch, but can be enabled on any platform with the Intel® Volume Management Device (Intel® VMD) feature. Starting Sept. 25, 2017, Intel® VROC will be supported on X299 high-end desktop platforms (HEDT) as well. Please check HEDT marketing team for specific Intel® VROC support on X299 platforms.
Is Intel® VROC software or hardware RAID? Intel® VROC is a hybrid RAID solution. It has attributes like hardware RAID because of the key silicon feature called Intel® Volume Management Device (Intel® VMD) which is offered with the new Intel® Xeon Scalable processors. Intel® Virtual RAID on CPU (Intel® VROC) utilizes Intel® VMD to aggregate NVMe SSDs allowing bootable RAID. Intel® VROC also has attributes like software RAID. For instance: it uses some of the CPU cores to calculate the RAID logic. Because of this combination of software and silicon, Intel® VROC is called a hybrid RAID solution.
Does Intel® VROC support third-party SSDs? Intel® VROC supports both Intel® SSDs and selected third-party SSDs. Please see www.intel.com/vroc for supported third-party SSDs.
What is the Intel® VROC hardware key? Intel® VROC is a licensed product for sale through the OEMs or ODMs with a support service level agreement. The Intel® VROC hardware key is the mechanism to obtain a license to the Intel® VROC software. Certain OEMs/ODM have built servers and workstations that support Intel® VROC by adding a key header to their motherboards. The Intel® VROC hardware key is required to be inserted into that motherboard to enable the RAID license. Only one key is needed per system (that is, per server or per workstation).
Where can I get an Intel® VROC hardware key? End users can expect the hardware keys to be installed by their OEMs in their servers, as long as end users request a server with a complete Intel® VROC solution. OEMs obtain the keys from Intel or Intel distributors. If end users decide to upgrade to Intel® VROC after purchasing a platform, they can purchase an Intel® VROC key from their specific server OEM website. In this way, end users can get proper support for Intel® VROC from the platform supplier.
What are the different Intel® VROC SKUs? Intel® VROC has three different SKUs:
  • Intel® VROC Pass-Through: No RAID support, just stand alone NVMe-based SSDs connected to Intel® VMD enabled PCIe lanes. No hardware key needed.
    License included in Platform Control Hub (PCH).
  • Intel® VROC Standard: RAID 0/1/10 support. Standard hardware key needed.
  • Intel® VROC Premium: RAID 0/1/5/10 support. Premium hardware key needed.
  • Intel® VROC Intel® SSD Only: RAID 0/1/5/10 support. Intel® SSD Only hardware key needed. No third-party SSD support. Only functional with Intel® brand SSDs.
How are Intel® VROC and Intel® RSTe related? Is Intel® RSTe still a product? Intel® VROC and Intel® Rapid Storage Technology Enterprise (Intel® RSTe) were previously related products in the same product family. The SATA RAID portion of the product family was called Intel® RSTe and the NVMe RAID portion was called Intel® VROC. However, starting in Q1 2019, with the launch of Intel® VROC 6.0, the Intel® RSTe name was removed, and all RAID solutions in this product family were branded as Intel® VROC. The SATA functionality remains, but is now branded as Intel® VROC (SATA RAID). Intel® RSTe is no longer a referenced product by Intel. The name may still appear in some legacy products, but all new references will solely use the Intel® VROC nomenclature.

For NVMe RAID, Intel® VROC (VMD NVMe RAID) is architected to use Intel® VMD to provide the following new features to NVMe SSDs:

  • Bootable RAID
  • Surprise hot-plug
  • LED management
  • RAID 5 Double Fault Protection
  • Support for third-party SSDs

 

View additional details on the Intel® VROC name change.
What is RAID 5 Double Fault Protection? Intel® VROC can protect RAID 5 data even when both unexpected power loss and RAID volume degradation occur at the same time. This double fault condition is, at times, referred to as the RAID 5 write hole (R5WH). Many RAID solutions have dealt with this challenge by acquiring a backup power unit. Intel® VROC addresses this problem by using patent-pending journaling.
What is LED management? The LED management feature supports SSD indicator lights by using the Status LED on the server enclosure that blinks different patterns to indicate the different status of each SSD in the RAID array. LED management provides easier maintenance and helps avoid accidental human errors. Intel® VROC follows the blinking patterns defined by the International Blinking Pattern Interpretation standard.
I'm an end user. How can I try or buy Intel® VROC? Intel® VROC is a high platform-integrated feature. There's deep enabling work required on platform BIOS, hardware as well as drivers. Please ask your server provider for an Intel® VROC capable server to try or buy. Intel® PCSD (Platform Collaboration and Systems Division) also provides servers with Intel® VROC capability.
Which OEM or ODM has designed in Intel® VROC? Several OEMs and ODMs have designed Intel® VROC into appropriate server and workstation platforms. We can provide guidance after the OEMs and ODMs launch their products, but at this moment, please query your server or workstation provider directly.
I found RAID 0 works without Intel® VROC hardware key. But the product brief says I need an Intel® VROC hardware key for RAID 0. What should I do? An Intel® VROC hardware (HW) key is required to use RAID 0/1/5/10 for most SSDs. However, Intel® VROC is also designed to provide RAID 0 for Intel® PCIe* Gen3 x8 SSDs without requiring a HW key. For instance: Intel® SSD DC P3708. For any other regular x4 SSDs, without a HW key, RAID 0 might or might not work. In short, an Intel® VROC HW key is required for official support for RAID 0 with regular PCIe Gen3 x4 SSDs. Operating RAID 0 in this situation is done at the risk of the user.
What is the difference between Intel® VROC and Microsoft Spaces*? Intel® VROC supports the following features that Microsoft Spaces doesn't:
  • Bootable RAID
  • Linux* Support
  • RAID Management in pre-OS environment
  • Support LED Status indicator on SSDs in RAID arrays
What is the difference between Intel® VROC and Linux MD* RAID? Intel® VROC for Linux is built on MD RAID, and Intel® VROC team has an MD RAID maintainer on the team. However, Intel® VROC has the following extra features:
  • Provides UEFI HII and UEFI Shell command line RAID management
  • Provides webpage based, remote RAID management and RESTful APIs
  • Fully validated and supported with Purley platform and industry-select SSDs
  • Provides hotfix/patch to specific customer issue on supported OS
  • Provides a bootable NVMe RAID solution
If Intel® VROC is built on MDRAID, how and when was it implemented to Linux distributions? The Intel® VROC development team adds features and functionality to Intel® VROC and then upstreams those changes to the Linux kernel. A specific Linux distribution’s kernel version, release schedule, and decision to include any Intel® VROC changes will impact the availability of Intel® VROC in that distribution. As general guidance, a certain level of Intel® VMD and Intel® VROC code needs to be in the Linux kernel used in order for Intel® VROC to be functional. The initial code changes for this functionality were around kernels 4.8/4.10 and limited functionality can be expected. However, for a stable and fully functional base, it's recommended to use kernel 4.15 or above.
How is Intel® VROC performance different for Linux* compared to Microsoft Windows*? Intel® VROC for Windows and Linux is implemented in two separate architectures and implementations so they present different performance. For instance, we're able to achieve 2.5M1 read IOPS in 4 disk RAID 0 in Linux, but only 1.0M2 IOPS in Windows. We're continuously working on performance improvement.
If I have an issue with my Intel® VROC application, how should I get support? Intel® VROC is a platform-connected application that relies on platform-level integration to work. Therefore, platform manufactures do a lot of work to get Intel® VROC operational on their platforms, and each platform implementation may be slightly different with different dependencies. For example, platform manufacturers can choose to omit certain Intel® VROC features that would impact their Intel® VROC installation. Or, platform manufacturers could integrate Intel® VROC features into their own storage software solutions which would cause unknown dependencies to Intel.

To better support Intel® VROC issue, users should first contact their platform manufacturers to confirm where in the platform the issue is occurring. The platform manufacturer will then work with Intel to resolve issues as appropriate. For Intel® VROC high level questions, please review the Intel® VROC Support Page on intel.com. If questions aren't answered there, users can contact Intel® Customer Support.

Both Intel® Rapid Storage Technology (Intel® RST) and Intel® VROC are currently supported on X299 HEDT platforms. How are they related? What should I use one over the other? Intel® RST is made for client-based workloads, while Intel® VROC is made for enterprise-based workloads. Please reference the documentation below for the primary differences between them:
Intel® RAID Solutions for Client and Enterprise
HEDT RAID Solutions

It's important to note that Intel® RST and Intel® VROC shouldn't be used on the same platform at the same time. They're separate products that provide similar functionality and aren't compatible together.

1. System configuration: Intel® Server Board S2600WFT family, Intel® Xeon® 8170 Series Processors, 26 core s@ 2.1GHz, RAM 192 GB , BIOS Release 7/09/2018, BIOS Version: SE5C620.86B.00.01.0014.070920180847 OS: RedHat* Linux 7.4, kernel- 3.10.0693.33.1.el7.x86_64, mdadm - v4.0 - 2018-01-26 Intel build: RSTe_5.4_WW4.5, Intel ® VROC Pre-OS version 5.3.0.1039, 4x Intel® SSD DC P4510 Series 2TB drive firmware: VDV10131, Retimer BIOS setting: Hyper-threading enabled, Package C-State set to C6(non-retention state) and Processor C6 set to enabled, P-States set to default and SpeedStep and Turbo are enabled Workload Generator: FIO 3.3, RANDOM: Workers-24, IOdepth- 256, No Filesystem, CPU Affinitized Pass Thru Baseline: 1x Intel® SSD DC P4510 Series, 2 TB, Firmware: VDV10120, SSDPE2KX020T8 Performance results are based on testing as of October 5, 2018 and may not reflect all publicly available security updates. See configuration disclosure for details. No product can be absolutely secure.

2. System configuration: Intel® Server Board S2600WFT family, Intel® Xeon® 8160T Series Processors, 24cores@ 2.1GHz, RAM 192GB , BIOS Release 07/09/2018, BIOS Version: SE5C620.86B.00.01.0014.070920180847 OS: Windows Server 2016, Version 10.0.14393 Build 14393, Intel RSTe UI version: 5.4.0.1464, Intel® VROC Pre-OS version 5.4.0.1039, 4x Intel® SSD DC P4510 Series 2TB drive firmware: VDV10131, Retimer BIOS setting: Hyper-threading enabled, Package C-State set to C6(non-retention state) and Processor C6 set to enabled, P-States set to default and SpeedStep and Turbo are enabled Workload Generator: Iometer version: 1.1.0 Dyn buckets 1.2, RANDOM: Workers-16, IOdepth- 32, No Filesystem, CPU Affinitized Pass Thru Baseline: 1x Intel® SSD DC P4510 Series, 2TB, Firmware: VDV10131, SSDPE2KX020T8))
Performance results are based on testing as of August 26, 2018 and may not reflect all publicly available security updates. See configuration disclosure for details. No product can be absolutely secure.

Intel® technologies’ features and benefits depend on system configuration and may require enabled hardware, software, or service activation. Performance varies depending on system configuration. No computer system can be absolutely secure. Check with your system manufacturer or retailer or learn more at intel.com.
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Tests document performance of components on a particular test, in specific systems. Differences in hardware, software, or configuration will affect actual performance. Consult other sources of information to evaluate performance as you consider your purchase.
Cost reduction scenarios described are intended as examples of how a given Intel®- based product, in the specified circumstances and configurations, may affect future costs and provide cost savings. Circumstances will vary. Intel does not guarantee any costs or cost reduction.