Cisco reveals aggressive pricing for blade server system

Says its Unified Computing System costs about one-third the price of other vendors' systems

As promised, Cisco Systems Inc. this week divulged more details on its Unified Computing System for data centers, including pricing and performance benchmarks.

UCS combines networking, blade servers and virtualization into an integrated system optimized for a unified data center switching fabric of LANs and storage-area networks. Its key benefits, according to Cisco, are embedded management, customizable service profiles and patented memory extension for scaling virtual machines.

It also features Cisco's entry into the blade server market with internally developed blade servers optimized for virtualization and the memory extension capabilities. The servers run Intel's new Xeon 5500 processors.

Cisco says each UCS component -- blade, CPU, disk, memory and I/O cards -- is priced competitively with other leading server vendors' elements. Yet UCS costs about 10% less in a configured system because of its ability to converge host bus adapter and 10Gbit/sec. Ethernet network interface card capabilities, which eliminates about $725 in additional cost.

In a configuration of about 320 blades, UCS costs about one-third the price of leading vendors' systems because of a 10x reduction in the number of Ethernet and Fibre Channel switches, management modules and associated software licenses, Cisco says. The company adds that a leading vendor's 320-blade configuration cost $1.6 million vs. UCS's price of just over $500,000.

UCS pricing opened the eyes of some industry watchers. Cisco has a reputation of charging a premium for its products.

"Pricing surprised me a little bit. I thought they would be a little bit higher than that," says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research Inc. "I find it a little hard to believe. I guess it shows the efficiency of having the network built in and not having all those external switches. It drives down the cost quite a bit."

UCS can also save users 40% in capital expenditures, 19% in cooling over a three-year period, 86% in the amount of cabling and 61% in rack space compared to a legacy 320 blade system, according to Cisco. In its own 1 megawatt, 10,000-square-foot production deployment, the company says it saved 40% on cabling, fiber, patch cords and labor costs; gained 30% more power for servers; supported 50% more physical servers in the same space; and increased virtual machine support per kilowatt by almost fourfold.

In benchmark testing, Cisco says UCS was among the top-ranked systems in VMmark and SPEC performance trials. Cisco says those results will be available soon. Cisco also says the memory extension capability of UCS allows the Intel Xeon 5500 CPU to access as much as four times the amount of memory as "typical" blade server systems.

This capability saves users 33% to 60% of the cost of memory in 64GB, 96GB and 144GB configurations, and expands available memory to 192GB and 384GB, Cisco says.

"This is what virtualization has been missing: the ability to aggregate memory and slice it per VM," Kerravala says. "I think there is a wave of server upgrades coming because of virtualization. The question becomes, how much of that market can Cisco capture?"

Cisco also described as "myths," claims that UCS requires a forklift upgrade for data centers because of incompatibility with legacy systems, and that it can only work in virtualized environments.

UCS is in beta with 10 customers. It will ship later this quarter.

This story, "Cisco reveals aggressive pricing for blade server system" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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