Scaling Networks the x86 Way: Vyatta/Intel vs Cisco

October 19, 2009 at 3:40 pm 7 comments

“At Intel, Moore’s Law is alive and thriving.”
– Paul Otellini, Intel CEO, Sept 22, 2009

Vyatta is the only networking vendor whose wagon is hitched to the x86 ecosystem.  And that explains a lot about Vyatta adoption:  Our hardware R&D dwarfs Cisco’s.

It’s an easy proof.  Start with the fact that Intel and Cisco are roughly the same size (~$35B annual sales), and their R&D budgets are similar.  Here’s the 2008 data:
Intel R&D:  $5.7B          Cisco R&D:  $5.2B

Intel focuses theirs directly on improving price/performance of x86 and related components, while Cisco spreads theirs across a massively wide set of products.  So say Cisco actually spends 10% of their R&D on their hardware for routing and security, and you get this focused investment annually:
Intel:  $5.7B                     Cisco: $0.5B

That’s an 11X difference right there. Now factor in the pace of direct competition:  AMD is always pushing Intel, forcing them to go as fast as possible.  In fact AMD spent $1.9B last year in R&D doing just that.  Added in, we have:
Intel & AMD:  $7.6B      Cisco:  $0.5B

That brings us up to 15X R&D difference, in favor of x86. And we haven’t even discussed the massive R&D in the ecosystem surrounding x86 such as memory, LAN/WAN cards, & backplanes.  And let’s not forget the server vendors, spending R&D to productize and optimize x86-based systems;  HP, IBM and Dell take in nearly $300B a year collectively.  They’re absolutely investing R&D to make their servers competitive.

So proclaiming a 20X advantage in R&D for x86 infrastructure is an easy argument.  (In fact, it’s probably conservative.)  That means that over the past five years x86 infrastructure received 100 times more R&D than Cisco invested on their CPU-based hardware. Vyatta customers understand this… and love us for it.

The compounding effect of R&D supremacy is obvious. Two and a half years ago Vyatta published a benchmark that pitted a Dell server against Cisco’s lowest-priced GigE router – and clobbered it, with a 4X better price/performance.  But while x86 vendors kept pressing forward, Cisco STILL sells the same box today! Or how about this one:  One and a half years ago Vyatta published another benchmark, this time using a $3K IBM quad-core machine against a $35K Cisco box.  Again, x86-based hardware beat the proprietary gear like a rented mule.

And now there’s even more to love.  Intel recently shattered records again with their latest Nehalem offering — and Vyatta runs beautifully on it.  The next benchmarks are lining up:  This time it will be in the 10Gig arena, and the results are going to flatten CiscoDell will sell you a Nehalem server today for $2K, and a dual-port 10Gig card for another $2K.  So customers can spend $4K for 10Gig hardware in the Intel world… or they can go to Cisco and spend $60K for the base system and another $20K for a single-port 10Gig card.

The bottom line: x86 hardware keeps moving up the Cisco food chain, and Vyatta lets customers take advantage of these kind of price/performance advantages:

  • 2007:  4X ($800 vs $3,300)
  • 2008:  12X ($2,900 vs $35,000)
  • 2009:  20X ($4,000 vs $80,000)

That’s scaling, the x86 way.  It’s clear:  Vyatta customers are on the smart side of the equation.


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If You Can’t Laugh At Yourself… Cloud and Vyatta: A Perfect Fit

7 Comments Add your own

  • […] Scaling Networks the x86 Way: Vyatta/Intel vs Cisco « Kelly Herrell's Blog a few seconds ago from xmpp […]

  • 2. Edward Dore  |  October 26, 2009 at 7:57 am

    If you’re going to bundle AMD and Intel together for R&D budget because they push each other, the why don’t you bundle Juniper’s R&D budget together with Cisco?

    Also, although Cisco still sell the 2800 series, they have now replaced it with the 2900 series which are also based off multi-core Intel processors…

    • 3. Kelly Herrell  |  October 26, 2009 at 9:05 am

      Fair question. Quick answers…

      R&D Quantitatives: JNPR spent $730M in R&D in 2008. Assuming they apply 10% of their R&D to this product space (the assumption used for CSCO) it would add just $73M to the Proprietary R&D line. That would give the following result:
      $7.6B for Intel & AMD
      $0.6B for CSCO & JNPR
      So that would be a 13X advantage for x86, not 15X as I estimated earlier. Still a whopping big number.

      R&D Qualitatives: Like CSCO, JNPR leaves their products in the market for years at a time. In severe contrast, the standards-based competition for x86 has Intel and AMD driving new product cycles in months. That dynamic is why I didn’t include JNPR numbers in the first place, but it could certainly be argued the other way as well.

      CPU Clarification: The Cisco 1900/2900/3900 products have multi-core Cavium CPUs, not Intel / x86 CPUs… in the past they used [dog-slow] MIPS CPUs. CSCO’s historic behavior would not lead one to conclude that they’ll be upgrading the hardware at any faster rate that they have in the past, regardless of the CPU. We’ll see the same 2900/3900s in the market two years from now, while x86 servers will have marched on multiple times by then.

      Thanks for the comment – kh

      • 4. Edward Dore  |  October 26, 2009 at 10:58 am

        I would say it is a bit unfair to say Juniper apply only 10% to their R&D to their routers, given that they have a much smaller product range and use a single OS across their range (unlike Cisco and the bloody mess that is IOS and various derivatives!).
        Admittedly there is no real way to tell (unless Juniper give breakdowns) and it’s still not going to be a massive number.

        One problem with comparing Cisco to Intel and co. is that you’re not really comparing like for like.
        Cisco have their own chip suppliers such as Freescale and Marvell (who makes the MIPS chips they use at the moment in the 2800 series) just for the processors they use. These companies have their own massive R&D budgets.
        Then, to be a fair comparison to your IBM/HP/Dell statement, you’ve got to add in the budgets of everyone that uses these embedded PowerPC and MIPS chips, and that’s a massive ecosystem, much bigger than the x86 one, let alone x86 servers!

        With regards to the 1900/2900/3900 series; The Register reported that they use Intel multi-core processors, but I can’t find anything to corroborate this.
        It’s possible that they are getting confused with the Cisco Services Ready Engine modules that can be used in these ISR G2 machines.

  • 5. Kelly Herrell  |  October 26, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    I hear your point on the other semi’s R&D. That’s a true characterization of the embedded CPU world, which is very fragmented in terms of vendors and architectures.

    My main thesis is that (emphasis here) in a standards-based world, x86 dominates. Before Linux, the collective R&D for SPARC, PA-RISC, PowerPC and others also dwarfed Intel’s R&D. But standards (i.e., interchangeability) is the spark that creates the supply-chain snowball effect that becomes x86 dominance.

  • 6. Why Vyatta makes sense  |  October 28, 2009 at 2:21 am

    […] Scaling Networks the x86 Way: Vyatta/Intel vs Cisco […]

  • 7. iyer  |  March 24, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    its an open fact that cisco’s cannot fight with the x86 proc power say 64 Core 🙂 , they will not be having that in the near future R&D.

    The reason why most of them companies are going with cisco’s is due to the factor that they are trust worthy and for device interdependency . Open-source vyatta might be a better proposition for a small company who doesn’t care about the industry security standards . What if vyatta is not there to see tomorrows sunrise ? all them customer’s, will they stop upgrading all them servers ? . Secondly , the lifespan/fault tolerance of a server is much lower than a router.


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