[Beowulf] Re: Third-party drives not permitted on new Dell servers?

Lux, Jim (337C) james.p.lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Tue Feb 16 11:48:51 PST 2010

James Lux, P.E.
Task Manager, SOMD Software Defined Radios
Flight Communications Systems Section 
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
4800 Oak Grove Drive, Mail Stop 161-213
Pasadena, CA, 91109
+1(818)354-2075 phone
+1(818)393-6875 fax

> -----Original Message-----
> From: beowulf-bounces at beowulf.org [mailto:beowulf-bounces at beowulf.org] On Behalf Of Doug O'Neal
> Sent: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 10:21 AM
> To: beowulf at beowulf.org
> Subject: [Beowulf] Re: Third-party drives not permitted on new Dell servers?
> On 02/16/2010 12:52 PM, Lux, Jim (337C) wrote:
> >
> >
> > On 2/16/10 9:09 AM, "Joe Landman" <landman at scalableinformatics.com> wrote:
> >>
> >> 5X markup?  We must be doing something wrong :/
> >>
> >
> >
> > Depends on what the price includes.  I could easily see a commodity drive in
> > a case lot being dropped on the loading dock at, say, $100 each, and the
> > drive with installation, system integrator testing, downstream support, etc.
> > being $500. Doesn't take many hours on the phone tracking down an
> > idiosyncracy or setup to cost $500 in labor.
> But when you're installing anywhere from eight to forty-eight drives in a
> single system the required hours to make up that $400/drive overhead does
> get larger.  And if you spread the system integrator testing over eight
> drives
> per unit and hundreds to thousands of units the cost per drive shouldn't be
> measured in hundreds of dollars.

True, IFF the costing strategy is based on that sort of approach. Various companies can and do price the NRE and support tail cost in a variety of ways.   They might have a "notional" system size and base the pricing model on that: Say they, through research, find that most customers are buying, say, 32 systems at a crack.  Now the support tail (which is basically "per system") is spread across only 32 drives, not thousands. If you happen to buy 64 systems, then you basically are paying twice.   Most companies don't have infinite granularity in this sort of thing, and try to pick a few breakpoints that make sense.

(NRE = non recurring engineering)
As far as the NRE goes, say they get a batch of a dozen drives each of half a dozen kinds. They have to set up half a dozen test systems (either in parallel or sequentially), run the tests on all of them, and wind up with maybe 2 or 3 leading candidates that they decide to list on their "approved disk" list.  The cost of testing the disks that didn't make the cut has to be added to the cost of the disks that did.

There's a lot that goes into pricing that isn't obvious at first glance, or even second glance, especially if you're looking at a single instance (your own purchase) and trying to work backwards from there.  There are weird anomalies that crop up in supposedly commodity items from things like fuel prices (e.g. you happened to buy that container load of disks when fuel prices were high, so shipping cost more). A couple years ago, there were huge fluctuations in the price of copper, so there would be 2:1 differences in the retail cost of copper wire and tubing at the local Home Depot and Lowes, basically depending on when they happened to have bought the stuff wholesale. (this is the kind of thing that arbitrageurs look for, of course)

Some of it is "paying for convenience", too.  Rather than do all the testing yourself, or writing a detailed requirements and procurement document for a third party, both of which cost you some non-zero amount of time and money, you just pay the increased price to a vendor who's done it for you.  It's like eating sausage.  You can buy already made sausage, and the sausage maker has done the experimenting with seasoning and process controls to come out with something that people like.  Or, you can spend the time to make it yourself, potentially saving some money and getting a more customized sausage taste, BUT, you're most likely going to have some less-than-ideal sausage in the process.

The more computers or sausage you're consuming, the more likely it is that you could do better with a customized approach, but, even there, you may be faced with resource limits (e.g. you could spend your time getting a better deal on the disks or you could spend your time doing research with the disks.  Ultimately, the research MUST get done, so you have to trade off how much you're willing to spend.)

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