• 12/01/2014
    8:00 AM
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The True Cost Of Hyperconvergence

Vendors tout hyperconverged systems like EVO:RAIL as less expensive than more conventional storage systems. After pricing my own EVO:RAIL-like system, I found otherwise.

After years of hearing vendors and their fanbois tell me that hyperconverged solutions would revolutionize data center economics, I was a bit surprised when I started hearing rumors that vendors were slapping price tags of more than $200,000 on their EVO:RAIL systems. An EVO:RAIL is four servers and the storage to support the VMs running on those servers, but a $200,000 price tag still seemed a bit steep to me.

So I set out to figure out if -- as the advocates promise -- hyperconverged systems are actually less expensive than their more conventional equivalents. What I found was quite the opposite.

One of the assumptions behind hyperconvergence is efficiency. Building our entire computing environment from the same basic building blocks allows us to manage those building blocks through what before now was an unobtainable single pane of glass. And since those building blocks are themselves made up of industry-standard if not commodity components, the initial cost should be lower than for the purpose-built hardware that makes up today's storage estate.

I've argued that one of the attractions of software-defined storage, of which hyperconverged systems can be considered a special case, is that the cost of a drive slot in a modern storage system actually costs more than the disk drive that goes into that slot. Since my servers -- unless I was so foolish as to be using blade servers -- have disk drive slots that I'm not using, I can use those slots for just the cost of the disk drive and, of course, the software.

When I set out to confirm the $200,000 price rumors for EVO:RAIL, I couldn't find detailed pricing for the Dell or EMC models. I did find an online seller offering the Supermicro SYS-2027TR-VRL002 at $160,000. That's a good 20% less than $200,000, but I still wanted to know if it was a good deal.

After a little time on the Internet and my usual Supermicro supplier sites, I could add up what it would take for me to build an EVO:RAIL style system. I should note that my system will lack the EVO:RAIL front end. I've played with the EVO:RAIL user interface, and it sure does make installing the system easier. But once the system is up and running, I think administrators will use the vCenter client for its better control than the EVO:RAIL simplified UI.

The Hardware (street price)





Supermicro Twin2Pro barebones system




Xeon E5-2620 V2 CPU








1.2 GB 10K RPM HDD




Intel DC S3700 400 GB SSD




Intel X520 10Gbps NIC








I also went to Dell's site and configured an R720, 2U rack-mount server, with the processors, memory, and storage equivalent to an EVO:RAIL node. It came in at $10,500 or $42,000 for a set of four.

The Software

EVO:RAIL includes a significant software bundle, including vSphere Enterprise Plus edition, the vCenter Server appliance, VSAN, Log Insight, and, of course, the EVO:RAIL setup and management tools.





vSphere Enterprise Plus








Enterprise Plus support 1 yr




VSAN support 1 yr




vCenter Server




vCenter support 1 yr




Log Insight




Software total




I had a bit of difficulty assigning a value to Log Insight. All but the smallest data centers should have a log analysis solution, and Log Insight is a pretty good one. However, if you're already using Splunk or SumoLogic, it may not be worth $250 per log source device.

Assuming you want to use Log Insight for 100 devices, the total cost of an ersatz EVO:RAIL system is just under $117,000 or $43,000 less than a real EVO:RAIL. Even my R720 VSAN solution comes in at $133,000.

Next page: Dedicated storage comparison

Editor's note: Please see the update from Howard Marks in the comments section below. If you have other information or thoughts on this topic, please let us know in the comments.


The value of support

VMware's Duncan Epping pointed out on twitter that EVO:RAIL includes three years of service and support not the one year I used in my inital calculations.  That adds $26,466 to the software value of EVO:RAIL (at list of course) and $16,482 (OK call it $16,500) to the cost of a system using external storage for the 2nd and third years of vSphere SnS.  

The Dell servers I used for comparison include 3 years of NBD support but we'll also need to include the  cost of support for storage systems. That is a bit more complicated as vendors don't usually publish support costs but if we figure 15% a year for support. Adding that in the Tegile solution would actually be a bit more expensive than the EVO:RAIL at $168,696. Of course the Tegile has a lot more storage capacity (22TB vs 5) but EVO:RAIL is looking better when support is factored in.

As always you'll have to do your own comparisons.

Re: Value-Add Software Solutions

I am NOT a salesperson (by far), but rather, I work in the EMC Support side of our EVO:RAIL offering, and I would like to also add in that in addition to providing software support and hardware FRU replacements included in the pricing structure, the EMC implementation provides an extra layer of management software that sits on top of the VMware stack (as our QEP Link and Launch Solution), which amongst other things, contains an EMC App Marketplace, giving the admin access to a variety of 'Value-Add' software packages (ship as purpose-built OVA packages which run as service VMs on the EVO:RAIL appliance).

These are add-in software packages designed to connect EVO:RAIL and EMC solutions together like for example EMC RecoverPoint® for Virtual Machines, EMC CloudArray® Gateway, etc, some are for customers who already have EMC infrustructure built at core locations (since the EVO:RAIL offering in many cases will be installed at smaller to midsize satellite locations in VDI environments and such), but also for non-EMC customers as the EMC CloudArray® Gateway doesn't even require EMC infrastructure, it can mount storage from multiple different cloud vendor's storage.

We realize that several vendors offer a common product in the marketplace, which tends to drive it towards being a commodity item, so EMC has been pushing to include these types of value-add features which will help to make it desirable for existing EMC customers who already have our infrastructure present (or even for new customers considering to start building out with EMC solutions), since it gives the admin a great deal of flexibility as they expand their infrastructure.


I also wanted to add another point that based on the comment about how people may just want to use vCenter instead once they're all set up... This may be true for some (possibly VCPs) who are already most accustomed to using vCenter today, but rather for many newcomers into the industry (as cloud and IT are still rapidly growing), the learning curve of EVO:RAIL web UI is much lower, and EVO:RAIL also allows the admin to define 'basic templates' on the backend which the front end user can simply select from in a wizard format to be able to quickly select and deploy VMs (of types small, medium, and large for example), means you don't have to hire some VCP guy to assist with tasks that shouldn't be overly complex. 

All computing solutions which are initially released into the marketplace for the first time are ususally very complex and cumbersome, perhaps CLI-based in the beginning, so the next natural step in any product evolution is to later put a GUI on it (in effort to simplify it), then later on after that to make that GUI even more simplified by adding batch job capability, macros, scripting, etc, to simply tedious daily mundane tasks. Basically the ability to click one button and a bunch of manual things are happening underneath to great simplify administration. I think EVO:RAIL is just a step towards that direction of further product task automation, which is the next natural step. So our admins can spend their valuable time doing more important tasks.

EVO:RAIL may not be for everyone, but there is a specific marketspace which I believe it will fit... It's just a step toward selling the entire car, turn-key, with a warrantee, rather than administrators having to build their own cars, assemble the engine, jump-start it, break it in, etc, so to put it in metaphor. EVO:RAIL is plug and play, it is an 'appliance' after all..

Cost of assembly, some configuration and deployment should be...

Yes, the cost of three years of support should be built in, but even so, this is an illuminating experience. It's hard to get price comparison information and I sort of assume there's a premium for the VMware third parties who are sparing you the task of assembling the parts in your data center. If cost of assembly and initial deployment is built in, then you're getting closer to a true cost of EVO:Rail. And no, it isn't cheap. Is the concentration of integrated resources plus management user interface worth it? Only VMware customers know for sure.

Re: Cost of assembly, some configuration and deployment shoul...

I always worry about the bottom line as it seems to nearly always elusive, I am a keen supporter of clear pricing and even configuring a build using Dells system is not always clear. Companies should adopt these policies as they would benefit from it in the long term.

Re: The True Cost Of Hyperconvergence

Well, this is certainly very comprehensive, Howard. I also appreicate your willingness to be frank and present your (highly valuable) two cents without worrying about rustling anyone's jimmies. From the get-go, I was inclined to agree with you. We can apply this all the way back to enthusiasts building their own custom workstations instead of buying something off-the-shelf from Best Buy - of course you're going to save money if you do it yourself! I think it's fair to point out claims to the contrary as disingenuous marketing hype, but at the same time, there's a little more to story than that.

The complexity of your assessment in and of itself, I think, reveals a lot about why these systems sell in the first place. People don't want to do all this work to figure out what to buy - not just in figuring out the cost, there's also an element of finding the advantages and disadvantages of two similarly-priced compenents, deciding which fits your needs... the questions are endless, and time is money. Buying a converged system gets rid of all that, and you know you're getting something others can vouch for. The huge "savings" in support costs dovetails nicely with that - we're talking about VMware, you know you can go right to the source and get quality support whatever the problem. Then again, the value of any support is nebulous and impossible to pin down to begin with, and how much you end up 'cashing in' that support depends wholly on your business. Overall, I think your assessment is still fair - something is only cheaper... if it's cheaper.

Nice review of the cost & capacity elements


Nice article. You tackled a sensitive topic - that of cost - with fairness and clarity. I'm a fan of hyper-converged architectures; however, I'm frustrated by the focus of many on the perceived price advantages. While I believe there are deployment scenarios where a hyper-converged platform is more ideal than a traditional deployment with shared storage, I'm not seeing much coverage beyond the cost elements.

I'd like to see Howard, or someone with his skills set, author an in-depth review on the strengths, weaknesses and capabilities of hyper-converged platforms relative to common deployment scenarios ala small to large scale VDI, server consolidation / cloud computing, high performance applications, etc. I'd also like to see these reviews extend into operational processes and CIO initiatives including backup, DR, archive, big data, data center resource conservation, etc.

If I did my job here, Howard's already off and running!

 Agan nice article, keep up the good work.

- Cheers,

Vaughn Stewart

Chief Evangelist, Pure Storage

Re: Nice review of the cost & capacity elements


Great article Howard. Demystifying quotes and marketing is a challenge for both customers and vendors alike. Hyperconverged solutions certainly offer value to some environments but the costs are obscured and difficult to discern. Great work laying out the moving parts and peeling back the onion.