Cisco UCS pricing response to Egenera

Egenera criticized Cisco’s math for UCS pricing in an article titled “A Closer Look at Cisco UCS pricing“.

After reading the first few paragraphs of this article it became quite clear that Egenera needs a closer look at their own math. Let’s examine the flaws in the article…

About the price of management software for a “legacy” Blade deployment of 20 chassis eGenera said:

If Management software is a chassis-based price ( $7,000 from above) – with 20 chassis this total should be $140,000 – however Cisco shows $554,400 – a $414,000 mistake. Cisco’s $554,000 comes out to $27,700 per Blade chassis, or $1,732 per Blade. No that’s a pretty big mistake.

OK, lets be honest here – YES – the “legacy” system is HP BladeSystem. Given that, to achieve the dynamic provisioning and stateless computing capabilities included in Cisco UCS, an HP BladeSystem customer would require not only a Virtual Connect Enterprise Manager (VCEM) license of $7,000 per chassis, they would also need another management platform called HP Insight Dynamics VSE with a per-chassis license cost of $20,000. The Cisco UCS comparative pricing is correct in showing roughly $27,000 of management costs per HP Blade chassis to achieve what is already included in Cisco UCS (dynamic provisioning, stateless computing, “logical servers”). The extra $700 per chassis is likely the pair of HP Onboard Administrator modules required per HP Blade chassis for device level management. Management modules per chassis are not needed with Cisco UCS, all device level management and provisioning is built in to the UCS Manager.

Moving on. Egenera claims that Cisco showed UCS pricing of a system that had no redundancy:

Also, the Cisco configuration for 320 blades includes 40 Extenders. We know this because if you divide the 8 Blade “Extender” cost into the 320 Blade configuration extender cost – it equals 40. We also know that each Cisco Blade chassis holds 8 blades, so 40 chassis’ are needed to support 320 blades. SO, there is ONE Extender in each Cisco Blade chassis in this cost comparison. That’s ONE extender for each of the 40 blade chassis. That means that the extender is a single point of failure for each blade chassis in this configuration. In contrast, the (HP) “legacy system” is priced with full redundancy.

Bottom-Line: Cisco is not providing a fair comparison. Advantage HP.

WRONG. The 8 Blade “Extender” cost was showing the cost of (2) Fabric Extenders! Each fabric extender is $1999. Therefore (2) fabric extenders in a single chassis with 8 blades is $3998, and (2) fabric extenders in 40 chassis is $159,920. Exactly as shown is the Cisco UCS pricing webcast.

Bottom-Line: Cisco provided a fair pricing comparison and came out 31% better. Advantage Cisco.

Egenera then tries to focus on bandwidth but gets it wrong:

The Extenders have only four 10Gb/s FCoE ports for attachment to the fabric switch. So, that amortizes to 5Gb/s for each Blade – “IF” the ports on the Cisco Blades can be teamed or configured as Active/Active

Correct that each fabric extender has four 10GE uplinks, and each chassis will have (2) fabric extenders as described above, which results in 80Gb/s of bandwidth to a chassis of 8 blades. That’s 10Gb/s to each blade.

Egenera also asserts that Cisco was unfair with respect to bandwidth in a 320 Blade deployment:

There is another factor at play. EACH Fabric Interconnect (aka Nuovo Switch) supports 40 Fabric connections to the Cisco Blade chassis. In order to support 320 Blades, each Cisco Blade chassis can only have ONE 10Gb/s connection to EACH of the redundant Cisco 61000 Fabric Interconnect switches. So, this results in EACH Cisco Blade chassis having a maximum of TWO(redundant) 10Gb/s fabric connections shared by 8 Blades. So this calculates to 20Gb/s for 8 Blades – or 2.5Gb/s per Blade. This, this tells us that the Cisco 320 Blade solution has a 2.5Gb/s fabric capacity. Now, for the “Legacy” (HP), recall the blades have redundant (2x) 10Gb/s Ethernet ports and redundant (2) 4Gb/s Fiber Channel Ports. The redundant (2) 10Gb/s Ethernet Switches in the “Legacy” system have a total of 16×10Gb/s uplink ports – so there is enough fabric and switch bandwidth for a true 10Gb/s Ethernet throughput for each Blade. The redundant (2) Fiberchannel Switches have 8x 4Gb/s fiber channel ports. Which is an additional 0.5Gb/s of Fiber channel through put per Blade in the Legacy system.

Bottom line: This is an unfair cost comparison of a 10Gb/s “Legacy” (HP) system to a 2.5Gb/s Cisco UCS system.

Quite the contrary, Cisco was actually overly fair to HP in this comparison (in my opinion). True, in a 320 blade single UCS system you will have (2) 10GE redundant uplinks from each of the 40 chassis. Keep in mind that Cisco never mentions bandwidth in this price comparison because it’s not about bandwidth — we are strictly looking at the cost to scale to 320 blades managed in a single system.

Why is this overly fair to HP? The price comparison Cisco showed in the 320 Blade scenario was overly fair to HP by not including the 10GE networking costs required for the 20 HP Blade chassis, where as the Cisco UCS pricing did include the networking costs (included in the UCS Manager price). The 320 Blade comparison was not factoring bandwidth, it was factoring extreme scalability, and thus Cisco was fair enough to leave out 10GE network costs for the HP solution while still showing those costs for its own solution. A truly fair comparison would have also included the cost for (40) 10GE network ports in the HP scenario, but Cisco was kind enough to leave it out.

Bottom Line: Cisco was more than fair with the 320 Blade cost comparison.

The article finishes off with even more bad math…

If a customer wants a full 10Gb/s fabric, each Blade Chassis will need two Fabric Extenders ($3,998 each) AND must use all 8×10Gb/s uplinks on the Fabric extenders. This also means the 40 Port Fabric Interconnect switch will only support –Five– blade chassis’ – not 40. So achieving a 10Gb/s fabric version of the Cisco UCS is limited to 40 Blades maximum.

Bottom line: If a customer is interested in full bandwidth 10Gb/s connections to each of the Blades, the entry cost is $138,182 for the networking only, and only for 40 slots. That’s $3,304 per Blade slot for infrastructure. And then the blades themselves are additional costs!

First of all, again each fabric extender is $1999 each. If the goal is 10GE to each blade then yes all (4) 10GE uplinks from fabric extender #1 links to Fabric Interconnect #1, all (4) 10GE uplinks from fabric extender #2 link to Fabric Interconnect #2. So each Fabric Internconnect has (4) ports used for each blade chassis. If I have a 40 port Fabric Interconnect, that means I can have TEN blade chassis in a full bandwidth system – not five as Egenera claims. Therefore achieving a “full 10Gb/s fabric” could be done with TEN blade chassis each with 8 blades — that’s 80 Blades each with a full 10Gb/s managed in a single system.

So lets assume the price of the UCS fabric interconnect in this scenario is $138,182. Actually, Egenera left out the cost of the fabric extenders for 10 blade chassis which would be $39,990. So lets add $39,990 to $138,182 and arrive at the number $178,162 which includes the price of the UCS Manager (Fabric Interconnect) and the fabric extenders for 10 chassis at full bandwidth. If a customer is interested in full bandwidth 10Gb/s connections to each of the Blades, the entry cost is $178,162 for the unified networking of 80 blade slots. That’s $2,227 per Blade slot for storage and IP infrastructure.

Now lets look at the networking costs for HP BladeSystem under the same 80 Blade scenario.

For HP, a customer would need 5 chassis to network 80 blades. For the network piece this would require (10) Ethernet modules, and (10) Fibre Channel modules, (2) of each in the (5) chassis. To provide 10GE and 4G FC to each of the 16 blades in the HP chassis, each chassis would then link up to (16) 10GE network ports for Ethernet and (16) FC ports for storage, requiring (80) 10GE network ports and (80) FC ports.

So lets look at the equivalent network costs on the HP side to provide 10Gb/s to 80 blades (to be fair):

(80) 10GE Ethernet ports = $70,000 (based on two Nexus 5020)

(80) 4G FC ports = $32,000 (based on four 24 port 9124 fabric switches)

(10) Ethernet blade switches = $120,000 (based on $12,000 per VC-eth module)

(10) FC blade swtiches = $94,990 (based on $9,499 per VC-fc module)

Total HP networking costs for 80 Blades = $316,990 / 80 Blades = $3,962 per Blade

Toal Cisco UCS networking costs for 80 Blades = $178,162 / 80 Blades = $2,227 per Blade

Bottom Line: For 80 Blades of 10Gb/s per blade –> Advantage CISCO (by almost a factor of 2)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the author as a private individual and do not implicitly or necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the author’s employer (Cisco Systems, Inc.).


  1. Frank says

    Good info. Strange that despite so swiftly getting 3 posts with the error-prone eGenera blog up, this hasn’t made it onto their Twitter page yet…

  2. Baykah says

    I am curious why you chose to compare to HP and not to the Dell/Egenera solution?

    Bottom Line: NO Advantage Cisco??? Just curious…..

    • says

      Why did Cisco choose to focus on HP?
      Simply put because HP is the blade server market leader. When you are trying a send a message to the market you want to have a message that is interesting to the largest population of buyers, and right now that large population is current HP c-class customers or those currently considering HP c-class. No offense to Dell/Egenera, but there is no significant market presence there.

      Why did I focus on HP in this article?
      Because the flawed article by Egenera that I am addressing also focused on HP.

      Dell/Engenra = No Advantage Cisco?
      Write up an article that makes this case. I’ll look forward to reading it. I have yet to see Egenera make this effort so I assume there is no significant case to make here.


  3. Dave says

    This just sounds to me like Cisco pricing needs to be interpreted, anyone in for some guesswork?

    If you need Real World proof of Egenera PAN Manager’s value all you have to do is go to their Customer / Case Studies or Customer Testimonial page. I don’t think they need the fuzzy math, their customers will tell you first hand 😉 There are several accounts of savings of 50% or more.

    • says

      Engenera does currently enjoy the advantage of being a readily available solution with plenty of customer references, you got that right.
      You have to start somewhere, and right now Cisco UCS is the new kid on the block with zero market share. That will not last very long though, a year from now will be a whole different story (i hope) :-)


  4. Basten says

    “If I have a 40 port Fabric Interconnect, that means I can have TEN blade chassis in a full bandwidth system – not five as Egenera claims” that’s not a full 10G bandwith ,each blade only have 10/2=5G bandwidth. TO be fair,UCS need a pair of 40 port Fabric Interconnect insteed of a 40 port Fabric Interconnect as your picture described. UCS is not a exactly redundant fabric system, when a Fabric extender is fault,then the chassis lose onehalf of the fabric bandwidth.

    • says

      TO be fair,UCS need a pair of 40 port Fabric Interconnect

      Of course. Every UCS system comes with a pair of Fabric Interconnects — just was you would connect an HP, IBM, or Dell blade chassis to a pair of network switches.

      UCS is not a exactly redundant fabric system, when a Fabric extender is fault,then the chassis lose onehalf of the fabric bandwidth.

      Well, sure. How is that any different than any other blade chassis that looses one of it’s blade switches?

      Can you point to a system where a network switch fails and no bandwidth is lost? I would be real curious to see how that works!


  5. says

    I have been asking Cisco UCS rivals to match Cisco UCS price for larger memory configurations.

    I found this chart to be very significant:

    Obtaining twice as much memory at only double the price- may be a very fair bargain in many situations(virtualized desktops, databases, Object Caches for Middle Tier etc.. ) It will take convincing benchmarks, but I am confident that this could be a competition killing benefit.

    It is on the Cisco page that outlines the advantages of Cisco UCS.

    • says

      Great perspective. I’ll add that if my application is more memory bound than CPU bound (eg. server virtualization, database), Cisco expanded memory capabilities would result in fewer sockets that I need to run said application – which in turn results in lower costs of “per-socket” license fees paid to the application vendor.

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