We were pleased to see that the Cisco UCS Express blade was easy to configure, fast, elegantly managed and powerful enough to run multiple virtual machines. Now comes the hard question: Should you use it?
Certainly, for network managers who need a way to deploy virtual machines for network-specific tasks, the UCS Express blade makes a lot of sense, because it dramatically simplifies deployment and management of VMs and because it's easy to switch the different VMs onto different subnets, entirely in software.
However, for system managers considering replacing on-site servers with Cisco UCS Express blades, the decision is not so simple, because the UCS Express blade does not have the same expansion capability as a typical rack-mount server.
For example, the UCS Express does not have external SCSI ports, making backup to a tape drive difficult. Cisco does offer the "DP" version of the 140D and 160D, which trades off one of the disk drives for a PCI slot, but now you've lost one-third of your storage capacity and some potential redundancy.
Even if the UCS Express blades are not as expandable, Cisco does claim that they will be as reliable, if not more reliable, than stand-alone servers, especially when installed in ISR G2 routers with dual power supplies. Cisco equipment has an amazing reputation for surviving forever in the dusty and hot environment of wiring closets, which gives Cisco credibility when it claims high reliability for the UCS Express blades.
There is one more critical issue to consider: price. Simply put, the cost of the Cisco UCS Express blades is not competitive with offerings from pure-play server vendors. The low-end E140S UCS Express blade with two 1TB disk drives and 8GB of memory has a list price of about $6,000. The equivalent rack-mount server from Dell, an R210, with similar disk and memory, runs about $1,500.
At the high end, the difference is still extreme. An E160D UCS Express blade with two 10K RPM 900GB SAS drives has a list price of about $10,000, while the R320 server from Dell similarly configured is about $3,500.
Even with a discount of 50% off of Cisco's list price, which is not uncommon for large Cisco customers, the UCS Express blades are still twice as expensive as stand-alone servers. For one office or two the difference is minor, but if you're thinking of rolling these out to 100 offices or more, the cost difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars becomes a significant factor.