7 Server Hardware Alternatives (Plus Low Cost White Box Servers)

white box server vendors (low cost servers)

[ Image Source: CNET ]

Intel [is] Inside White Box Servers, too!

Before we dive into our list of 7 server hardware alternatives, let’s start with an important thought.


Google and Amazon are building their clouds on customized server platforms that have motherboards, disk drives, and backup batteries in open enclosures instead of fancy name brand cases with cool face-plates and someone’s logo.

What does this mean for you?

It means this.

To cloud providers like Google and Amazon; compute, space, bandwidth, efficiency and lower infrastructure costs are key to their success. Let that sink in…

I’m not saying we should all build our own servers but do we need most of the feature we’re buying?

Sure if you want whistles and bells [which you may never have time to properly set up because your Ops team is too busy working on day-to-day or projects] then Buy UCS or another top brand.

On the other hand, if all you need is compute that can be swapped out when something dies, then are white box servers good enough?

DIY vs Name Brand vs White Box Servers

cheap used servers

Before we’re done with this VMinstall Server Guide I’m going to provide a list of brand name server manufactures, hardware parts depots for open compute projects, and white box server alternatives you can use to source your next project.

Chips are chips…

Intel makes their money on chips, and they pretty much they sell the same chips to everyone.

Yes, I know not all hardware is made the same…but that’s why we build clusters and clouds that can do vMotion, Live Motion, or XenMotion.

Ah, benefits of modern technology!

vSphere and other alternative virtualization platforms are perfect for low-cost hardware so before you let vendors talk you into best of brand hardware and support agreements, consider the alternative.

Unless you’re NASA and lives depend on the chips in your servers, you should consider lower cost server hardware alternatives.

Quick Video About The Open Compute Project at Facebook

It doesn’t need to be pretty! It doesn’t need to be painted! It doesn’t need to have plastic bezels that guide airflow around! – Johathan Heiliger

And here are a couple more reasons to consider open compute…

If your hardware architects have done their job and built-in room for failure (n + ?), and your software architect has designed your app to work across multiple servers in an App pool (preferably each on a different host), then you can take an outage on a VM, disk, motherboard, NIC, switch, load balancer or host, and your app will still be online.

Now granted, depending on the sophistication of your App some users may get bounced out, but that’s a fixable problem. And these problems can be solved with code instead of throwing more costly hardware at them.


Let’s get to what brought you here. Server hardware alternatives for building clouds.

7 Server Hardware Alternatives (updated to 7.x options)

Best of Brand Server Options:

white box server vendors1. IBM Servers (Now Lenovo) –  Long before HP and Dell, IBM was building server and desktop hardware. And over the years I’ve had my share of opportunities for supporting iSeries hardware running AIX, and xSeries running Windows, Linux and VMware. No complaints, however you will pay for the brand and higher quality. Click Here >> To View IBM Server Hardware Options

2. HP Servers – Once upon a time there was Compaq, And they were purchased by HP. And now we have HP Proliant servers. HP is another hardware platform I’ve spent a lot of time on. HP rack  servers and blades are great for running raw metal servers with Windows and Linux, or for building high density virtualization server infrastructures. I’ve had success with c7000 chassis and BL460 g6/g7 blades, and with DL380 G6/7/8 and DL580 G6/7 running VMware vSphere. The only real problem I recall was managing firmware upgrades and the frustration caused by generation changes.  Click Here >> To View HP Server Hardware Options

3. Dell Servers – I’ll be honest. As an alternative to going all the way white box, I would take Dell PowerEdge server hardware all day long. Why? Because Dell makes great general purpose servers that can do it all. And pound for pound Dell servers are as good as IBM and HP. Another value-add is Dell has a sweat spot for lower TCO when building a vSphere clouds over other top brands. Click Here >> To View Dell Server Hardware

4. Cisco UCS – If you have a Cisco network, I can bet your network team is running a rogue Cisco UCS POC right under your noise. How can I say such a thing? Because I’ve seen it happen in 3 places I’ve worked. Cisco is notorious for giving away UCS chassis and blades in an effort to seed businesses with their server hardware. The problem I see here is long-term cost will go up, and you will find yourself refereeing network and server teams that both feel they own the UCS platform. My Beef here is I’m opposed to vendor LOCK-IN, and Cisco is at the top of the list. Click Here >> To View Cisco UCS Servers hardware

If you’re hosting your applications in the cloud, chances are you’re running on white box hardware or a Franken-Server similar to what’s in the picture above!

White Box Server Vendors (ODM Server Vendors) & Parts:

white box server market5. Super Micro Servers – Super Micro has been around for a while now and honestly, I’ve never had the opportunity of supporting one of their pieces of hardware. It could be due to the lock other big server brands have, or the stigma of saying you are running on Super Micro? I guess it would be like saying you drive a Hyundai instead of Honda. For the record Super Micro has a large selection of server hardware to choose from with similar configuration of Dell and HP. And they also have blade and chassis for high density computing. Click Here >> To View Super Micro Server Hardware

6. ABMX Servers – Now we are talking true white box servers. On the ABMX website you can choose from a variety of 1u, 2u, 3u, 4u and blade server hardware configurations. Pick any drive, controller, CPU, PS, or memory combination from a drop-down. Just like a candy store at the mall, ABMX has everything a server hardware guru could ever dream of. ABMX was founded in 1994 and is located in Orange County California. Click Here To View ABMX Server Hardware

7. Servers Direct – Another truly white box server outlet that has it all just like ABMX, except they offer a variety of DIY barebones and custom systems. And Servers Direct resells Super Micro Servers and other white box brands. With an amazing white box server inventory to choose from, Servers Direct is also located in Sunny California, and has been doing business for 10 years. Click Here >> To View Server Direct White Box Hardware

7.1. Build Your Own – Open Compute Designs are becoming more popular and the Open Compute Project is the place to visit for ideas on open server, storage, network and data center designs. Click Here >> To Visit the Open Compute Project.

7.2 Iron Systems  – I recently started purchasing all my servers from Kawal at Iron Systems. They build a solid white box server made from Super Micro parts. I have been very happy with their servers for building ESXi and Xen clusters. They offer low cost servers, as well as white box network and storage products. Click here >> To visit Iron Systems and ask for Kawal or email him: Kawal@ironsystems.com

What is a White Box Server?7.3 Amazon (new) – And here’s an interesting place to find low-cost server hardware that are white box and best of brand. At Amazon, you can buy servers that are refurbished and new: Dell, Lenovo, HP, Supermicro or whitebox. And if your starting an open compute server project, Amazon has a large selection of server parts. You’ll find drives, memory, motherboards, enclosures, fans, power supplies, and other server parts all in one place. Best of all here are the benefits of ordering server hardware from Amazon:

  • Amazon is trusted.
  • You can save with Prime Shipping.
  • Read real customer reviews before you buy.
  • No haggling with sales staff for a quote (you can clearly see specs, prices and availability).
  • And you can buy 3 – 4 years of low cost replacement support.

Click here >> Go Straight To Amazon Server Section

Bonus: Low cost brand name server parts. Drives, Memory, CPUs, Power Supplies, Controllers and more. Click Here >> To View

More About The Facebook Open Compute Server

We design the server to be very friendly for the technician so it’s easily swap components in and out. – Amir Michael

Wrap Up

Well, there you have them. Seven brands and vendors who offer too many server options to compare or review. And each has hardware solutions that are prefect for your budget or ego. We covered server hardware from best of brands manufactures, white boxes that are low cost and cheap, and open compute servers.

Maybe your budget isn’t what it used to be and it’s time to consider switching from costly hardware to low cost servers that offer the same Intel computing power as the big brands?

Let me leave you with a final thought to process before you buy…

Given most chips and components are made by the same people in the same factories; the real differences you are paying for is brand name, features, and support.

So let’s look further into support – most major brands are moving their support off-shore to the same outsourcing companies. Hmm…

Now we are down to features and brand name.

Do you really want to pay 20 – 40% for features you won’t use? No.

And now we’re down to brand name:

From what I’ve found, Google, Facebook and Amazon don’t seem to mind using open compute or white box servers. Thanks for your interest.

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  1. Cesar

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