Best Server Hardware Alternatives for Virtualization (ESXi White Box)

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 critical thought.

Here’s what we all know:

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

Low-Cost White Box Servers…

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 features we’re buying?

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

On the other hand, if all you need is compute for VMware virtualization that can be swapped out when something dies, aren’t white box servers good enough?

DIY vs Name Brand vs White Box Servers vs Refurbs

Cheap Used Servers

Before we’re done with this Introduction to Virtual Server Guide, I’m going to provide a list of brand-name server manufacturers, 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 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, the benefits of modern technology!

vSphere and other alternative virtualization platforms are perfect for low-cost hardware so before you let vendors talk you into the 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

I started at Facebook about two years ago and a job at the time was very simple how do we build a more efficient server we started off with a very simple mission and the simple mission was create the most efficient compute at the best economics possible however we can get there working with who whomever we need to work with yeah about 18 months which is the normal length of time that it would take to do like a custom power supply project in the industry but what we ended up doing was not only the custom power supply project but the rack enclosure the server chassis the two sets of custom motherboards and setting up all the relationships and the end end supply chain as well between our Asian partners and Fremont California and then ultimately up to Oregon we looked at a lot of different things when we designed the server we looked at the electrical design of it we looked at the Power Distribution we looked at the thermal design and we looked at the mechanical design things that made sense that we needed we put on the motherboard components that were on the board which added cost consumed extra power however didn’t quite provide us any functionality we decided to remove so we talked a lot about what really matters here at Facebook we talked a lot about done is better than perfect you know I’ve said the server is a little bit of a hack and we’re proud of that the server itself I call it vanity free right it’s not beautiful but it gets the job done 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 we made these servers for us for Facebook and so we made them look pretty to us and looking pretty to us means that they’re efficient and means that they’re very very cheap and quite frankly means that they’re reliable as well our power supply is over ninety four and a half percent efficient in the end of the day we’re producing less heat and consuming less energy and then on the thermal side I think that’s the other key area of efficiency where we use the data center as a cooling device for the servers so we we’re using a lot less server fan power by utilizing the data center fans because they’re larger diameter fans so they can move a lot more air with a lot less power we weigh about six pounds less than traditional servers out there but six pounds of lesson body the energy six pounds less material which is going into our facilities and if you multiply that across our relatively large deployment of servers it makes quite a bit of difference it makes even the data center text jobs easier because neither lifted six pounds less every time they have to fix a server we did all of this work and we didn’t just do it for ourselves I feel like we did it for the community at large so we’re opening up everything that we that we can right now that includes the server motherboard specification all the CAD files for the triplet rack that we designed as well as the server chassis the power supply specifications and then all of the data center design work as well by getting more people to think about how infrastructure works we can get feedback on the project and improve it even further the first thing I’d love people to do is give us feedback tell us where we screwed up tell us where we made a bad decision and help us make it better the second thing I’d love for people to do is take the technology we’ve created and use it and improve it and adapt it the third thing I think is actually the most important thing which is take our philosophy and adopt it in your own business sharing software has existed for many many years but it hasn’t taken foothold in the hardware space or in the data center world yet we hope we are simply opening the door for other people to come walk through and bring forth their own ideas and own innovations and share them with the rest of the world because we fundamentally believe that by virtue of creating a community around these problems we’ll all collectively be better and be more efficient as a result…

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 have 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 for VMware Virtualization:

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 succeeded with c7000 chassis and BL460 g6/g7 blades and 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 a Dell server is as good as IBM and HP. They also make a great 1U pizza box server that is perfect for running ESXi. Another value-add is Dell has a sweet spot for lower TCO when building a vSphere cloud 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 nose. 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 to seed businesses with their server hardware. The problem I see here is long-term costs 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) – Refurbished Server Hardware & 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 a similar configuration to Dell and HP. And they also have a 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 SuperMicro Servers and other white box brands. With a fantastic 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 Build Your Own Server 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 whitebox servers from Kawal at Iron Systems. They build a robust white box server made from Super Micro parts. I have been pleased 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: [email protected]

Here is an in-depth guide if you’d like to learn more about whitebox server hardware advantages and disadvantages.

What Is A White Box Server?7.3 Amazon (new) – And here’s an exciting place to find low-cost server hardware that is a white box and the best of the brand. At Amazon, you can buy servers that are refurbished and new: Dell, Lenovo, HP, Supermicro, or whitebox. And if you’re 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:

Dell Servers

Lenovo Servers

#1 Best Choice
Lenovo Thinksystem St250 Tower Server Including Intel Xeon 3.3Ghz Cpu, 32Gb Ddr4 2666Mhz Ram, 8Tb...
Lenovo ThinkSystem ST250 Tower Server Including Intel Xeon 3.3GHz CPU, 32GB DDR4 2666MHz RAM, 8TB...
Lenovo ThinkSystem ST250 Mini Tower Server for Small Business and Remote Offices; Processor: Intel Xeon E-2124 Quad-Core 3.3GHz 8MB CPU, Up To 4.3GHz Turbo
#2 Best Choice
Lenovo Thinkstation P3 30Ha001Nus Workstation - Intel Core I9 Tetracosa-Core (24 Core) I9-13900 13Th...
Lenovo ThinkStation P3 30HA001NUS Workstation - Intel Core i9 Tetracosa-core (24 Core) i9-13900 13th...
Core i9 2 GHz processor for performing computational tasks effectively; Windows 11 Pro OS with all the creative and productive tools you need
$2,879.00 $2,748.91 Amazon Prime
#3 Best Choice
Lenovo Thinksystem St250 Mini Tower Server With Intel Xeon E-2124 Quad-Core Cpu, 32Gb Ddr4, 8Tb Hdd,...
Lenovo ThinkSystem ST250 Mini Tower Server with Intel Xeon E-2124 Quad-Core CPU, 32GB DDR4, 8TB HDD,...
Lenovo ThinkSystem ST250 Mini Tower Server for Small Business and Remote Offices; Processor: Intel Xeon E-2124 Quad-Core 3.3GHz 8MB CPU, Up To 4.3GHz Turbo

HP Servers

#1 Best Choice
Hp Proliant Dl380 G9 Server / 2X E5-2670 V3 2.3Ghz = 24 Cores / 256Gb Ram / P840 / 12X 3Tb Sas...
HP Proliant DL380 G9 Server / 2X E5-2670 V3 2.3GHz = 24 Cores / 256GB RAM / P840 / 12x 3TB SAS...
2x Intel Xeon E5-2670 V3 - 2.30GHz 12 Core CPUs; 256GB DDR4 PC4-2133 Memory; P840 RAID Controller w/ cables
#2 Best Choice
Hp High-End Virtualization Server 36-Core 768Gb Ram 16Tb Dl360 G9 (Renewed)
HP High-End Virtualization Server 36-Core 768GB RAM 16TB DL360 G9 (Renewed)
HP Proliant DL360 G9 4-Bay LFF Server | 2x E5-2695v4 2.10GHz 18-Core CPU (36-Cores Total); 768GB DDR4 RAM | 4x 4TB 7.2K SATA 3.5" HDD
#3 Best Choice
Hp High-End Virtualization Server 32-Core 512Gb Ram 8Tb Dl380 G10 (Renewed)
HP High-End Virtualization Server 32-Core 512GB RAM 8TB DL380 G10 (Renewed)
HP Proliant DL380 G10 8-Bay SFF Server | 2x Gold 6130 2.1GHz 16-Core CPU (32-Cores Total); 512GB DDR4 RAM | 8x 1TB SATA III 2.5" SSD

Best Server Motherboards

#2 Best Choice
Supermicro Mbd-H12Ssl-Nt-B Atx Server Motherboard Amd Epyc™ 7003/7002 Series Processor
SUPERMICRO MBD-H12SSL-NT-B ATX Server Motherboard AMD EPYC™ 7003/7002 Series Processor
2TB Registered ECC DDR4 3200MHz SDRAM in 8 DIMMs; 2 M.2, 2 SlimSAS x8 (each: 8 SATA3 or 2 NVMe)
$642.99 Amazon Prime
#3 Best Choice
Gigabyte B550 Ud Ac (Am4/ Amd/ B550/ Atx/Dual M.2/ Sata 6Gb/S/Usb 3.2 Gen 2/ Intel...
GIGABYTE B550 UD AC (AM4/ AMD/ B550/ ATX/Dual M.2/ SATA 6Gb/s/USB 3.2 Gen 2/ Intel...
DDR4 Compatible: Dual Channel ECC/ Non-ECC Unbuffered DDR4, 4 DIMMs; Sturdy Power Design: 10 plus3 Phases Digital Twin Power Design with Low RDS(on) MOSFETs
$139.99 $99.99 Amazon Prime

Benefits of buying on Amazon:

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

Hey, you might also want to view this post about the Best Tower Server for Small Businesses

7.4 Hard Drives Direct – Low-cost brand name server parts. Drives, Memory, CPUs, Power Supplies, Controllers, and more. Click Here >> To Visit Hard Drives Direct

7.5 Server Monkey – Server Monkey is another option for purchasing refurbished server hardware and parts that have been used and then restored to its original condition. Click Here >> To Visit Server Monkey

More About The Facebook Open Compute Server

All right Amira what are we looking at here okay so this is an open compute server that we use at Facebook today chances are if you go to your Facebook page is going to be served what we have here is a motherboard based on the Intel platform has two Intel Westmere processors we also have a name a version of this board to has two Opterons in it interesting things about the servers that’s taller than most servers it’s one and a half feet tall this allowed us to use larger heat sinks with more surface area so they’re more efficient also allowed us to use larger sixty millimeter fans which use less energy so not only you have more efficient way of moving the air but we also need less of it at this point this is our custom power supply over here in the back ninety four and a half percent efficient has actually two inputs on this side over here one for 277 volts another one for 48 volts over here forty-eight volt is a backup power system so if we lose power on the main connector utility goes away we discharge the lead acid batteries through this connector into the server and keep it on line just long enough for our generators to kick it at which point they’ll take over and start powering 277 we designed the server to be very friendly to the technician so it’s musi the swap components in and out for example on the power supply to swap it all you do is pull it plunger pin and push the power supply back you can take it right out takes a matter of seconds there’s no cables there’s no master no routing of cables no mess to really worry put it back in much power supply slaw motherboard has same type of features we use crest fit standoffs hold the motherboard in place pops out very easily and also snaps right back in holds the motherboard motherboard securely so I’m looking at this and it doesn’t have any I realize it’s a demonstration but it doesn’t have any fancy servers stuff on the outside like external stuff exactly I call this vanity free this is actually how they look in the data center there’s no front bezels no plastic no logos no real graphics there’s no paint no fancy materials it’s one point two millimeter pretty plated sheet metal that is pressed while there’s actually only seven pieces of metal on the chassis itself so the very quick very cheap and very easy so send me Costco down and because we made it so simple the weight of it is actually a lot lighter than the typical server weighs around six pounds less typical six pounds less material that you need to recycle at the end of life six pounds less wait for the protect lift when they have to repair server so the real things have the Facebook will go in and or is that just for show here that I’ll finish up this is for the show keep our hard drives in the back over here each hard drive tray can hold two drives and snap in with the tool this rail as well as vibration dampening built into the rail and the rails come off without any tools and you can put up to six drives in this from the server in the 3dr cage locations pretty cool most of our servers only have a single drive that we use very cool well thank you very much sir Isaac yeah…

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 offer too many server options to compare or review. And each has hardware solutions that are perfect for your budget or ego. We covered server hardware from the best of brands manufacturers, 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 are 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 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.

Low-Cost VPS Alternatives

If you’re looking for low-cost virtual private server (VPS) alternatives versus setting up hardware, then I recommend reading my VULTR Review. VULTR offers small, medium, and large VMs, as well as bare-metal servers. is powered by a VULTR VM, and it’s well worth the $5 per month. Note: I have moved to Bluehost to consolidate my hosting maintenance.

Read Related Topics: is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to,,, and other Amazon stores worldwide. *Best Sellers last updated on 2024-04-19 at 19:37.


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