Just before the Sapphire Rapids launch, I had the team working on some relatively quick pieces one of them was the Intel VROC Hardware Key Quick Reference Guide. It turns out just before that piece went live, Intel had discontinued VROC almost immediately via a Product Change Notification or PCN. Now, Intel says it is pulling that PCN and will continue supporting VROC. If that sounds like a 360 degree flip in 11 days with a massive 4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable Sapphire Rapids launch in the middle, it should.
Intel Does a 360 on Discontinuing VROC
Before we get to the latest from Intel, let us first get to what VROC is in the first place. VROC stands for Intel Virtual RAID on Chip. This is effectively software RAID for NVMe devices. Instead of requiring adding a Broadcom Tri-Mode HBA to create NVMe RAID 1 or 10 for Windows or other OS boot devices, one can skip that and just use Intel VROC.
The advantage is severalfold. For legacy OSes without OS-based software RAID boot support, one can mirror boot devices or other devices. That is an important capability alone. Beyond that, by removing a Broadcom (or other brands, but this is a market Broadcom largely dominates) HBA or RAID controller, a PCIe slot is freed, also lowering power consumption and removing a source of airflow restriction from a server. It also costs less to not have to buy a PCIe controller in the first place.
Then came Intel PCN 119406-00 on January 6, 2023.
The SKUs are the hardware keys, such as the ones pictured in the cover image of this article. In the VROC guide linked above, we go into the features of each. The key is:
“All support for VROC (Virtual Raid on CPU) software will be discontinued.”
That line gave a January 23, 2023, last order date, so there were only 17 days from the End-of-Life notification being issued to the last order date.
Why that matters is that a few days after the PCN, we had a big launch. The 4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable Sapphire Rapids launch. For those who have not seen this, I recorded a few videos at Supermicro about its X13 generation of servers. Something that we said but was edited out is that many of the company’s servers support VROC.
This is one of the example platforms from the SuperBlade platform that we showed, stating VROC support:
Aside from Supermicro, companies like HPE also stated support for VROC in its launch slides. We posted this one, for example, on the HPE ProLiant Gen11 launch piece:
We can clearly see that this was highlighted as a “New features from the prior generation” update.
At this point, we had a strange one. Intel said on January 6, 2023 that it would discontinue VROC in a few days. Then four days later, it had OEMs launching servers with VROC support being advertised.
Of course, we asked Intel about this last week, and just got the official response from the company:
“The PCN was prematurely posted while the decision was under evaluation. After discussing with the ecosystem and customers we realize there is significant demand for this product and intend to continue to support it.” (Source: Intel Spokesperson to STH)
For now, it appears as though the January 6, 2023 PCN 119406-00 is going to be pulled, reinstating a future for VROC.
It is great to see that VROC is going to continue. It is certainly not perfect. We had been working on a piece prior to VROC being discontinued where we could show the power consumption savings from using VROC and the performance of the solution. Then, that piece was sidelined while we thought it would be discontinued. Also, for a portion of Intel’s enterprise customer base, this is actually a nice feature that is less expensive and more available than getting a Broadcom HBA lately. Our last Broadcom 9500-16i’s took almost two months to arrive. The VROC keys we bought above for that piece took less than 48 hours between ordering and deploying.
Hopefully, our STH readers enjoyed this 360 on VROC support that played out over the past 11 days. It is an interesting technology that is useful without great alternatives for some segments of the market. It would be great if Intel continues to support it for some time to come. Or perhaps just make it a standard Intel feature instead of this hardware key system.