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IBM, Cisco, NetApp converged infrastructure systems worth the price?

IBM, Cisco, and NetApp released new converged infrastructure offerings this week, but the high price tag might drive IT customers away.

Converged infrastructure systems continue to be all the rage, with IBM, Cisco, and NetApp rolling out new offerings this week. Whether customers will pay top dollar for these preconfigured systems remains to be seen.

IBM on Wednesday introduced a new brand called PureSystems, comprised of PureFlex converged infrastructure bundles and PureApplication bundles with application software built in. Meanwhile, Cisco Systems Inc. and NetApp Inc. introduced a new configuration of the FlexPod reference architecture this week for small to midsized businesses.

These offerings join similar systems already on the market, including the VCE Company’s Vblocks, existing FlexPod configurations, Hewlett Packard (HP)’s Converged Infrastructure and Oracle Corp.’s Exadata and Exalogic systems.

If they have one thing in common, it’s that these systems aren’t cheap;  a single Vblock can cost $750,000, and the entry-level edition of IBM’s PureFlex starts at $100,000. But some users find value in having server, storage and networking hardware pre-configured as one product.

Rotary International, an organization of service clubs based in Evanston, Ill., uses a Vblock 300 GX, which consists of four Cisco UCS server chassis with the UCS 6140 Fabric Interconnect.  Each contains four P250 M2 blades, an EMC VNX 5700 for unified block and file storage, a Cisco 5548 LAN switch and a Cisco MDS 9840 SAN switch.

Some 200 servers are virtualized on the system using VMware Inc.’s vSphere, said John Shulda, systems administrator.

“It’s eliminated the need to have a dedicated person responsible for maintaining and managing physical hardware for 200-plus servers,” Shulda said. “It allows us to focus on application optimization.”

While some vendors are selling converged infrastructure systems, “it’s still nowhere near a majority of the enterprise,” said Greg Schulz, founder of the Stillwater, Minn.-based StorageIO Group, a technology advisory and consulting firm.

One NetApp partner said that while FlexPods have fared well among large customers, the systems probably are not selling as quickly as vendors would like.

“SMBs are just getting the hang of being virtualized,” said Tory Skyers, a solutions architect for a NetApp partner.“It’s still a challenge getting into smaller customers – [converged infrastructure] has been a little scary for folks who understand it, much less for folks where IT is not their business.”

Converged infrastructure’s appeal vs. price

Some enterprise IT customers are skeptical about the value of a pre-integrated infrastructure.

“I do think converged infrastructures are great for certain businesses, [but] I just don’t see how it provides the flexibility and cost per VM or server I can currently get in a more traditional enterprise setting,” wrote Chris Rima, supervisor of infrastructure systems for a utility in the Southwest, in an email.

Other users see the appeal of converged infrastructure offerings in theory, according to Thomas Peacock, systems architect with SYS/TOMS Technology Partners Inc. in Tewksbury, Mass. He said several of his clients have evaluated products like the Vblock and FlexPod.

“IT departments are becoming very lean with little in their staffing budgets, and some people I talk with are interested in soup to nuts, preconfigured systems,” Peacock said.

While his customers like the idea of a converged infrastructure system, Peacock said none of them have purchased one.  Part of the reason is price.

“I think a lot of enterprise IT groups don’t have an understanding of what the true costs are to run their data center, and so they get sticker shock,” Peacock said.

PureSystem and FlexPod details

PureFlex systems are packaged as Express, Standard and Enterprise editions. Aside from size — the Standard edition ships with two 8 Gbps Fibre Channel switches while the Express ships with one — the systems are differentiated by the services bundled in.

“IBM is re-bundling what they unbundled decades ago,” said Schulz. “It’s the way customers used to buy systems and applications from IBM.”

Express edition packages get three days of setup service and a three-year warranty with one microcode update per year. Standard edition gets five days of setup service and a three-year warranty with one microcode update per year plus same day parts replacement service and a 9x5 “account advocate.” Enterprise edition gets seven days of setup service, two microcode updates per year for three years, same day parts replacement service and a 24x7 account advocate.

IBM expects that users will layer preconfigured applications onto the PureFlex infrastructure to form PureApplication bundles, which will start with a focus on databases, according to IBM officials, moving on to business analytics in future releases.

About 125 software vendor partners including FiServ, F5 Networks, Juniper Networks, Logicalis, SAP, SugarCRM, SUSE and VMware have signed on to integrate products with PureFlex.

The newly released FlexPod architecture combines NetApp FAS2240 storage with Cisco C-Series Nexus 5000 Switches, Nexus 2232 Fabric Extender and UCS 6200 Fabric Interconnects.

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for and Write to her at

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Any reason why Oracle is not mentioned here? Considering they are #1 in Integrated Systems and have released several new engineered systems in the last few weeks?

According to IDC, Oracle is ranked #1 in IDC's Research on Worldwide Integrated Infrastructure & Platforms Sales, showing Increase of 50% Year Over Year in Second Quarter, Surpassing $1.3 Billion in Value.