Intel Kills VROC Prematurely, Then Changes Course

VROC

(Image credit: Intel)

Intel surprisingly posted a product change notice on January 6 that it had decided to discontinue its important Virtual Raid on CPU (VROC) technology that is popular with its data center Xeon chips, including the fourth-gen Xeon models that launched last week. The feature is also present on some of Intel's consumer-focused Core models. Last week we reached out to Intel for details about the unexpected change, and today we're told the notice was posted prematurely.

“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.” — Intel Spokesperson to Tom's Hardware.

The VROC functionality is activated via different types of physical RAID keys that plug into the motherboard, each enabling a different level of RAID support. The keys cost between $100 for basic functionality (opens in new tab) to $250 for the full-featured model (opens in new tab). Intel also offered these keys for consumer systems for some time, but they didn't gain much traction. 

Surprisingly, Intel originally posted January 23, 2023, as the last order date for the products. That's a mere 17 days after the initial posting that announced that "all support for VROC (Virtual Raid on CPU) software will be discontinued." Now we've learned that won't be the case.

This isn't the first time the company has issued a product notice in error — with a product stack as broad as Intel's, mistakes are bound to happen. Much like when the company put out a notice that its consumer chips were dying from a bus degradation issue, but later moonwalked the statement back to say the notice was in error.

VROC

(Image credit: Intel)

The VROC feature debuted in 2017 to simplify and reduce the cost of high-performance storage arrays, and it has enjoyed broad uptake in enterprise applications. The feature brings NVMe RAID functionality on-die to the CPU for SSD storage devices, thus providing many of the performance, redundancy, bootability, manageability, and serviceability benefits that were previously only accessible with an additional device, like a RAID card or HBA. Thus, VROC gives users a host of high-performance storage features without the added cost, power consumption, heat, and complexity of another component, like a RAID card or HBA, in the chassis — not to mention extra cabling.

Pat Gelsinger's shift to focusing on the company's core competency — logic chips — has seen the company stepping away from several of its 'adjacencies,' like its storage business. It's unclear if the uncertainty that formed around the VROC tech stems from Intel's sale of its storage business to SK hynix, which also contributed to the company ceasing further development of its Optane-based products as it sells off its remaining inventory. Intel designed its VROC software to also work in tandem with its own storage products, so it's possible that the groups responsible for this software were within the storage organization that is headed to SK hynix as part of the sale.

In either case, users and OEMs alike have nothing to worry about, as Intel has decided to continue supporting the VROC feature. As such, the company has removed the original cancellation notice.

Paul Alcorn
Deputy Managing Editor

Paul Alcorn is the Deputy Managing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage and enterprise hardware.

  • DSzymborski
    Just thankful this never found its way to the mainstream consumer CPUs. We already have way more half-baked RAIDs out there without the additional boost.
    Reply
  • jeremyj_83
    I can see VROC being sunset sooner rather than later. Outside of a physical appliance there is no need for it on a virtual host as you will have either SDS or a vSAN of some kind. At this point in time there is no reason to not virtualize your entire data center anyways.
    Reply
  • Amdlova
    For consumer not have any single use, where you will put these nvme when you have 20 pci lanes. Last PC I have build got to look all cheap boards to find one with a extra slot to do somenthing. Has nvme slot everywhere.
    Reply
  • thisisaname
    jeremyj_83 said:
    I can see VROC being sunset sooner rather than later. Outside of a physical appliance there is no need for it on a virtual host as you will have either SDS or a vSAN of some kind. At this point in time there is no reason to not virtualize your entire data center anyways.

    It days are still numbers just the announcement was Premature.
    Reply
  • jp7189
    jeremyj_83 said:
    I can see VROC being sunset sooner rather than later. Outside of a physical appliance there is no need for it on a virtual host as you will have either SDS or a vSAN of some kind. At this point in time there is no reason to not virtualize your entire data center anyways.
    Software defined is flexible and great if you have many different workloads, or don't know what the loads will be (cloud provider). Hardware is more efficient and performant with the same resources IF the workload is well defined.

    My question is... is there a non-SD alternative to VROC? PCIe cards don't come close.
    Reply
  • jeremyj_83
    jp7189 said:
    Software defined is flexible and great if you have many different workloads, or don't know what the loads will be (cloud provider). Hardware is more efficient and performant with the same resources IF the workload is well defined.

    My question is... is there a non-SD alternative to VROC? PCIe cards don't come close.
    When you are doing SDS or vSAN (pick your provider flavor) using NVMe SSD, you are not using a physical RAID card (at least since Xeon Scalable v1 or AMD Naples generations). Those systems want just JBOD for your drives as they will assign the writes as needed. Again the only place where VROC would be useful is in a physical appliance (a non virtual server with only one application on it like a DB). However, the use of physical appliances is getting smaller by the day as there is no reason to not have them be virtualized.
    Reply
  • jp7189
    jeremyj_83 said:
    When you are doing SDS or vSAN (pick your provider flavor) using NVMe SSD, you are not using a physical RAID card (at least since Xeon Scalable v1 or AMD Naples generations). Those systems want just JBOD for your drives as they will assign the writes as needed. Again the only place where VROC would be useful is in a physical appliance (a non virtual server with only one application on it like a DB). However, the use of physical appliances is getting smaller by the day as there is no reason to not have them be virtualized.
    That didn't answer my question. My specific example is a backup box that moves 111TB (and growing) data set. The data comes from various sources via 4x100Gb NICs, is written locally, and then gets sent to a tape library that requires at least 4.5GB/s to minimize backhitching. We recently tried replacing it with a 6 node SDS. The SDS offers flexibility and easy future expansion, but burns 67% of the raw capacity after factoring in node and cluster redundancies, costs 4x the price for the same capacity, uses up 12x 100Gb switch ports, and is nowhere near the performance.
    Reply
  • jeremyj_83
    jp7189 said:
    That didn't answer my question. My specific example is a backup box that moves 111TB (and growing) data set. The data comes from various sources via 4x100Gb NICs, is written locally, and then gets sent to a tape library that requires at least 4.5GB/s to minimize backhitching. We recently tried replacing it with a 6 node SDS. The SDS offers flexibility and easy future expansion, but burns 67% of the raw capacity after factoring in node and cluster redundancies, costs 4x the price for the same capacity, uses up 12x 100Gb switch ports, and is nowhere near the performance.
    You never mentioned using a backup box. My answer was perfect until you changed the parameters of your question. Your loss of 67% raw doesn't make any sense. The SDS' I've worked with start as a "RAID 10" and you might be able to get different encoding with other licenses. Even in a RAID 10 you only lose half, would be the same with any solution using that encoding, regardless of redundancies. Not to mention the SDS' don't want NVMe drives in a hardware RAID anyways, they want them set in JBOD. Again VROC is only useful for PHYSICAL APPLIANCES.
    Reply
  • jp7189
    jeremyj_83 said:
    You never mentioned using a backup box. My answer was perfect until you changed the parameters of your question. Your loss of 67% raw doesn't make any sense. The SDS' I've worked with start as a "RAID 10" and you might be able to get different encoding with other licenses. Even in a RAID 10 you only lose half, would be the same with any solution using that encoding, regardless of redundancies. Not to mention the SDS' don't want NVMe drives in a hardware RAID anyways, they want them set in JBOD. Again VROC is only useful for PHYSICAL APPLIANCES.
    My question hasn't changed a bit "is there a non-SD alternative to VROC?" I'm genuinely curious to know the answer to that.

    "RAID10" I assume you mean RF2 here as a 4 disk storage array doesn't go very far. Sure RAID 10/RF2 are 50% in theory, but adding hot spares drops that below 50% in practice.
    Reply
  • jeremyj_83
    jp7189 said:
    My question hasn't changed a bit "is there a non-SD alternative to VROC?" I'm genuinely curious to know the answer to that.

    "RAID10" I assume you mean RF2 here as a 4 disk storage array doesn't go very far. Sure RAID 10/RF2 are 50% in theory, but adding hot spares drops that below 50% in practice.
    RAID 10 means mirrored and striped. It is the fastest RAID variety and needs a minimum of 4 disks. Why are you using hot spares with SSD? That is a complete waste of resources. With HDD that was best practice, however, with SSD and the far lower failure rate cold spare is now best practice.

    You can use OpenZFS instead of VROC. That uses JBOD for NVMe drives and then does its own encoding for redundancies. Against just like VROC, it is only usable in a physical appliance.
    Reply